How to take the smell out of a smelly guitar

The next in the how-to series is how to deodorise a smelly acoustic. But before we do that, first, we must understand how a guitar gets “smelly”.
Normally, when an acoustic guitar leaves the factory or the maker, it carries that distinctive smell of wood, varnish and paint. But over the years, due to our own bodies – the sweat and grime that get onto the body of the guitar and the areas that we constantly touch, stay there and get layered by more sweat and grime – guitars can start smelling bad.

And then there are habits, like smoking. Cigarette/cigar/cheroot smoke is one such smell which non-smokers (women guitarists particularly) find most offensive.

Playing with dirty hands often lets matter from them drop into the soundhole, which over a period of time, tends to develop a smell, and often, the smell tends to get absorbed into the exposed, raw wood inside a guitar.

Nine times out of 10, when one needs to deodorise an acoustic guitar, it is because the smell has got absorbed into the wood of the guitar from the inside, due to something having fallen in through the soundhole. 

Many times it is not so much the guitar as it is the gig bag or the lining of the hardshell case in which the guitar is housed that transfers the odour to the instrument. Whether it is the case or the guitar itself, there are umpteen number of ways that you can deodorise the item with simple, everyday items that may be present in your house.

  1. Baking soda
  2. Car air freshner
  3. Coffee Beans
  4. Apple slices
  5. Tea bags
  6. lemon slices
  7. Pinewood chips
  8. Cedar wood chips
  9. Rice
  10. Old newspapers
Pix courtesy: survivalsullivan
  1. If it is your case/bag take baking soda and sprinkle liberally inside. Being the excellent deodorant that it is, it should be able to pull all the offensive smell off the bag/case. Later, you could use a vacuum cleaner to lift out the baking soda.
    In case, it is your guitar, you will have to take off the strings and lower a shallow dish full of baking soda into the guitar. Let the guitar lie on its back in a place where it won’t be disturbed and where there won’t be a need to move it. Leave it there for a few hours and then take the dish out. The offensive odour should have been removed by now.


2. An ordinary, can-type air freshner should be helpful too – both in the case as well as inside the guitar. Again, you will have to take off the strings for this.


Pix courtesy: healthline

3. Coffee beans are the biggest natural deodorants that you can lay your hands on. Remember, they keep a little jar of coffee beans in perfume stores to clear your nose?

Keep coffee beans in a small open container in the bag/case or inside the guitar. Leave it for a few hours and the job will be done.


4. Half an apple cut into quarters and dropped into the bag/case, or, left inside a guitar for a few hours will also do the trick


5. If you don’t have apples at home, lemon slices will do the same job, maybe better. However, you will have to be careful not to leave the slices lying on bare case material or inside the guitar. You will have to keep it in a container of some sort.


6. Few tea bags dropped into the case or left hanging from the strings into the guitar, should also do the trick


7) Chips of pinewood will also work, only you have to be careful to use ‘chips’. Pinewood dust should work but I don’t think blocks will work


8) If you can lay your hands on cedar wood chips, that should be great too


9. Rice is known to work wonders in removing offensive odours from inside a guitar. Drop in a cupful or two of uncooked rice and then give an almighty shake to your guitar. Rice with its absorbent properties will take away any bad smells residing in your instrument.


10. There is nothing quite like old, yellowing newspapers that work better as deodorant. But be sure to find old normal newspapers and not the glossy variety.

Crumple the newspaper into balls and stuff them inside the guitar (Naturally you will have to take the strings off to do this). Leave the guitar like this for a few days. Pull out the newspapers and the with the newspapers, you would be pulling out the bad smell too.


Having described all these tricks, I would like to add that prevention is always better than cure. So, stop drying your clothes on your guitar, or even using it as a clothes hanger, and don’t eat French fries and play the guitar at the same time!    

Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

One thought to “How to take the smell out of a smelly guitar”

  1. Love the old newspaper and rice-shake trick to get undesirable smells from a guitar. These are common items found in Indian homes. Wood chips are available when (expensive) carpenters are fixing stuff in the house

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