How To Keep Guitar Strings From Rusting

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Playing on a guitar with rusted strings is like running your fingers along barbed wire. You may even need a tetanus shot afterward. However, keeping your strings in tip-top condition and preventing rust is easier than you think. Let’s find out how. 

The easiest and simplest method in keeping your guitar strings from rusting is to clean them periodically. This means wiping them down before and after you play with the correct cleaning products or wood oil. Storing your guitar in a low humidity area, if possible, and using coated guitar strings can also help. 

This article will discuss all the factors concerning guitar strings in terms of how and why they rust. Then it will cover the methods used to deal with this.

animated guitar strings beside picture of rusting nuts on grey musical themed background

There are many simple elements to keeping your guitar strings clean that many guitarists don’t know. We will cover these below. 

Before we dive into these factors in detail, let’s first look at why your guitar strings rust in the first place and what factors contribute to them.

By understanding these factors, you will know why they rust and will be able to prevent it in the future. 

Why Do Guitar Strings Rust?

Guitar strings primarily rust due to oxidation. Oxidation is the process whereby water (in our case, sweat from your hands) combines with oxygen and then steel (in this case, your guitar strings) to create rust.

It will help if you understand that guitar strings are made from steel, nickel, brass, or bronze.

Electric guitar strings are usually made from a combination of both, but nowadays, you do get strings made from pure steel or pure nickel. However, typically, strings will comprise steel wire that is plated in nickel. 

Moreover, nickel and steel are very susceptible to rust, and a long session of playing or practicing will leave sweat on your strings, causing them to rust.

This is more applicable to poor-quality strings where the metal composite (metal alloy) is made from nickel and steel, which contain more iron. Better quality strings such as pure steel or pure nickel will contain less iron, negating rust to a degree. 

The other factor to consider is that humidity will also cause guitar strings to rust. Remember that humidity is the amount of water that is in the air at any given point.

Hence, storing your guitar in a place with plenty of moisture in the air will cause your strings to rust (along with other metal parts of your guitar). 

What About Acoustic Bronze Guitar Strings?

Acoustic guitar strings are not made from steel but rather a bronze composite. That is, they are made from a high percentage of copper (between 80 to 90 percent) and tin (10 to 20 percent).

Take into consideration that bronze (moreover copper) will never rust. This is because it contains too little iron, whereas conversely, steel and nickel have plenty. 

However, you may find that your acoustic bronze guitar strings seem to have a lackluster shine after you play them for a while. This is not rust but rather tarnish. 

How To Keep Guitar Strings From Rusting Or Tarnishing

Now that we understand why guitar strings rust or become tarnished, it will be easy to comprehend how to keep them clean and rust-free. 

Clean Your Strings Before And After You Play

The best method of keeping your guitar strings from rusting or becoming tarnished is to clean them before and after you play periodically.

You should also consider washing and drying your hands before playing in addition to cleaning the strings.

Even one session of playing and practicing can cause your strings to rust, so cleaning them should be done every time you play. 

The best way to clean them is by using string cleaner or wood oil. Many manufacturers like Dunlop and GHS cater to guitar strings and make many products that prevent rust. 

Products such as Dunlop’s 65 Ultraglide String Cleaner and GHS A87 Fast Fret are among some of the favorites used by guitarists everywhere. 

One thing to note is that you should wipe these products on a cloth and clean your strings on both sides (all around). Many guitarists make the mistake of wiping just the top part of the string (the part where you fret).

This is a mistake, as rust builds up all around each string. The best way to clean your strings is by grabbing each string individually, pulling the cloth from one end to the other. 

Read More: How to Clean Guitar Strings – A Detailed Guide

Besides specific guitar products, you are more than able to use wood oil. This works great and provides a protective barrier against air and moisture.

For the most part, I have actually found that this wood oil works best for cleaning my guitar strings and keeping them from rusting. 

Purchase And Use Coated Guitar Strings

Another way to prevent rust is to purchase coated guitar strings. Many manufacturers of guitar strings like Elixir coat their strings with corrosion-resistant properties.

This makes it difficult for sweat and oxygen to penetrate and get down to the metal. Moreover, you will find that these strings are smooth and easy to play due to their lubricated feel.

One mistake that guitarists make is that they don’t tend to clean these strings because they think it will affect the coating.

