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As a huge rock and metal fan, I’ve seen guitarists of this intense genre do crazy things. I’ll never forget seeing Rory Gallagher’s beat-up Stratocaster on TV, imagining the amount of moisture and sweat it had absorbed over the years.
I was also impressed to see Metallica performing in England in 2019 under the pouring rain. Despite my enthusiasm at that moment, like a total nerd, I still wondered how the abuse these guitars faced especially coming in contact with water affected the strings.
So, can guitar strings get wet?
Guitar strings can rust because of high levels of moisture in the air or if they come in contact with sweaty hands. If your steel guitar strings get wet, they are more likely to corrode over time which will affect their sound and they might snap in the middle of your performance.
If you want to learn how moisture and humidity can affect your guitar strings and whether they can get in contact with water, then keep on reading!
Can Guitar Strings Get Wet?
All guitar strings have an expiration date the moment you remove them from their package, but under certain circumstances, their life span can be drastically shortened.
Moisture, oil, and dirt are just one of the few major things that can accelerate the wear of your strings.
So, does this mean that your strings shouldn’t get wet?
Well in a sense, yes, they shouldn’t get wet. Playing your guitar strings with wet hands as you can imagine will wear them out faster. You might also end up damaging the fretboard and the neck of the guitar.
I also want t to clarify that while wet hands or excessive moisture will most likely cause your strings to deteriorate if your whole guitar gets wet then you will have to face bigger problems.
If you got caught playing in the rain, then a wooden guitar is at risk of absorbing all the water and that will cause the wood to expand. If you don’t remove the guitar from the water and don’t dry it immediately and most importantly properly the damage will most likely be irreversible.
In this situation, you can also expect that heavy rain or large quantities of water will damage your strings. Even if you wipe them thoroughly you might still miss some spots like the nut slots and bridge where grime and moisture tend to accumulate.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that wet strings will deteriorate sooner or later, but whether that’s sooner or later will be determined by the amount of water and the number of times they come in contact with it.
What Happens If Guitar Strings Get Wet?
I think it only makes sense that guitar strings shouldn’t get wet, but why is it so bad, how much is too much, and what exactly happens in that process?
Well, no matter how clean and dry your hands are a little sweat and grime are inevitable, especially if you’re regularly playing the guitar. With time, however, the accumulation of these particles will affect your strings and their playability.
Rust and corrosion are the two main things that will deteriorate your strings. While corrosion is a tarnish that in some cases can be wiped away from the surface of your strings, rust on the other hand is a type of corrosion that signals the end of your strings.
Most strings are made of steel, and even nylon strings use metal wrap wire around the nylon core. So, both are susceptible to rust, steel strings more so than nylon.
Rust is the oxidation of iron and its alloys, such as steel and this reaction happens when steel comes in contact with oxygen and water.
It basically eats away the metal and the only way to get rid of rust is to replace your strings with a fresh new set.
Coated strings are more likely to withstand rust and corrosion for much longer but that doesn’t mean you need to submerge them in water or not maintain them.
At the end of the day, this process is natural and inevitable, but if you’re playing on a hot and humid day, or if your hands tend to sweat a lot then it will happen sooner unless, of course, you make sure to wipe your strings dry after every gig, or guitar lesson.
If your guitar got completely wet your strings are the last thing you need to worry about. Because while it’s cheaper to replace a set of strings, replacing your guitar will hurt your wallet.
I mean I’m pretty sure James Hetfield can afford another guitar, I on the other hand would rather avoid it!
Will Humidity Affect Your Guitar Strings?
When your guitar strings come in contact with moisture they deteriorate, the same can happen because of humidity.
After all, humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air and if you live in a humid area or your guitar strings are exposed to high levels of humidity then they will degrade much faster.
If you’re playing in a room with high humidity then chances are your hands will also sweat more, and that can affect your strumming or fingerpicking, as well as the strings themselves long term.
When I’m talking about high humidity, I mean above 60%, but low humidity is also not ideal for guitars. Guitar strings and guitars are better kept at between 40% and 50% levels of humidity.
The best way to keep your guitar strings safe from rust is to store the guitar in a proper hard case. This way they will be less affected by their environment when you’re not playing.
When you are playing you can also wear sweatbands that can help you deal with sweat during intense performances.
If you’re a string hoarder or someone who gets large packs of strings because you never know when you’ll need them, or you just bought them at a discount then make sure to keep them sealed in their original packaging.
I actually keep mine in an airtight container to prevent them from coming in contact with oxygen and any humidity. This way they actually stay fresh!
Can You Clean Your Guitar Strings With Water?
Playing your guitar regularly means that your hands get in contact with the guitar strings on the same regular basis. Even with clean hands, the residue from the sweat, oils, and overall grime will get into the string windings.
If you leave your strings as they are, then the residue will dry and next time you’re playing on your guitar you will just add another layer. This will make the sound of your strings duller, the material itself will start to deteriorate and they might break unexpectedly hurting you in the process.
One solution would be to check your guitar strings and change them regularly, or you can prolong their life by wiping them after each use. Preferably with a dry microfiber cloth that is designed to absorb moisture and not leave lint material behind.
Aside from your strings, you should also wipe down the fretboard, pickups, and the overall neck, and body of your guitar.
You should also remember to clean your hands before playing the guitar and if you suffer from excessively sweaty hands then keep a small towel nearby to dry them out occasionally.
Now if you want to do a thorough string clean up there is an old-school method that bass players used to use in which you remove your strings and use boiling water to clean them.
Or instead of removing them, you could wipe them with a mixture of water and a tiny amount of dish soap.
However, I don’t think it’s actually necessary and it’s best to avoid harsh chemicals like bleach or even soap as I’ve mentioned just now.
You are more likely to cause corrosion and damage both to your strings and possibly the instrument itself.
How To Properly Clean Your Guitar Strings Using Water?
Now if for some reason you still want to try cleaning your strings using water then here’s how you do it.
First, you need to remove the strings from your guitar and coil them, then you need to place them carefully, by using tongs into a small saucepan that is filled with boiling water.
You wait for 3-5 minutes and then remove the strings from the pan with the tongs and place them on a clean towel. It’s important to get the strings as dry as possible before stringing them back on your guitar because otherwise, they will rust.
I do want to note that boiling guitar strings was mainly done to bass strings to restore some of their original sound and prolong their life for a few more days. The upside of this boiling method was having a clean pair of old strings.
As you will see in the video below achieving a different sound or prolonging the life of old guitar strings by boiling them is more of a myth than anything else and it’s simply not worth it.
The other less wet and boiling hot method is mixing one cup of warm water with one drop of dish soap. Then you dip a cloth into this mixture you wring the water out of the cloth and use it to wipe each string a few times.
Then you take a clean cloth dip it only in warm water, wring it again and wipe the strings again to remove the soap.
Finally, you take a dry cloth and dry the strings, fretboard and any other possible part as best you can.
As you can imagine both methods are super tedious and they might do more damage than good. So, instead of using boiling water or any water whatsoever simply wipe your strings and change them when the time is due.
While you physically can wet the strings on your guitar it’s definitely not something you want to do if you want to keep playing on them.
Guitar strings thrive in a clean and moisture-free environment and while we can’t stop our fingers from sweating, we can always use a clean cloth to remove the sweat from our strings.
Inevitably strings will deteriorate, they will rust and they will most likely break, but that’s just how life goes.
So, string your guitar with a new pair and listen to the melody unfold with each stroke!