Whether you buy new or used, almost every guitarist has had to deal with a smelly guitar case at some point. How do you get rid of that foul, gut-wrenching smell?
Before you can decide the best way to stifle those nasty odors, you first need to have some idea of what’s causing them to begin with.
Different smells have different remedies. Some smells can be eliminated by tossing an odor-neutralizing item into your case to absorb the stench, while other odors require more of a deep cleaning. In many cases, a little fresh air and sunshine will do the trick.
Why Do Guitar Cases Get Smelly?
There are several reasons why guitar cases develop foul odors. The most common reason is secondary to chemicals used in the glue that attaches the liner to the case. When the guitar case is closed, the fumes get trapped inside causing the fabrics to absorb the odors within.
Sometimes it’s from leaving your case in a smoke-filled barroom or other venues. Tobacco, cigars, and body odors have a way of sticking to fabric so the smells tend to linger.
Other times it’s because you left something inside of your case that shouldn’t have been left there (has anyone seen my sandwich?).
Another common cause of unpleasant smells is improper storage. When guitars aren’t stored correctly, their cases can develop musky, dank, mildewy smells from being left in damp environments.
Every once in a while it’s the guitar itself that stinks, and the case absorbs the smells emitting from your guitar. This is because the materials of the neck and strings chemically react with the acids and oils in your skin, which can result in unpleasant smells.
9 Ways To Get Rid Of Bad Guitar Case Odor
Take note that some things absorb odors, some things mask odors, and sometimes one odor can overpower another.
The following remedies are recommended as ‘odor neutralizing’ by novice and expert players alike.
You may have to clean your case more than once, but these antidotes are sure to help.
1. Coffee Beans
Coffee beans are a good place to start. They have the capability of acting as a filter and removing toxic gases from the air.
Throw some whole or ground coffee beans into a sock or mesh bag and store it in your case, or even your guitar, to help eliminate those offensive smells.
2. Activated Charcoal
Another option to neutralize foul smells is activated charcoal. Not only is it efficient, but it also comes in a variety of forms including granules, discs, filters, or deodorizers.
Create a sachet using cheesecloth, muslin, or nylon hose and place it inside your case.
Activated charcoal can be messy, however, so be sure your case stays stationary to prevent unwanted messes.
3. Tea, Oregano, or Potpourri.
Just like coffee, tea and dried oregano can absorb and neutralize offensive smells that are caused by heat and bacteria.
Try adding dried flowers like lavender, mint, or calendula to your tea or oregano to create a pleasing aroma.
4. Fresh Air & Sunshine
Sometimes all your case needs is a day or two of sunbathing.
Letting your case sit open in the fresh outdoors does remarkable things for eliminating odors.
Find a safe place for your guitar, and clear your case from any unwanted debris. Then find a nice sunny spot and let your case soak up some sun.
5. Oil & Vinegar
Mix 2 tsp of olive oil with 1 pint of vinegar. Add a few drops of pleasant-smelling essential oil like lemon, ylang-ylang, or cedar to offset the vinegar smell.
Spray a light mist over the inside of your case, then gently rub it in with a dry cloth. Seal your case for 24-48 hours. Then repeat the process as necessary until the odor is gone.
6. Carpet Shampoo & Car Freshener
For those really obstinate odors that you just can’t seem to get rid of, clean your case liner with carpet shampoo or a carpet cleaner, like Resolve. Rinse and dry accordingly.
Then place a new car freshener on the inside and seal the case for 24-72 hours.
7. Baking Soda
Baking soda is a well-known alkaline that is very efficient at neutralizing acidic odors such as smoke, sweat, and body odor.
The tricky thing with baking soda is figuring out how to keep it from spilling all over the place. You would need to leave your case lying flat and untouched for a period of time to prevent spillage.
8. Isopropyl Alcohol
When your case gets that dank, metallic smell caused by your guitar strings, clean the strings with isopropyl alcohol to eliminate the dirt and grime.
