9 Guitar String Lubricant Alternatives (Should You Use Them?)

Guitar string lubricant helps extend the life of your strings and keeps them feeling silky smooth, which improves playability. But do you need to buy guitar-specific lubricant? 

There are a number of possible alternatives out there, but let’s see if any of them are up to the task.

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil feels silky smooth when you accidentally get it on your fingers while cooking, so does this make it a good string lubricant alternative?

Not really.

You probably know how hard olive oil is to get off your hands (without using soap and water, it’s nearly impossible to remove it all). So that olive oil is going to remain on your strings for a long time. While this may sound good (“I’ll never need to reapply!”), you really don’t want old olive oil clinging to your strings for an eternity.

Olive oil is made of organic materials, so it will spoil over time and begin to smell rancid. It also has a tendency to collect dust and dirt, which can degrade your strings (the opposite of what lubricant is supposed to do) and leave them feeling gross. 

It should also be noted that olive oil is an acid…a weak one, but an acid nonetheless. Acid can corrode and eat away at your strings as well as your fretboard or guitar body if you happen to spill any there. 


Unless you want your strings to smell rancid and constantly attract dust and dirt, do not use olive oil or any other plant-based oil.

2. Baby Oil / Baby Powder

Baby oil: not just for babies! 

Baby oil actually has a number of uses besides keeping your skin feeling soft and moisturized. It’s made up almost entirely of mineral oil, which makes it safe to use in most applications.

Since most string lubricants are made of mineral oil, baby oil would be a viable alternative. Just place a few drops of baby oil on a cotton ball and wipe it along your strings to make them feel like new. 

The one downside of baby oil is that a fragrance is usually added. While this makes your skin smell nice, depending on the scent you may get tired of smelling it every time you play your guitar. It won’t cause any damage, but if you don’t want your guitar smelling like a baby, you may want to avoid it.

Baby powder on the other hand, should not be used on your strings. Baby powder is used to dry skin and prevent chafing. Since the goal here is to lubricate our strings, this would do the exact opposite. 


Baby oil is perfectly safe to use (if you don’t mind the smell). Baby powder should not be used.

3. Mineral Oil

If you want the benefits of baby oil without the smell, choose pure mineral oil. Mineral oil is a perfectly safe, effective alternative to string lubricant. Most string-specific lubricants contain mineral oil, so going straight to the source works just as well.

Mineral oil is an alkaline oil distilled from petroleum. Alkaline substances are much safer to use on your guitar than acids, since they won’t try and eat through the finish. 


Mineral oil is an effective alternative and won’t damage your guitar. 

4. Lemon Oil

If you’re shopping for guitar string lubricant or cleaner, you may notice some products contain lemon oil. So it would appear that lemon oil is safe for use on your guitar, right?

Well, it depends. 

Lemon oil is extracted by pressing lemon peels. As you would imagine, lemon oil is highly acidic. A strong acid like lemon oil can eat through the finish on your guitar’s body, damage the fretboard and corrode your strings. So why would some guitar-friendly products contain lemon oil?

It all comes down to the amount used. These products often contain very small traces of real lemon oil. This helps recondition your strings and fretboard while also adding that signature yellow color and delightful, citrusy smell. There isn’t a high enough concentration of lemon oil in these products to cause any harm.

Many products for restoring wood, leather or metal also contain lemon oil. But again, the amounts used are low enough so as not to damage those materials. These products are probably safe for use on your guitar, but it’s worth sticking with a guitar-specific product just in case. 


Guitar-specific products that contain lemon oil are perfectly safe for use. Wiping a lemon peel on your guitar? Absolutely not.

5. WD-40

If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40.

Well, this mantra doesn’t really apply to strings, but is WD-40 a good string lubricant alternative?

The “recipe” for WD-40 may be a trade secret, but it does contain mostly paraffins and oils derived from petroleum. In essence, some of these ingredients are very similar to mineral oil. However, there are a number of other chemicals in WD-40 that may not necessarily be harmful to your steel strings, but are to the wood fretboard and guitar body. 

Sure, you could slide a piece of cardboard between your fretboard and strings before spraying, but is this really worth it when there are safer alternatives out there? Additionally, an aerosol isn’t as precise as a liquid applied with a cotton ball or other applicator, and you really don’t want to be spraying WD-40 all over the rest of your guitar since it can damage the finish. 


