Does Guitar String Cleaner Work? (And is It Actually Necessary?)

Guitar strings can accumulate a lot of dust and dirt from the environment as well as your own grimey hands (no offense).

Cleaning your strings can help maintain their tone while also increasing their lifespan. But do you need to buy a guitar string-specific cleaner to get them looking and sounding brand new?

Let’s find out.

Does Guitar String Cleaner Work?

Guitar string cleaner removes contaminants that tend to build up on your guitar strings. This helps your strings sound better and last longer. But guitar string cleaner is also formulated to lubricate your strings, which increases their lifespan and reduces friction to make them feel better while playing. 

What Guitar String Cleaner Does

A good guitar string cleaner actually performs three functions:

1. Cleans Your Strings

This is why you bought string cleaner in the first place! Dirt and dust can settle on your strings and work its way between the windings that wrap around the string’s core. This can negatively impact the tone of your strings, as well as significantly reduce their lifespan. 

Excessive moisture is also a big issue. Most strings consist of a steel core with another metal alloy (like nickel) wrapped around it. These metals are prone to corrosion if oil from your fingers is left on them or if you store your guitar in a humid environment. 

A good guitar string cleaner will loosen and remove dirt and oil while a subsequent wipe down with a microfiber cloth will take care of any leftover moisture between your strings.  

2. Lubricates Your Strings

In addition to cleaning, guitar string cleaners also lubricate your strings. Dirt and dust can cause your strings to feel dry and brittle. Dry, brittle strings are prone to breakage, but they also feel pretty terrible to play. 

A guitar cleaner is formulated to lubricate your strings, giving them a silky smooth feel, which reduces friction and improves playability. This makes it much easier to play fast when sliding around the fretboard. It’s more comfortable on your fingers too.  

3. Conditions Your Fretboard

A string cleaner will be made with compounds that condition your fretboard, because dry strings aren’t the only thing we have to worry about. The fretboard of your guitar is made from wood, which can crack or warp if it dries out. Oil from your fingers can also ruin the finish on the fretboard and leave stains.

String cleaner can remove harmful oils from your fretboard to keep the finish looking new, while moisturizing the wood underneath to prevent cracks and splits.

Can You Clean Guitar Strings with Household Options?

If you don’t have guitar string cleaner, here are some household items that are commonly cited as decent replacements. 

1. Boiling Water

Some people suggest boiling your strings as an effective way to clean them.

To do this, remove your guitar strings (obviously), coil them up and place them in a boiling pot of water for 3-5 minutes. This will effectively loosen and remove any dirt stuck in between your strings. Allow them to dry completely before replacing them on your guitar.

While this method will clean your strings pretty well, there are a few noticeable drawbacks. For one, there’s the hassle of removing the strings from your guitar. And if you cut off the excess length when you mount them (which most of us do), it can be more challenging to wind them around the tuning pegs and tighten them when you replace them.

There’s also the slight chance you could burn yourself, a concern anytime you’re working around boiling water. 

You also need to make sure to dry your strings thoroughly before replacing them, as any moisture that seeps into your strings could cause corrosion over time. 

So while boiling your strings may work, it’s a more time consuming process than other string cleaning methods. 

2. Dish Soap and Water

This solution doesn’t necessarily require you to remove your strings, though it would be easier to clean and dry them if you did. 

Add a few drops of dish soap to some warm water and use a clean cloth to wash the strings with the soapy water. A few wipes along the entire string will remove most of the set in dirt and oil. Then repeat the process with water only to remove any remaining soap. Allow the strings to dry before replacing them.

This method is probably as effective as boiling your strings, but isn’t as time consuming. You do need to make sure you remove all of the dish soap though, to avoid that slimy residue soap leaves behind.  

3. Isopropyl Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is very effective at removing dirt buildup from your strings and leaving them squeaky clean. 

To clean, dab a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and wipe it down the length of your strings. Then wipe with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.

Rubbing alcohol may be an effective string cleaner, but there are two important things to note before using this method. 

One, rubbing alcohol should not be applied to your fretboard or any other part of the guitar body, as it can damage, stain and dry out the wood. You can slide a thin microfiber cloth or paper towel between the strings and fretboard before cleaning to avoid any accidental contact. 

Two, using rubbing alcohol tends to result in very annoying string buzz for a few practice sessions after cleaning. The alcohol dries out your strings, which can affect their tone, especially when using an amp where you’ll get more feedback. Alcohol evaporates naturally though so this issue will resolve itself after a while.  

Is Guitar String Cleaner Better than Household Options?

While both guitar string cleaners and household options will get the job done, household cleaners have a few drawbacks. 

One theme that was common among the household cleaners was the need to remove your strings before cleaning. This is time consuming and can be a hassle to put them back on, as you won’t have as much extra string length to work with compared to a new set. Personally, I never remove my strings unless I’m completely replacing them. 

With a guitar string cleaner, you keep the strings in place and simply wipe the cleaner over them with a specially designed applicator. This takes a matter of seconds. After a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth, you can get back to playing.

String cleaner also lubricates your strings to reduce friction and make them feel better: household cleaners don’t do that!

The other big advantage of guitar string cleaner is it’s formulated to be safe to use on guitars. Sounds obvious, right? But if you get isopropyl alcohol (or some other harsh cleaner) on your fretboard or guitar body, it can ruin the finish and cause the wood to dry out, warp or crack.

If you accidentally get some string cleaner on the rest of your guitar, no big deal. In fact, some string cleaners are also formulated to recondition your fretboard and provide a smoother feel and playing surface for your fingers. 

Good Guitar String Cleaners

If you want to give guitar string cleaner a try, below are a few good options on Amazon to get you started.

Fast Fret is probably the most well-known (i.e. it’s kind of like the Kleenex of string cleaners), but all of the below are good ones to consider.

FYI: the below are our affiliate links, so we may get a commission when you buy through those links. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t cost you anything extra. Thanks for supporting the blog!

Is Guitar String Cleaner Necessary?

So, allow me to summarize:

Guitar string cleaner is not absolutely necessary, because you can clean your guitar strings using household DIY options, like boiling the strings. However, using a purpose-made string cleaner like Fast Fret is inexpensive, quicker, easier, and has the added benefit of lubricating the strings.

You can definitely clean your guitar strings well WITHOUT string cleaner. It’s just a hassle. And if you’re using something like rubbing alcohol, you also risk damaging your guitar’s fretboard or finish.

The more frequently you play, the more often you’ll want to clean and recondition your strings.

Clean, well-conditioned strings make you sound better. When you sound better, you’ll practice more often. When you practice more often, you sound better. Embrace the cycle: buy a string cleaner!

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