how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items

How To Clean A Guitar Fretboard With Household Items: DIY

Keeping your guitar clean and ready for action is the best way to ensure your guitar lasts a long time. This means you’ll need to be cleaning it at home

So, we need to know how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items. Sure, you could spend some cash and get yourself a stock of “professional” cleaning products (professional meaning expensive). 

The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to break the bank to maintain your guitar, seriously.

You won’t notice a big difference from using  household items versus a “professional” product.

What can I use to clean my guitar fretboard

You might already have what you need at home. All you need is some household items to clean your guitar’s fretboard properly.

Some items will work better than others, and some will need to be used with caution, but you can’t mess this up too badly.

To clean a fretboard with household items you need:

  • light household cleaner
  • a couple cloths (microfiber cloth if possible)
  • plastic card, wood stick or soft touch scotchbrite pad to scrape/scrub

That’s it! You don’t need much to clean your fretboard clean. Forget the cotton swabs and cotton balls, stick to the basics and you’ll be just fine.

I simply use whatever I have in the house at the time, and a couple of cloths. One damp cloth to clean and apply the solution, and a dry cloth to remove the excess cleaner, and polish the fretboard.

Make sure you use a second cloth to remove as much of the cleaning solution, polish or oil.

The last thing you want is to do is play a greasy guitar. Even a little excess oil can ruin your strings if too much gets on to them.

The only way you can go wrong when cleaning your guitar’s fretboard with household items is if you forget to remove the excess cleaner/oil and allow it to sit on the frets.

If you’d like to get a fretboard cleaner, something like a lemon oil made by a company in the musical instrument industry is what I would recommend. 

Just ensure you read the label, as lemon oil is commonly used for other purposes and the solution might have additives you don’t want.

This is why I say go with one produced by a company with a background in music. The cost won’t be much more if you do.

Here’s a guide from Peavey on cleaning your guitar.

How to clean fretboard without removing strings

You can clean a fretboard by loosening the tension on the strings and cleaning underneath them. Once clean you should be able to apply tension and tune your guitar back up.

Just ensure that you don’t get cleaning product or excess moisture on the strings.

Personally, I clean my fretboard when I change my strings. This ensures that my fretboard is cleaned regularly, and I never have to worry about the strings while I’m cleaning.

However, I completely understand having a need to clean the fretboard when not changing the strings.

Cleaning the fretboard is often an overlooked area of a guitar, so when you notice it, you’ll want to clean it ASAP. 

That’s why you want to know what household items you can clean a fretboard with in the first place.

In an ideal world, you would clean your fingerboard during the string change, but we can’t always have our cake and eat it too!

Fretboard cleaner alternatives

If you don’t want to utilize a “proper” fretboard cleaner to clean your guitar, don’t fret… there are lots of household options and alternatives you can use to clean your guitar’s fretboard.

You want to ensure the cleaner you choose is going to have a good result. You don’t want your fretboard oily.

So here are a few different thing you can use to clean your fretboard.

Coconut oil for guitar fretboard

Coconut oil, in very small amounts, can be used to clean and polish a fretboard. The most important part if you decide to use coconut oil on a guitar fretboard is to use only a small amount, and remove excess with a clean dry cloth after application.

I’ve seen coconut oil used, and it does a pretty good job, but I can’t stress enough the importance of removing excess oil here.

Can I use water to clean my fretboard

cleaning guitar fretboard with water
Water can be used sparingly to clean your fretboard

Water is the simplest thing you can clean your fretboard with. Take a clean cloth and make it damp using warm, clean water. Ensure the microfiber cloth is not dripping wet and proceed to clean the fretboard.

Immediately after cleaning use a dry cloth to get rid of moisture still on the fretboard.

The obvious downside to using water is that you won’t get much cleaning action from water as it’s neutral, but also rust is a potential problem.

make sure you dry the guitar off completely, and do not stick it back in the case before all the moisture is gone.

The metal frets might react and begin to rust, but quickly wiping it down with water and then drying it will be fine.

Lastly, watch out for cracks in the wood, especially around the frets. A cracking fretboard is an indicator that your guitar is dry and a sudden rush of moisture might swing the humidity and cause further cracking.

Also be mindful to avoid using water on exposed wood grain, as it will take longer to dry out.

Can you use olive oil on a guitar fretboard

Yes olive oil can be used to clean and polish a fretboard. While not ideal, if you apply only a little olive oil and ensure to remove excess it can be effective.

Olive oil can be a cheap item to add to your guitar maintenance. Cleaning a guitar with household items is a little more satisfying than spending money on overpriced cleaners.

Here’s a video on cleaning fretboards.

Cleaning guitar frets steel wool

You can use steel wool to remove corrosion or rust starting to form on the metal frets on your guitar neck. While it is quite effective you need to watch out for scratching the wood finish on the fretboard.

Personally, I opt to use a non-scratching cleaning pad, like a blue scotch brite pad. It will work just as well without risking the finish on the wood.

for extreme cases of rust or corrosion, you can use tape to mask off the wood areas of the fretboard, allowing you to work with steel wool effectively.

Ensure you  are using steel wool pads without any cleaning solution on them, as that might not play well with the frets, or the fretboard.

I’ve also seen someone mask off the fretboard with tape and proceed to eat right through the tape and the fretboard finish, so regardless, use caution when using steel wool on your guitar.

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