How to Sanitize Piano Keys Safely and Avoid Damage

Discover how to sanitize piano keys without damaging them.

Cleaning piano keys is a topic that tends to stump many new piano owners. You may think it’s ok to use an everyday cleaning product, but for those curious to know how to sanitize piano keys, it’s important to understand that this task needs to be done carefully to avoid any damage to the piano itself.  

So in this article, I’m going to outline how you can safely and effectively clean your piano keys.

Plastic vs Ivory Piano Keys

The method you use to clean your piano keys depends on the material used to make the keys. Newly manufactured pianos are made with plastic or acrylic keys. But if you have an older piano that predates the 1950s, the keys were probably crafted from ivory. 

If you’re not sure if your piano has ivory keys or not, there are a few ways to tell. Plastic keys tend to be smoother than ivory. Ivory keys tend to yellow as they age and may even crack or chip. And the easiest way to tell is by looking very closely at the key itself. Ivory keytops were made from two separate pieces of ivory. 

So, you should be able to see where the two pieces are joined together. 

How to Clean Plastic Piano Keys

You can clean plastic piano keys with a mixture of mild soap and water. This will be effective in cleaning the keys of dirt and grime, and if you use an antibacterial soap, it will help clean away some germs at the same time. 

Learn how to clean dirty piano keys

Here are the steps to cleaning plastic piano keys.

It’s important to clean as much loose dust from the keys as possible before beginning. You can clean between the keys with a soft-bristled brush, feather duster, or even a soft paintbrush. 

Clean the white keys and black keys separately, and with separate cloths. The black paint can transfer onto the cloth and stain the white keys.

Use a very mild soap diluted with warm water. You can also use vinegar. Use one part vinegar to four parts water. Never apply pure vinegar to the keys. 

Use clean, white microfiber towels to clean the keys. They need to be white, or at least color-safe, to avoid transferring any color onto the white keys. You will need three separate towels. You can also use a disposable cleaning cloth or paper towels. Make sure the paper towels are plain white as well. A microfiber cloth is the best choice since paper towels can leave lint behind. 

Dip a clean cloth into the mixture of soap and water and then wring it out. Make sure the towel is just damp, not sopping wet. The idea is to make sure no liquid can seep into the piano between the keys. This could cause major damage to the wooden keys or the interior of the piano. 

Wipe each white key length-wise, never side to side, to avoid pushing dirt between the keys. Wipe from the back of the key towards yourself. Don’t scrub the keys. 

Use a clean microfiber cloth and dampen it with plain water. Wipe the keys again in the same fashion. It’s better to do a few keys at a time to avoid letting the moisture set on the keytops for too long.

Use a third dry microfiber cloth to dry each key in the same fashion.

Repeat with the black keys. 

How to Clean Ivory Piano Keys

Cleaning ivory piano keys is a very delicate process. The ivory used on the keytops is a very porous material, and you must use caution with cleaners to avoid damaging or staining the keys. Here are the steps to clean ivory piano keys. 

Use very gentle dish soap and warm water to clean ivory keys. Never use harsh or abrasive chemicals. Vinegar should also be avoided. It can lead to damage and discoloration. 

Follow the same steps as above. Use a clean white microfiber cloth and use separate cloths for black and white keys. 

Wipe each key with soap and water, then wipe with plain water. Make sure your cloth is just damp, not sopping wet.

Finally, use a dry cloth to wipe away any moisture. 

Always wipe lengthwise towards yourself, never side to side. Take extra caution not to scrub the keys. A gentle wiping motion is best. 

How to Whiten Ivory Piano Keys

You can use plain white toothpaste and milk to whiten ivory piano keys that have started to yellow from age. Don’t use any gel or colored toothpaste, as these will be too abrasive and will damage and discolor the ivory. 

Learn how to white ivory piano keys that have turned yellow

Apply a small amount of white toothpaste to a microfiber cloth and gently wipe each key lengthwise toward yourself. Do not scrub the keys.

Dip a clean white cloth in milk and gently wipe the keys. Gently buff any toothpaste from the keys. 

Use a clean white microfiber cloth to dry any moisture from each key. 

If you have an antique piano and want to avoid damage to the ivory, it might be worth it to seek professional help. You can pay a professional to remove the keys from your piano and have them professionally bleached. 

Please keep in mind–don’t overdo it with the milk. You are absolutely not supposed to douse your wonderful piano in fat free or 2% milk. Instead, start very small. Just put a small amount of milk on a small area of your cloth to begin. Reapply the milk as needed. But do not, in any way shape or form, pull out a milk carton and just start pouring the white stuff onto your piano keys.

How to Sanitize Piano Keys

The methods used to sanitize piano keys are an evolving process. Since the onset of Covid-19, more people have become interested in learning how to properly disinfect and sanitize piano keys. There seem to be differing opinions regarding the safest and most effective methods. Here are some keys and tips to follow when disinfecting piano keys.

Avoid any cleaners or wipes that contain bleach or citrus elements. While these are popular and recommended methods to disinfect many surfaces, they are too harsh for use on piano keys. 

Avoid any spray disinfectant cleaners. The chemical composition of most spray cleaners and disinfectants is much too abrasive for use on piano keys, and there is a risk that moisture will get between the piano keys.

Clean Piano Keys

Most piano manufacturers recommend isopropyl alcohol (90%) or hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting piano keys. The important thing to remember is that moisture is very damaging to a piano. Use a cotton ball or cotton swab to apply a very small amount of peroxide or alcohol, and then wipe the keys one at a time. Allow the disinfectant to sit for a minute so that it can effectively kill any germs present. Dry each key with a clean, white microfiber towel. 

Be aware that both isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can damage piano keys over time. It’s best to use either of these products carefully when cleaning piano keys and avoid soaking the keys in liquid. 

For ivory piano keys, a simple solution of antibacterial dish soap and water is best. You can use rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide on ivory keys but use extreme caution. 

There are cleaning products on the market specifically designed to be safe for piano keys. Remember, when using these products always apply the cleaner to a clean, white cloth and never directly onto the piano keys.

Keeping piano keys clean is a task that requires patience and knowledge. It’s very important to know which cleaners to use and which to avoid. And make sure you take care when using any liquid products on keys. Now that you know how to sanitize piano keys safely, it’s time to get back to playing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Many disinfectant wipes contain bleach or citrus elements in their composition. These types of disinfectant wipes should be avoided when cleaning piano keys, as they can cause damage and discoloration. Any wipe that does not contain these elements should be relatively safe for plastic keys, but you should spot test before use.

No, you cannot use Windex to clean piano keys.  Windex has specific chemicals made to clean glass windows—not pianos.  As such, spraying Windex onto your piano keys can cause far more harm than good—and may even result in your keys becoming damaged or starting to stick.

When that occurs, you now have a much bigger problem on your hands—one that would require the services of a piano repair company.

Plain warm water and a microfiber cloth is the best way to clean the exterior of a piano. Avoid using any chemicals, polishes, waxes, or furniture sprays. Doing so can lead to build-up that may need to be removed by a professional.

Studies show that Covid-19 can live on plastic surfaces for between two and three days, and on wooden surfaces for up to four days. However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, scientists have determined you are less likely to become infected through contact with a contaminated surface than by direct exposure to someone who is ill with the virus.

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