Keeping your piano in good condition requires more than just regular tuning. In fact, one of the most important – but often overlooked – maintenance tasks is knowing how to clean piano keys.
Ever get “in the zone” when you’re playing piano? Your fingers glide effortlessly across the keys and you feel like the music is a gentle breeze that blows through you.
Suddenly, you hit a sticky key and the moment crumbles around you.
Sticky piano keys can be a real pain in the butt, but with the right piano care and maintenance they can be prevented. Keys become stuck for a variety of reasons, such as changes in humidity, dirty keys, and even foreign objects lodged between the keys.
How Do You Clean and Polish Piano Keys?
To clean and polish your piano keys, follow these tips:
- Use a cotton pad dipped in hydrogen peroxide or dish soap to wipe down the piano keys
- Do not use disinfectants on the keyboard (or any products with citrus)
- Always follow up with a dry towel
- Limit yellowing by keeping the piano out of the sun
- Avoid harsh cleaning products and vigorous cleaning motions, as this can damage the keys
Now that you know how to keep your piano looking great, you can focus more of your efforts on sounding great, too. Follow the tips in the video below and consider signing up for piano lessons:
How to Clean Piano Keys Safely
Learning how to clean piano keys is a great preventative measure to take against the sticky-key menace. This video from Howcast shows you exactly what you need and how to get the job done!
But if you need more detailed information, check out the tips below.
Determine the Material
First things first – figure out what your piano keys are made of. This will play a big role in keeping your piano clean and getting it clean in the future.
There are four possible materials it can be made out of:
- Acrylic plastic – the most common for modern pianos
- Cellulose – also known as “imitation ivory”
- Ivory – though no longer allowed, ivory is found in pianos that predate the 1930s and is made from the teeth and tusks of animals like elephants
- Ebony – a hard, dark tropical wood, ebony is often used on the black keys
How do you know what the keys are made out of? Consider its age, first and foremost – if it’s brand-new, it’s probably made out of acrylic plastic.
If it’s an older piano, you can tell if you have ivory keys by looking at the seam that runs horizontally where each white key becomes narrow. This seam should be quite thin.
How to Clean Ivory Piano Keys
Whether you’re cleaning ivory or plastic keys, you will want to start by wiping down the keys with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. This will get the top layer of dust and debris off them.
If you want to know how to clean piano keys made of ivory, the steps are simple. Wipe toward yourself, working from the top of the keys to the closest edge, since wiping horizontally can damage or misalign the keys.
For ivory keys, remember that it’s porous – and it’s vulnerable to certain cleaning techniques. Make sure the cloth is only slightly damp and only use a white cloth – colored cloths can transfer their dye to the keys.
You can use a mixture of one part dish soap to four parts water to clean the keys. Start cleaning from the lowest white note on the pano and work your way up. Draw the dust from the keys by rubbing them from back to front. Work one octave at a time and dry the keys between.
Give one final wipe down with the dry cloth.
How to Clean Plastic Piano Keys
Plastic keys are more resilient so you can use other items, like lemon juice or white vinegar, to clean them. However, dish soap works just as well.
Pro tip – put a piece of cardboard between the keys. THis will prevent dust or moisture from getting between them and causing problems later on.
Again, the cloth should only be slightly damp. Make sure the piano is switched off and unplugged, if it’s electric. Then, follow the tips above that are listed for ivory keys.
When you are cleaning, don’t pour solution directly onto the keys. Water can get between the keys and damage the piano. Don’t use a scrubbing brush or scouring pad, either, as this can scratch the keys.
Want to know how to clean digital piano keys? Usually, you’ll follow the same steps you did for plastic keys – just make sure the piano is unplugged first so you don’t damage any electrical components.
Can I Use Vinegar to Clean Piano Keys?
You can use vinegar to clean your piano keys but only if the piano has plastic keys. Do not use vinegar on ivory keys.
Can You Clean Piano Keys With Alcohol?
You should not use solvents of any kind to clean the keys on the piano. This can damage the fine finish.
You should avoid alcohol as well as things like waxing and polishing. THis can lead to build-up that’s difficult to remove, even by trained professionals.
How Do I Get My Piano Keys White Again?
Next up – how to clean yellow piano keys.
Are your piano keys discolored? If so, you can whiten them with toothpaste. This is the easiest way to whiten ivory keys and is totally safe to do. You may also be able to use a awhite vinyl eraser for this purpose.
Some people even swear by using a bit of yogurt to whiten the keys, as the bacteria in the yogurt bleaches the ivory in a safer way.
If that doesn’t do the trick, you may need to call in the big guns. A professional cleaning service can take the piano apart and bleach the keys for you. This isn’t something you should try to do on your own.
Even plastic piano keys can get yellow, but this is most common after prolonged sunlight exposure. It can be difficult to get these kinds of keys white again, but a piano technician or piano cleaning service should be able to help.
In the future, keep your piano in indirect sunlight, which will whiten ivory keys and prevent plastic keys from becoming yellow in the first place.
Of course, you should always wash and dry your hands before playing the piano – this can prevent grease and dirt from getting onto the keys.
Make sure you close the keyboard lid if your piano has one – or invest in a dust cover if it doesn’t. This can protect your piano keys from the vast majority of debris and damages.
How to Clean Sticky Piano Keys – the Right Way!
Now that you know how to clean your piano keys, keep them clean by washing your hands before you play. Keeping your piano out of heat and protecting it against changes in humidity also help to prevent sticky keys.
If you already have sticky piano keys and you’re not sure what’s causing them, it’s time to call in a piano technician. Don’t try to take your piano apart or perform any repairs on it yourself unless you have extensive knowledge and training.
We hope you’ve found these tips helpful! If you have any questions about cleaning your piano keys, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And be sure to sign up for piano lessons so you have the skills you need to play your piano – not just to keep it clean!
Do you hate sticky piano keys? What steps do you take to prevent them or keep the piano keys clean? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Photo by Ian Riley