How to Prevent Your Guitar Strings from Getting Dirty (4 Tips)

Dirty guitar strings wear out much quicker than clean strings. But in that shortened lifespan they can still ruin your guitar’s tone and transfer that dirt into your fretboard. So how can you prevent your strings from getting dirty in the first place?

Use these 4 tips!

1. Play with Clean Hands

This is the single best way to prevent dirt and grime from building up on your strings.

You use your hands for a lot of things, and in doing those things they’ll naturally accumulate all manner of dirt, oil and grease among other contaminants. All of these substances are bad for your strings. 

Your skin also naturally produces oils: great for keeping your skin hydrated and looking healthy, but not so great for your strings and fretboard. 

Before you pick up your guitar, wash your hands. This will remove any harmful contaminants that could build up on your strings and cause them to degrade. It will also prevent those oily fingerprints on your guitar’s finish and keep it looking glossy! 

Even if your hands are clean, it’s a good idea to wipe down the strings and body of your guitar with a soft microfiber cloth after playing to remove oils before they can set in and start causing problems.

2. Store Your Guitar in a Case

Even if you haven’t played your guitar for a while, it can still accumulate dirt.

Dust and other contaminants can get stirred up as you move through your home, finding refuge on your guitar. And if you have a pet, you know how pet hair seems to work its way into every inch of living space. 

Dust will coat your strings as it settles, especially if your strings are already coated with oil from your hands. The best way to prevent this is by storing your guitar in a case, especially if you don’t plan on playing for a while. 

A guitar case will keep your instrument protected from dirt and debris that would otherwise contaminate and degrade your strings. A case also protects your guitar from exposure to sunlight or humidity, which can damage your strings, wear away your guitar’s finish or cause metal components to corrode. 

3. Use a Guitar String Cleaner


Just because your guitar strings are dirty, doesn’t mean they have to stay that way…or that you need to throw them out and replace them. You may be able to restore them with a good cleaning. 

But you don’t want to just spray any old household cleaner on them. After all, you don’t want it to eat through the gloss coat on the body of your guitar and damage the wood underneath. 

Luckily, there are guitar string specific cleaners out there, and they’re relatively inexpensive. A guitar string cleaner will be formulated to remove dirt and grime buildup, but it will also recondition your strings, adding a super smooth coating to decrease friction and improve playability. 

You can apply string cleaners directly to your guitar strings without removing them first, as they’re designed to be safe for wood and wood finishes. They will block dust and dirt while increasing the lifespan of your strings. 

Examples of Good Guitar String Cleaners

4. Use Coated Guitar Strings

Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Coated Titanium Electric Guitar Strings, 10-46 Gauge (P03121)

Some strings do a much better job at staying clean to begin with. 

For example, coated guitar strings tend to stay clean longer than regular, non-coated strings.

Coated strings are covered with a thin layer of polymer. This coating not only improves your ability to move around the fretboard with reduced friction, but it also resists the buildup of grime. Dirt and oil on your fingers doesn’t stick to the slippery polymer layer as easily as it does to the metal underneath.

Coated strings stay cleaner and last longer than uncoated strings, but they do have their drawbacks: the polymer coating does tend to dampen string vibration (which is necessary for producing sound). As a result, coated strings produce lower sound output and less sustain. 

This may not be desirable for certain music genres, but if it doesn’t affect the type of music you like to play, coated strings are a great option.

Popular Coated Guitar Strings

Why Guitar Strings Get Dirty so Fast

If you don’t follow any of the tips above, guitar strings tend to get dirty pretty fast. This makes sense, as they’re really the only part of your guitar that you’re putting your greasy, oily fingers on.

Don’t take it personally: we all produce natural oils on our fingertips, which in conjunction with sweat, is responsible for leaving noticeable fingerprints on everything we touch.

If you look closely at guitar strings, you’ll see they feature a metal alloy wound around a steel core (at least the heavier gauge strings do). Oil and dirt can easily work their way in between the windings. This buildup negatively impacts the way your strings feel and sound, and causes them to deteriorate faster. 

Taking extra time to clean your guitar strings and keep them free of dirt and oils is an easy way to extend their lifespan. If you practice and play a lot, you no doubt go through a lot of guitar strings already. Cleaning your strings helps ensure they continue to produce great tone and sound quality until they inevitably wear out from heavy use. 

Guitar strings are a consumable good after all…they’re not meant to last forever. And if they do, it means you’re not practicing enough!

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