While WD-40 contains mostly mineral oils, those other ingredients aren’t so nice to your guitar. It’s just not worth the risk when there are better alternatives you could use instead.

6. Silicone Car Cleaner

Many car waxes contain silicone. Silicone is used to restore a car’s exterior to a lustrous finish, and is most widely used as a polish and cleaner, not really a lubricant. 

Some guitar polishes may also use silicone…though there is a wide range of opinions as to whether silicone-based products are safe for use on guitars. Silicone cleaners and polishes can be used to bring the gloss finish back to your guitar, but some guitar techs claim it can also cause unsightly marring if not applied evenly.

If you’ve ever tried to polish your car and notice it looks pretty bad after, you’ve run into this issue! It’s very difficult to get an even coat of polish applied, and the results are challenging to correct. 

Silicone undergoes a phase transition from liquid to solid once it has set, making any imperfections difficult to correct once dry. And once it’s dry, your guitar’s finish might look shiny, but it probably doesn’t feel that smooth to the touch. This is how your strings will feel after an application of silicone car cleaner. Not the silky smooth texture you were hoping for. 


Some silicone car cleaners and waxes may be ok for restoring the shine to your guitar’s body (if applied evenly and correctly), but they’ll do little to make your strings feel better.

7. Bike Chain Lubricant

Moving from cars to bikes, is bike chain lubricant a good alternative string lube?

Chain lube is meant to keep your bike chain’s moving pieces doing just that…moving. These lubricants come in “dry” and “wet” versions, which describes the riding conditions they’re to be used in, not the composition of the lubes themselves.

These lubricants are great for keeping dirt and debris out of your bike’s drivetrain and help everything run smoothly. Some bike lubricants contain Teflon, which is a chemical coating that prevents things from sticking to it (like a non-stick pan). 

Bike chain lube would be a decent alternative to string lubricant, as they’re both intended for steel parts. But if you’re going to experiment with this, make sure to apply it to your strings with a cotton ball, not directly from the bottle, which tends to drip everywhere. Then wipe off the excess thoroughly and allow it to dry before playing.

And only use dry chain lube. After a few minutes, dry lube is dry to the touch, but wet lube stays wet. If you were biking in wet conditions, this would be great, since the wet lube wouldn’t be washed off as easily by water, but you definitely don’t want your fingers covered in goop when you’re playing.


Bike chain lube is a viable alternative when applied sparingly with a cotton ball. But make sure you only use dry chain lube!  

8. Pencil Lead Graphite

It’s true that some people recommend the lead from your pencil as a string lubricant. And when taken in context, these people might have a point.

Pencil lead contains graphite, which is a dry lubricant. When that graphite is applied to the little notches where your strings sit on the guitar nut, it may actually help the strings move more freely…though it will obviously discolor the nut, which you may not appreciate. 

So graphite does have lubricating properties…but it’s only applied to the nut, not along the entirety or your strings. Would that work though?

Well, if you remember the last time you used a pencil (it’s been a while) you know how easily it gets all over your fingers. It also likes to stay there, and doesn’t wash off so well. So applying this to your strings may not be the best idea, since it will just come off on your fingers anyway.


Pencil graphite: may be beneficial when applied to the guitar nut, but doesn’t have any practical use for the rest of your strings. Let’s not even mention how difficult it would be (or how ridiculous it would look) to coat each string with the tip of a pencil. I can think of better ways to spend my time.

9. Personal Lubricant

Yep, I have to address this one…

Personal lubricant, kind of like baby oil, is safe for use on human skin, so is it safe for use on guitar strings as well?

Most personal lubricants are water-based and contain glycerin, a plant-based chemical. Water and glycerin are not harmful to human skin, especially since they’re washed off after use anyway, but they’re not great for guitar strings. 

Letting water sit on steel strings can cause them to rust. And when that water is mixed with other oils intended to keep the water from evaporating, it’s a less than ideal scenario. As I’ve mentioned earlier, we also want to avoid using plant-based oils since they can go rancid over time…and that’s just gross. 


While personal lubricants are safe for human skin, the same can’t be said for your guitar. It’s best to just use them for their intended purpose and keep them away from your strings.

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