Cleaning Guitar Strings With Rubbing Alcohol: Good Idea or Bad?

Cleaning Guitar Strings With Rubbing Alcohol: Good Idea or Bad?

Cleaning guitar strings is a great way to get longer life and better performance out of your strings. But is cleaning guitar strings with rubbing alcohol a good idea, as many have said? Let’s talk about it:

Cleaning Guitar Strings With Rubbing Alcohol: Good Idea or Bad?

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 Transcription

What’s up everybody, I’m Scott from Stringjoy Guitar Strings, and today we’re coming at you with a short video talking about whether or not it’s a good idea to use isopropyl rubbing alcohol to clean your guitar’s strings, and get longer life out of a set of guitar strings. Let’s talk about it.

If you’re at all familiar with this concept, you probably saw it on a guitar forum, or a blog, or somewhere online. Basically the idea is you use regular isopropyl rubbing alcohol, put it onto a cotton swab or some sort of cleaning cloth, and use it to clean your strings, rubbing it the length of your guitar strings, and getting all the dirt off, and all the grime off, helping your strings to last longer.

Well, first let’s talk about whether or not it works. I have done it myself, and I can tell you I think it works pretty well. It gets the grime off your strings, it does make this really shrill shrieking, almost like a screaming sound when that alcohol comes in contact with your guitar strings, but it does do a pretty good job. It gets all the dirt off, and if you do that regularly, in theory at least, it should help your strings last longer.

There are however a couple of drawbacks that I think make it not quite worth doing. The first, and probably the least important of the drawbacks, is that you get a pretty shrill shrieking sound, not only when you’re cleaning it, but even afterward for a while. That alcohol stays in your strings, and so as you move your hand over the length of your neck, you can kind of hear that squeaking sound amplified, and most guitarists I know don’t really love that sound.

The second, and much bigger drawback of use isopropyl alcohol to clean your guitar strings is that it isn’t very good for your guitar itself. If you know much about wood, you know that wood needs a certain amount of humidity in it to keep it in good health. This is why we use humidifiers in our acoustic guitar cases, and it’s why having a really, really dry neck, or dry body, on your guitar isn’t considered to be a very good thing. Also, things like fretboard conditioners, or lemon oil, are designed to help ensure that you have enough moisture in the fretboard of your guitar to keep it healthy. The problem is that alcohol is innately drying, if you’ve ever used an alcohol face wash or something, that’s what it does, it dries out your skin, and it does the same thing with the wood on your guitar.

When you use isopropyl alcohol to clean the strings on your guitar, inevitably some of it gets down below the strings into the fretboard itself, and that can be pretty dangerous, especially if you’re doing it regularly. If you do it all the time, it will lead to a dried out fretboard, and that can be really, really bad for your guitar in the long run.

The good news is there are other solutions that aren’t just isopropyl alcohol that will do a good job of cleaning your guitar strings. We have all natural guitar string conditioner up on our site, stringjoy.com, that will clean your guitar strings without having any of those ill effects on your fretboard. It’s perfectly safe for your fretboard, and won’t cause any harm.

So, if I’m you, I applaud you for wanting to keep your guitar strings clean, but I’d urge you to look at some of the better ways to do it, that won’t cause any damage to your guitar in the long run. It just isn’t worth potentially damaging a much more expensive guitar, just for the service of not having to change your strings so often.

So, what do you think? Have you ever tried the isopropyl rubbing alcohol trick to clean your strings? Has it worked for you? Do you swear by it? Would you never do it? Let us know down in the comments.

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9 Responses

  1. I do leave my strings soaked in the cleanest (water free) isopropyl alcohol, and especially bass strings with wound strings only. To clean the plains is futile, it is enough with a clean cloth. Mostly, it works best with stainless steel strings, and it does not damage your guitar because it evaporates too quickly. Now that shrieking tone when you drag the cloth and your fingers as well along the string is called – CLANG TONE – and is always present either faint or loud. It’s the same tone (shrieking that can wake up the dead) no matter how fast or slow you drag the cloth, or how the string is tuned. It has only to do with traversal length. IT IS NOT PICKED UP BY ELECTRiC GUITARS PICKUPS because those doesn’t pickup traverse vibrations. On acoustics, it’s always heard, and I know that one can buck those frequencies with a parametric equaliser when playing live and plugged in. Piezos picks them up and even magnifies them. But I use Isopropyl alcohol, the double ball end strings I use, I can take on and off as many times as I like, and put them on within a minute again, so no Isopropanol is spilling on any bass or headless guitar with wood neck. Some people boil their strings, but that’s for bass too. One thing one should not do (ever) is ULTRASONIC CLEANING of guitars strings. The ultrasound rips off the plating, and when put on again, the string has new string zzzzinggg, but doesn’t intonate anymore to save the day. Of course, all this, boiling, isopropropyl alcohol, ultrasonic should never be performed on coated strings. OF NOTE: Now, since the pandemic, thanks to the excessive use of alcohol spray or gel on fingers, I have to clean my strings less (and change them), and I am going to continue, after the pandemic, using these small spray cans of alcohol to spray my finger pads prior to any gig, or long session in the studio. WARNING: Use on fingers only, NOT on any string or guitar.

  2. Bore cleaners like Hoppes #9 contain harsh solvents meant to dissolve lead and copper fouling. Copper is used as a binder for plating. Prolonged or repeated contact with copper dissolving solvents can cause plating(nickel, gold, chrome) to bubble and flake off, particularly if the plating is old or scratched. Please do not use harsh bore cleaners to clean any part of a guitar.

    If isopropanol is not strong enough for you, try using naptha (lighter fluid). It cleans strings and fretboards very well without dissolving metal. While it is mostly safe, you should still be careful around any finished/painted surfaces.

  3. “That alcohol stays in your strings”
    Probably not. Alcohol evaporates quickly and completely. The squeak is friction of fingertips against the string-winding. It happens a) when strings are new, and b) after strings are cleaned.

    1. Those types of products will clean effectively, however you want to be careful when using any product marked “harmful or fatal if swallowed” on something that will be coming in such frequent contact with your skin and hands.

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