How To Clean Guitar Pickups

It’s great fun getting into guitar and when you’re really into it you’ll be playing all the time. One of the downsides of this of course is that your guitar pickups can get dirty in no time at all. 

You should be careful though when you decide to clean your guitar pickups as certain products are not suitable for cleaning your guitar.

How To Clean Guitar Pickups

Read on for a handy guide of all the products suitable for cleaning your guitar pickups,  and some things that you should avoid. 

Why Should You Keep Your Pickups Clean?

Whether you use your guitar often or it’s been sitting around for a long time, your guitar pickups are inevitably going to get dirty. 

Dirty pickups can really impact the sound of your guitar, especially the clarity of those higher Notes. 

Cleaning your pickups should be something that you incorporate into your regular guitar cleaning routine and not something that you do in order to resurrect some busted, rusty old pickups. 

If your pickups do get to the stage, it’s probably worth just unscrewing them and getting a nice shiny new set to put down.

Pickups tend to attract a lot of dirt and grime,  especially dust,  as it’s an area that you don’t normally wipe away after your guitars have been stored or you’ve been playing for a long session. 

Guitar pickups work by having a magnetic top that transmits vibrations to your guitar strings, that’s why you must keep them clean,  at least wiping them down so that you get rid of that thick layer of dust and let those vibrations be transmitted without any interference. 

Before we get into how to clean your guitar pickups properly, let’s talk about some of the products that you should avoid when cleaning them. 

Products To Avoid When Cleaning Guitar Pickups

Scrubby Pads

The worst thing you can use when trying to get dirt and grime off of your guitar pickups is to use steel wool or scrubbing pads. Do not, I repeat, do not use abrasive cleaners to try and get dirt and grime off of your guitar pickups.

This can cause serious scratching and damage to your guitars that you won’t be able to repair. 

It can also remove all the polish from your pickups, leaving your guitar looking dull and lifeless. 

Lots of Moisture

It should go without saying that a lot of water is definitely not good for your instrument. 

When you are cleaning your guitar pickups, along with every other part of your guitar, you should make sure that you are only using a small amount of liquid, be that water or a cleaning agent. 

How To Clean Your Guitar Pickups Properly

The best time to clean your guitar pickups is when you’re changing your stringsOpens in a new tab. then you have clear access to your pickups and you can get them off your guitar without damaging your strings.

If you do just want to give it a quick spray without removing your strings, you can use a can of compressed air (the one you’d use for electronics)  which can go a long way and get rid of some of the excess dust that’s collected on your pickups. 

Depending on how tight your strings are to your pickups, you may be able to just use a dry cloth to pass under your strings and likely dust or polish your pickups if there’s only light debris and dust that’s collected. 

But, if you’ve left your pickups for a pretty long time and they need a really thorough cleaning, read on and we’ll give you a basic step-by-step guide to get it done properly the first time.

Once you’ve done a thorough cleaning, try and get into the habit of cleaning your pickups every time you use your guitar, even if that’s just a quick dusting. 

You Will Need:

  • A lightly dampened cloth
  • A soft dry cloth
  • A tiny bit of NON ABRASIVE metal polish
  • An old toothbrush, or non-abrasive cleaner

Step 1: Remove your strings- keep them in a safe spot out of harm’s way whilst you get on with your task. 

Step 2: Using the damp area of the cloth, wipe the guitar pickups giving some extra care to any built-up grime and dirt

If your pickups have external posts or are extra grimy use your old toothbrush or another small, soft brush to get a good scrub between and around the posts. 

Step 3: Dry off your pickups thoroughly to prevent rust. 

Step 4: Use compressed air to clean any of the crevices that your brush hasn’t gotten to. 

Step 5: If you have metal plates on your pickups, use a tiny drop of metal polish on a soft cloth to give them a good shine. 

Step 6: Restring your guitar and pat yourself on the back. Now don’t let them get that grimy again, ya hear?

Taking Care Of Rust On Your Guitar Pickups

If you have an exceptionally old, well-used, or just not looked after guitar, you may find that the pickups have gotten pretty crusty and rusted over the years.

Whilst there are a few things you can do if you really want to salvage your pickups, you may have to bite the bullet and just get some new pickups, as having super damaged ones can affect the overall sound quality and performance of your guitar. 

A little bit of light rusting can actually be quite sought after, especially if you like that old vintage look, and a little bit shouldn’t affect the overall tone of your guitar. 

For light rusting, you can remove this with a small amount of rust oxidation removers, such as Evapo Rust, or another non-toxic cleanser that won’t damage your guitar. 


There you have it, an easy step-by-step way to get your guitar pickups looking fresh and clean. Just remember to avoid any harsh cleaners, and lots of moisture, and give them a light dusting after every session to keep your pickups looking fresh.

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