Wiping your strings down with some cleaner or wood oil will not affect them in any way and will extend the life of your strings even further. 

Store Your Guitar In A Low Humidity Area

Storing your guitar in an area with low humidity may be one of the more difficult tasks – especially if you live in a region with high humidity.

If you have the means, then you should purchase a (de)humidifier that can help to keep humidity levels in check.

Keeping the room where you store your guitar at a humidity level of around 50% will help prevent your strings from rusting and prevent any oxidation or damage to other parts of your guitar. 

That said, having some humidity in the air is important for the wooden guitar body.

You do get guitar humidifiers for acoustic guitars where you place them in the acoustic hole or in the guitar case. However, these are specifically designed for the wood and not the strings.

In this case, you will need to purchase an actual room (de)humidifier with auto-sensing to help keep the room just right and help keep your strings from rusting. 

If you have an expensive guitar, then you should really opt for one of these because they do not cost all that much and could save you money (and your guitar) in the long run. Check out this room humidifier as a good example.

FAQs

Below, we have put the most frequently asked questions related to guitar strings and rust for your perusal. 

Can Guitar Strings Rust?

Specific guitar strings made from a metal composite of nickel and steel will indeed rust if they have come into contact with water and oxygen.

Even pure steel and pure nickel strings will eventually rust. This is due to oxidation. Oxidation will take place when a metal is composed of a lot of iron. 

The only strings that will not rust but will somewhat tarnish are bronze strings. This is because they are mainly made of copper (approximately 80 to 90%).

Needless to say, nylon strings for classical guitars will not rust because they are not made of any metal whatsoever. 

How Long Do Guitar Strings Last In A Package?

Remember that because guitar strings are made of metal, they only need to be subjected to oxygen and moisture in order for them to rust. Consider that most guitar string packages are not hermetically sealed (meaning no oxygen can get in or out). 

Although they could be in plastic and paper wrapping – if there is a great deal of moisture in the air, guitar strings could rust over a period of a handful of months.

However, manufacturers do not put an expiration date on strings and suggest that they could last several years in their original packaging if not touched at all. 

How Long Can Guitar Strings Last If You Maintain Them Properly?

If you take our advice and clean your strings before and after you play, one set could essentially last you up to 6 months, if not longer.

However, you will need to consider the amount that you play. Six months is a baseline figure for individuals that casually play approximately 30 minutes to 2 hours a day. 

If you are practicing upward of that, your strings will undoubtedly lose their crispness and become dull even though you keep them clean. 

Will Rust Cause My Guitar Strings To Break?

It will help if you remember that oxidation (rust) will technically eat away at the metal, making it more brittle over time.

Thus, strings that are rusted have a higher chance of breaking. In this case, guitar strings that do go bad and break will force you to change the strings.

Does Rust Affect The Sound Of My Guitar Strings?

Rust will definitely cause your strings to produce a dull and lackluster sound. In fact, it’s one of the factors to consider in how often to change your guitar strings.

Remember that the crispness of the strings comes from them being able to hold and retain their tension. Thus they can vibrate at the correct frequencies for longer and more consistently. 

Rust (as we said) makes strings more brittle, and due to this, they are unable to vibrate correctly, causing them to sound dull. 

Conclusion

Keeping your strings from rusting is quite a straightforward task. In doing so, you will actually increase the longevity of your strings and will keep them crisp and sharp for a while. 

Take into consideration that the amount you practice will also play a role in the wear and tear of your strings, and no amount of cleaning will help if you are playing for 16 hours a day. They will eventually rust, tarnish and become dull in sound. 

However, simply cleaning them with the correct cleaning products or wood oil will keep your strings in great condition for an extended period of time. 

As always, Happy Strumming,
– D

About Devlon Jarrod Horne

Devlon started playing guitar when he was 13. He studied contemporary music at Damelin and classical music theory through the London Royal Schools of Music In the UK. He has toured extensively in the UAE, UK, and South Africa and played at the South African Soccer World Cup. His cover band was voted the number one band in Abu Dhabi by Time Out Magazine. Devlon has also had a number one hit on the Homebrew Show on Highveld Stereo in South Africa for five weeks in a row. He now spends his time playing for enjoyment and teaches on occasion.