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How To Clean Your Piano Keys Without Damage

How To Clean Your Piano Keys Without Damage

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If you play the piano, you know that an important step in keeping your piano in great shape for a long time is through regular maintenance and repair when necessary.

Proper maintenance is key (no pun intended), and one of those tasks includes cleaning your piano keys without damaging them. Oils from your skin (as well as whatever other grime your skin picks up), dust, and dirt can collect on your keys making them look very dingy.

Even if you wash your hands regularly there is still going to be some wear on the keys. Cleaning them can be done fairly easily at home without hiring a professional and saving you money and leaving your keys just like new.

However, there are a few things you need to be careful of:

First: What Kind of Keys Do You Have?

It is very important before you even begin to know what kind of material your keys are.

There is a difference in how you will be cleaning plastic keys versus actual ivory ones. The keys on a keyboard are plastic, while on an actual piano will be ivory. But there are pianos (specifically, newer ones) that do have plastic keys, so make sure you know which kind you have before you proceed.

If you are having trouble deciphering which, here are some things to take note of:

  • Ivory keys aren’t exactly white, but more off-white in color.
  • Plastic keys are smoother and have a clear-like coating on them.
  • Ivory keys will have two parts joined together that you can visibly see.
  • Ivory keys will look more yellow as they dirty over time.

Doing This Will Cause Damage

If you are preparing to take on the task of cleaning your piano keys, there are certain things that you should not be doing, so be sure to avoid them so that you do not cause more damage to your keys when cleaning:

  1. Do NOT use chemically-based cleaners or polish. These cleaners are too harsh and will most likely damage your keys. Stick to mild soaps.
  2. Do NOT use paper towels when wiping them down. You want to use cloths that are lint free and won’t leave any residue.
  3. Do NOT wipe your keys from side to side, you risk moisture getting in between the keys and causing more harm.
  4. Do NOT use the same cloth when wiping black keys and white keys, use separate cloths. Sometimes the paint can wipe from the black and then you will smear the whites.
  5. Do NOT use spray disinfectants during cold/flu seasons, these can destroy the surface of your keys and the spray itself can carry into other parts of the piano (which will cause further destruction!)

Clean the Keys Carefully

Before you get to cleaning it is a good idea to dust off the keys first so that any surface dust is removed. You can also dust your piano keys in between uses by using a soft paintbrush or soft-bristled brush or duster. Be sure to work brushing down to push the dust off of the keys.

If you want to simply disinfect your piano keys, the best solution is using some filtered water with white vinegar to wipe them down. Using a cheesecloth or flannel, make sure you wipe vertically down and take time to dry the keys in between wipes. Make sure you remember to change cloths from white keys to black keys.

The warm water and white vinegar solution are best for cleaning plastic keys since anything else over plastic (including soaps) can be too harmful. Make sure you only use a little bit, a good rule here is one part vinegar to four parts water because the acid in the vinegar can cause damage if you use too much.

When cleaning your ivory piano keys, there is a mild solution of just warm water with a little bit of dish soap that will be sufficient and effective. Be sure that whatever cloth you decide to use, it is best if it is white in color so that no other colors bleed onto the white keys. Utilize a brushing motion when wiping so that you’re not being too abrasive (like scrubbing), which could lead to damage.

Whitening Ivory Keys

You can also use white toothpaste to clean ivory keys. Be sure to use normal, plain white toothpaste only. The gel and colored toothpaste corrode and discolor ivory. This will help whiten the keys again.

Another way to help with whitening ivory keys that have yellowed would be to consider moving them to a place with indirect sunlight because that can actually help to bleach your keys making them look whiter again.

One last way you can work on whitening your piano keys is using a white vinyl eraser and gently rubbing it down each white key, making sure to do each key on its own to avoid any eraser bits getting in between the keys.

Another method that is a little bit off and off-the-wall is to wipe down the keys with either mayonnaise or yogurt to whiten the ivory. Believe it or not, the bacteria in these foods help to bleach the ivory in a gentle but effective way. Just remember to also buff the keys with a dry cloth after to remove any of the food residues.

Ready To Play Again

After cleaning and buffing, your keys should look like new and ready to play again. It is wise to do the disinfecting every couple of weeks and the cleaning at least once a month to keep your keyboard or piano in good shape. If it is not used very much you can space out how often you clean it, but dusting with a brush may be something you’ll want to do every couple of weeks if it’s not getting used because the keys will still collect a lot of surface dust. You can also try to cut down cleaning in between uses if you be sure that anyone who uses the piano including yourself always washes and dries their hands before they use it.

Your online piano teacher should be able to give you proper direction on the frequency and the best type of cleaning you should engage in.

If your piano is an antique, it may be better to consult an expert before attempting to clean it on your own. If you aren’t careful, you could risk the piano’s worth with improper cleaning techniques.

Now that your keys are clean, it’s time to fill the room with beautiful music. Happy playing!

20 Responses

  1. My sister would like to have her piano tuned since it’s not producing good music anymore. Anyhow, I also agree with you that humidity and change in temperature may affect the piano. Thank you for sharing here as well that it would be best never to use chemically-based cleaners too when cleaning the said instrument.

  2. I came across your article on how to keep your piano keys clean and I liked that it wasn’t just a “quick fix” but also had some great tips for long term. Thank you for posting this!

  3. I need someone to check the keys on my piano. I have one stuck, not playing.
    It may also need tuned.

  4. I think you should definitely contact a piano technician in your area. Best of luck!

  5. What a great resource, I have had a piano sitting in my living room for YEARS! It was just past on to me by my grandmother. Never cleaned it when I clean my house, I just never thought of it because it is more so a piece of beautiful decor, I do not actually play it. But I guess it would make it look a lot nicer if I cleaned it!

  6. Thanks for this article. So many people think you can just gob cleaner onto piano keys like you’re cleaning anything else. Not the case.

  7. My Roland EP9 digital piano has been in storage for some years owing to retiring/downsizing/travelling/moving a lot. The keyboard last resided under my bed for five years due to lack of space. I recently made space for it and have found many things wrong with it: no sound from keys below Middle C, a broken key.

    I learned to play (I use the word “play” loosely) on a Heintzman Boudoir but the Roland keyboard is excellent at this point in my life and it doesn’t feel like plastic. My question is: Would getting a piano technician in for a complete diagnostic be a good idea, before buying a new keyboard, or might it just be a waste of money?

  8. Hi, thanks for your article. What do you recommend for cleaning sticky dust off knobs and sliders on a keyboard / controller?

  9. This was helpful! The tips were thorough, clear and very easy to follow. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this invaluable information with us. I’m sure this will be a great help to many people. It’s not often we run into the situation, but always good to keep building the cleaning knowledge.

  10. Thanks for this good info. I inherited my mother’s piano (which was given to her by my father as a gift in 1952) when she had to move into residential care. I have maintained the cabinet, but do not usually open the keyboard as I do not play. I decided to open it and am embarrassed to say the keys were horribly dirty. My mother will be visiting (she is 92!) and I want her to see her piano is well cared for. I hope now that I am retired I may be able to learn just a little. But just having it brings me many happy memories of my mother playing.

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