How to Clean Piano Keys

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Last updatedLast updated: September 15, 2021
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A piano is one of the most beautiful instruments in the world. Like all instruments, however, it can get dirty over time and needs cleaning. This is especially true of the keyboard, which is why you need to know how to clean piano keys.

There are a few reasons why keys get dirty, with the main culprits being the oil and grime on our fingertips along with sun exposure. They can develop a layer of grime over time and also start to turn from white to yellow.

In this article, we’ll look at how to keep your keys clean and how to reverse that yellowing process. We’ll also look at what you should avoid doing as some cleaning solutions can make the problem worse. By the end, you should know how to restore your beloved piano to its former glory.

What kind of material are your piano keys made of?

How to Clean Piano KeysPiano keys have evolved over time and so have the steps needed to clean them. Wood was the material of choice for most pianos, with the likes of spruce used for lighter keys and ebony for darker keys. This was until it was found that ivory gave a much more appealing look.

Ivory has since fallen out of fashion, mainly due to the  laws banning its use Trusted Source Ivory Trade Is Banned To Save the Elephant The African elephant was classified as an endangered species today in an effort to halt poaching by ivory hunters, who have drastically reduced its numbers. www.nytimes.com  due to the hugely negative environmental impact they have. That’s why modern-day pianos almost always use specialized plastic that has the look and feel of ivory.

This plastic is of the highest quality and Yamaha (the maker of some of the best digital grand pianos in the world) have formulated their own plastic called ‘ivorite’, such as seen on their YDP 103 Arius model. These modern-day plastics feel great, look impressive, and are  much more animal-friendly Trusted Source Ivory trade - Wikipedia International trade in Asian elephant ivory was banned in 1975 when the Asian elephant was placed on Appendix One of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). By the late 1980s, it was believed that only around 50,000 remained in the wild. en.wikipedia.org .

Wipe the keys dry

To wipe the keys dry, make sure to get a soft and dry white cleaning cloth. Colored ones have the potential to leave the dye on your keys, which can make the issue worse. The same method is applied to digital or acoustic pianos as all you’ll need is a good microfiber cloth. This will not only life any moisture due also pick up any dust. When wiping keys, make sure to do so vertically as wiping across them risks damage.

Cleaning and rubbing

How to Clean Piano KeysHere are a few steps you need to follow for healthy cleaning of your piano keys:

  • Get a fine quality cloth for cleaning with the same instructions as above, with it ideally being a white microfiber cloth.
  • Take an empty spray bottle and mix a solution of mild soap and water. Simply damp cloth with it and start cleaning keys. The cloth should be wet a little, as you don’t want to risk any drips falling in between the keys.
  • If there is any stubborn dirt, then you can add white vinegar into the mixture as the mild acid works very effectively as a cleaner.
  • To clean the sides and underneath of keys, slightly lift the keys and make use of a thick cardboard strip and insert it under the edge to keep them in a position.
  • Now clean the keys with the same soft cloth. It’s best to clean them from back to front and use as little pressure as you can get away with.
  • There are specialist cleaners available, but most keys can be easily cleaned with this home solution.
  • After you have thoroughly wiped down the keys, it’s best to use another cloth but one that is completely dry.

These steps should be enough to clean the keys, especially if done regularly. On top of this, you can use a solution such as the Music Nomad MN130 to get rid of those pesky stains. Our tests showed that it was safe on semi-gloss and high-gloss instruments.


Restoring color

Having clean piano keys and fully white piano keys are two different things. Soap and water won’t fully restore their color, but there are homemade solutions that can help. We already mentioned vinegar, but citric acid (such as in lemon juice) can help to bring that whiteness back.

If you have ivory keys, then the process is going to be completely different. You shouldn’t use water at all. Instead, you’ll have two options. There are white vinyl erasers available that can brighten your keys, or you can also use a very fine wire brush. If you have an ivory piano, it may be best to let an expert clean it.

Ivory and plastic keys also react very differently to sunlight. Where those UV rays can yellow plastic keys, they can bleach ivory keys and actually help to keep them white. For modern pianos, it’s always best to keep them covered to protect them from sunlight but also dirt and dust.

Steps to avoid

While we’ve shown you what you should do, here we’ll have a look at what you should avoid:

  • Harsh chemical cleaners should be avoided. They can permanently damage your keys and make the issue worse.
  • Avoid paper towels as they will break apart and can leave residue on your keys.
  • Don’t wipe across the keys, as this puts unnecessary pressure on them and increases the chance of drips falling in between.
  • Avoid alcohol wipes as these can affect the finish of the keys.

How to make your piano keys stay clean longer?

How to Clean Piano KeysBy far, the best thing you can do for your keys is to keep them covered. If you don’t have a lid on your piano, then it’s best to invest in a dust cover. This will keep the sunlight off the keys and block any dust while also protecting anything from falling on them. This will be especially important if you have a portable keyboard piano , as they are more liable to dirt and dust when traveling.

It’s a good idea to wash your hands before playing. This will reduce the chance of a transfer of oils and dirt. After playing, a quick wipe down of your keys can avoid a big cleaning job further down the road.

Conclusion

Cleaning piano keys isn’t a complicated process but one that you should take care of. Modern-day plastic keys are highly durable, but even they need cleaning once in a while. The steps we’ve seen here should keep that piano looking at its best for years to come.

For this type, mild soap and water should be all you need when it comes to how to clean piano keys. You can add a mild acid to the mix to brighten them up and remove stubborn spots. Ivory keys need a bit more care, but these are now very rare.

All you need to do now is follow these steps and don’t cut corners. You’ll soon have your instrument looking as it should and playing perfectly too.

References

1.
Ivory Trade Is Banned To Save the Elephant
The African elephant was classified as an endangered species today in an effort to halt poaching by ivory hunters, who have drastically reduced its numbers.
2.
Ivory trade - Wikipedia
International trade in Asian elephant ivory was banned in 1975 when the Asian elephant was placed on Appendix One of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). By the late 1980s, it was believed that only around 50,000 remained in the wild.
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