If you love playing the piano, and you both practice and play quite a bit, then it’s inevitable that your wonderful piano keys will become dirty. And once dirt and grime enters the picture, it’s important to know how to clean piano keys safely and successfully for the longterm viability of your instrument.
So in this article, I’m going to outline the many methods for cleaning your piano keys so you can keep your instrument in great shape and have it look aesthetically pleasing.
How to Clean Piano Keys
Let’s begin with the first option for cleaning your keys, which is using hydrogen peroxide.
How to Clean Piano Keys with Hydrogen Peroxide
If you’re concerned about disinfecting your piano keys, don’t use any old hand sanitizer—use over-the-counter hydrogen peroxide instead!
When wiping your keys, use a soft cloth such as a microfiber towel, an old flannel, or a high quality paper towel. Do not use any kind of material that could scratch your keys, such as steel wool or rough sponges. Also avoid cloths that leave behind lint.
Make sure that you wipe keys individually in a vertical movement to avoid getting liquid in the cracks between them. Do not, under any circumstances, wipe the keys from side to side—doing so can actually loosen the keys and make them wobbly when you play.
Note that if you use hydrogen peroxide, it may have a subtle bleaching effect on ivory keys. If you do have an old piano with ivory keys, make sure those keys are in a sunny room to maintain whiteness and prevent yellowing.
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How to Clean Piano Keys with Vinegar (or Lemon Juice or Soap)
If you don’t have any hydrogen peroxide on hand, there are other options for cleaning your piano keys.
For those that have plastic piano keys, consider diluting white vinegar or lemon juice in lukewarm water. Make sure that the ratio is at least 1 part cleaning agent to 4 parts water. This is very important because anything with high acidity can cause damage to your piano keys!
If you have ivory and ebony piano keys, you can use a mild dish soap in lukewarm water. While dish soap won’t cause the same kind of damage as acidity, it’s also potentially harmful because it can leave residues that are difficult to remove.
Also be sure to dilute your mixture before cleaning.
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How to Clean Piano Keys with Toothpaste (or Dairy)
If your keys are ivory and ebony, (and not plastic), here’s a different option for cleaning your piano keys.
Use a dairy product such as warm milk, mayonnaise, or plain yogurt to clean your ivory keys. The bacteria in these dairy products slightly bleach the keys and help them to stay whiter longer. This could be potentially quite helpful if you’re dealing with yellowing piano keys, for example.
For ebony and ivory keys, you can also use white toothpaste to gently clean your keys.
Cleaning Piano Keys: What to Do
When cleaning your piano keys, please always do the following:
–Pour or spray any cleaning agent onto your cloth rather than the piano.
–Use a different cloth for cleaning the white keys than the black keys to prevent paint bleeding or transfer from the keys.
–Use a white cloth for cleaning the white keys to prevent dye bleeding or transfer from the cloth.
–Wipe gently at the keys until clean.
–Keep ivory keys in a sunny room—sunlight helps prevent yellowing in ivory keys.
Cleaning Piano Keys: What Not to Do
Now when cleaning your piano keys yourself, always make sure to avoid doing the following:
–Pour or spray any cleaning agent directly onto your piano. Doing so creates an unnecessary risk of permanently damaging the piano.
–Wax or polish your keys—it can cause problematic buildup that’s difficult to remove.
–Use cleaners with heavy bleach elements or anything with high acidity without diluting first.
–Scrubbing the keys vigorously—you run the risk of scratching or potentially even chipping them.
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Cleaning Beyond the Piano Keys
If you’re looking for a deeper clean for your piano beyond the keys, you should keep in mind that you should NOT clean the inside of the piano on your own… (unless you’re a trained technician, of course!)
Any time you reach around inside of your piano and physically touch the strings or anything around them, you risk getting your piano out of tune or even breaking some of the smaller wooden parts. Dust or dirt under the strings must be cleaned by a professional.
In all honesty, the best time to have your piano deep cleaned is when you have a professional technician come to tune your piano. Generally, a tune-up costs anywhere between $100-$200, but it varies by region and technician.
A piano really needs to be tuned once a year, and really needs to be deep cleaned once every 5 to 10 years, but the better care you take of it, the longer your piano will last.
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If you would still like to clean your piano beyond the keys, you should begin by carefully removing anything that may have fallen in, such as papers, pens, or small toys. If your piano is made of wood, look for any cracks that could absorb water, as well as any rodent damage. Signs of rust, rodents, or moisture damage need immediate professional attention.
From there, take a soft cloth and use lukewarm water to gently wipe away dust and fingerprints. Do not use any bleach-based disinfectants, alcohol, or high acidity cleaning agents on your wood.
Like with your piano keys, never pour or spray anything directly onto your piano. Instead use a soft cloth and test a cleaner on a small unseen region of the finish to make sure that it won’t damage any visible surfaces of your piano. If needed, you can use a gloss or satin finish polish to touch up any damaged areas—just make sure you know which finish your piano has.
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Different Kinds of Piano Keys
Finally, we’ve made a few references to various kinds of piano keys, but I wanted to take a quick moment to cover them in a bit more depth here. In my eyes, before you go about cleaning your piano keys, it’s important to know what kind of material they’re made out of. These are the three most common materials:
1. Ivory Keys
Traditionally, piano keys have been made out of ivory, a bone material which comes from the tusks of elephants and the teeth of other animals.
However, a trade ban was placed on ivory in 1989 to protect the few remaining elephants and rhinos we have. So, if your piano was manufactured within the past 30 years, it’s unlikely that your keys are made of ivory.
Ivory keys are usually made up of three parts and you should be able to see the lines where they’re joined. Since it’s made of a bone material, it’s also porous and you should be able to see a sort of pattern on the surface. That texture is also what allows the keys to absorb sweat from fingers and reduce slipping. Ivory keys also yellow as they age, and the darker the keys, the older the ivory.
2. Ebony Keys
While the white (natural) keys were traditionally made with ivory, the black (accidental) keys were made with a dense, dark hardwood called ebony.
Ebony comes from tropical southeast Asian trees in the genus Diospyros, which includes persimmon trees. When the wood was harvested, polishing it created a mirror-like finish. If your white keys are ivory, it’s possible that your black keys are ebony.
3. Plastic Keys
The most common material for piano keys nowadays is plastic. While ivory and ebony are natural materials which are prone to damage such as chipping, plastic keys are less expensive and easier to take care of.
Sometimes they can chip towards the edges with use and can yellow if left in direct sunlight. However, they’ll always feel smoother or more sleek than ivory keys.
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Tips to Keep Your Piano Clean
1. Wash your hands before playing to avoid buildup of dirt and grime on your piano keys.
2. If your piano has a lid, pull it over the keys when you have finished playing to protect your piano keys from dust, spills, or even young kids horsing around near the instrument.
3. Never place anything liquid on or near your piano. Even spilling a single glass of water onto or inside of your piano is enough to ruin it.
Now that you know how to clean piano keys, make sure that you do it regularly. Your piano will thank you.
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