Just be careful not to get the alcohol on the guitar itself. Alcohol has an innate drying ability, which can damage the wood.
If you should accidentally get alcohol on your fretboard, apply a light coat of lemon oil to counter the effect.
9. Murphy’s Oil Soap & Lemon Oil
Sometimes your case absorbs the smell of your guitar. Your guitar neck and strings are continually taking on dirt, grease, and sweat every time you play. This can build up on your fretboard and create a foul smell.
Give your guitar neck a good cleaning now and again with Murphy’s Oil Soap. Once you’ve cleaned it, wipe it down with lemon oil and a soft dry cloth. This will get rid of the grease and gunk.
You can even toss the dry cloth inside the case when you’re done to help it take on the lemon scent.
How To Stop Guitar Cases Becoming Smelly
The best thing you can do to prevent your guitar case from getting smelly is to utilize routine cleaning and maintenance. Cleaning your guitar and cleaning your case are equally important. Sadly, cases are often overlooked.
1) Clean Your Guitar & Case Regularly
You should wipe the strings, neck, and bridge of your guitar after every use. Make sure you remove the gunk build-up from the fretboard and strings periodically and polish your guitar with lemon oil. This not only protects the guitar but helps the case smell good too.
You should give your guitar and case a thorough cleaning at least once a year.
Clear your case of any unwanted debris, then give it a good vacuum. Spray the inside liner with the oil and vinegar mixture noted above, or with a light mist of carpet cleaner.
Then wipe it down, inside and out.
2) Store Your Case in the Right Place
Make sure you keep your guitar and case away from extreme temperatures and humidity. Ideally, you should keep it in a place where temperatures can be controlled to 70-75 degrees.
Avoid places like attics, basements, or garages because temperatures in these places can fluctuate a lot.
Not only does humidity damage your guitar, but it’s a big contributor to those musty, damp smells that musicians often complain about. Try to avoid areas that have humidity greater than 50%.
You could also keep one or two humidity desiccants in your case for additional help if needed.
Check our article on how to store your guitar and case the right way to avoid damage
3) Air Out Routinely
As mentioned above, sometimes just a little fresh air and sunshine will do the trick.
At least once every few months, make it a point to air out your case. Let it sit outside on a nice day and get some fresh air.
4) Take Care When Performing
If you are a performer, avoid leaving your case in smoke-filled barrooms if you can help it. Keep it in a different spot like your vehicle or dressing room.
If that’s not an option, then keep a large towel or cloth to throw over your case that would act as a protective barrier. When you’re done, you can just throw the towel in the wash.
Keep your case closed during performances, and clean it as soon as you can once you are done.
Wipe down the outside of the case with a vinegar and water solution to get rid of any lingering cigarette or cigar smells.
Be sure to give your guitar a good wipe down before sealing it back in the case.
5) Keep Some Air Freshener in Your Case
Regardless of which option you choose, keep some sort of air freshener in your case at all times.
Whether it’s potpourri, cedar chips, coffee beans, a car freshener, or even a mothball, having something to continually absorb unpleasant odors will help maintain the freshness of your case.
Be sure to change it out frequently.
6) Change Your Strings
If you are having issues with your strings, and it’s that unpleasant metallic smell you are trying to get rid of, then try a different kind of string.
Different materials leak different molecules. This means that nickel strings will smell different from phosphor bronze strings as they react with your natural body chemistry.
To alleviate the smell, try using a different string material or coated strings that allegedly have no smell at all.
This is something you’ll have to experiment with to see what works best for you.
Smelly cases can be quite annoying and frustrating. Sometimes, so much so, you want to get rid of it – so try some of these remedies first.
Many guitarists profess multiple attempts before they are successful at getting rid of those unwanted whiffs. So don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time.
Try a combination of different things until you find one that works, and then clean it regularly to prevent those foul odors from returning.