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Owning a piano is a privilege and a treat, whether you spent a pretty penny on a new piano, bought a nice used one, or acquired one through family or friends, they are beautiful instruments that deserve your care.
Learning to clean a piano properly will improve the durability of the instrument and keep it clean and presentable. Hopefully, you’ll save some money that would have been spent having a professional clean and repair your piano.
Before you take to cleaning your piano, you need to know how to do it. You don’t want to clean your piano and end up scratching or damaging the instrument instead.
Keeping Your Piano Clean
Before we get into cleaning the piano, we should talk about how to prevent your piano from become dirty in the first place. Here are a few tips and best practices for keeping your piano in tip top shape.
Wash And Dry Your Hands Before Playing Piano.
The keys are the one part of the piano that gets dirty. Grease and dirt on our hands leaves fingerprints and smudges on the keys. Over time, this turns keys yellow and builds until the piano no longer looks attractive.
Washing and drying your hands thoroughly before you sit down to play is good practice. It will keep the keys in tip top shape, and washing your hands more never hurts anyways.
Keep Your Piano In The Right Place
If at all possible, keep your piano with its back to an inside wall. This prevents the piano from becoming susceptible from the extreme hot and cold of the outside environment.
Keeping your piano somewhere the temperature is balanced and the humidity is balances will keep the piano playing well without constant maintenance.
Don’t Place Food, Drinks, Vinyl, Or Rubber On The Piano.
When I was in university, the number one rule in the practice studios was NO FOOD OR DRINK ON THE PIANO.
You really shouldn’t piano anything besides sheet music and some pencils on the piano. There is no use in accidentally causing spills and damage.
Close The Lid When It Is Not In Use.
When you are done playing, close the lid on the piano. On an upright, close the lid that protects the keys.
On a grand, close both the lid over the soundboard and the lid that protects the keys. This protects the keys and the delicate interior from the sun, dirt, dust, and spills.
Tools For Cleaning The Piano
In order to avoid damage to the piano while cleaning, it is important that you use the right tools.
- A soft, clean, lint-free cloth. Flannel or microfiber cloths are best. White cloths are also preferable, because colored cloths can leak their color onto the keys. Avoid coarse or synthetic materials – do not use paper towel.
- A feather duster.
- Cleaning solution. Warm water and white vinegar works well. Simple liquid dish detergent and water will do work for ivory keys.
- Piano polish. This is a specific polish for pianos. Make sure not to use any regular household polishing products.
Ivory Or Plastic Keys?
Cleaning plastic keys is different from cleaning ivory keys, so it is important to know which your piano has.
If your piano is digital, it has plastic keys. The only pianos that have ivory keys are real, acoustic pianos – and mostly older or expensive ones.
Plastic keys are smooth and have a clear coating on them. They are usually bright white.
Ivory keys are naturally off-white in color. They will also have two parts joined together that you make out with the eye. On an old piano, ivory keys will naturally look yellow as the age and dirty.
Dusting Piano Keys, Soundboard And Casework
Dusting your piano is the first step in cleaning your piano.
Start With The Keys
Take a feather duster and lightly dust all of the keys of the piano, make sure to get the back of the keys as well.
Even on digital pianos, dust can penetrate the inside of the piano and cause the keys to malfunction. Dirty key contacts can do all sorts of weird stuff to the piano!
Dust is abrasive, so use a light touch when you are dusting, particularly on ivory keys.
Dusting The Casework
Next, dust the casework of the piano with a feather duster. Again, a light touch is preferred, as the polish on the casework can be easily scratched.
Dusting The Soundboard
Exercise great caution when dusting the soundboard of your instrument. In fact, you can leave this task to the next technician that comes to tune and maintain the instrument.
If you must dust, try simply blowing away the dust and dirt that accumulate.
You can also use compressed air to blow the dust into a corner for dusting, or a vacuum if you are being very careful.
Cleaning Plastic Keys
Once the keys have been dusted, use a clean, soft lint-free cloth and a cleaning solution to the clean the plastic keys. You can make the cleaning solution out of white vinegar and warm water. You can also use a piano-specific cleaning solution like Key-Brite Key Cleaner.
If using vinegar, try a one part vinegar to four parts water – too much vinegar will cause the solution to be too acidic.
Do not apply the cleaning solution directly to the keys. Dampen the cloth and wring it out well before using it on keys. If using a spray solution, spray the cloth with the solution and then apply it to the keys.
Gently wipe the keys with a front to back motion and be thorough to avoid leaving any residue on the keys.
Cleaning Ivory Keys
If your piano has ivory keys, you need a slightly different approach.
Create a mild solution with a little bit of dish soap and warm water. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to clean the keys – white cloths are better because colors can bleed onto the keys.
Drip the solution onto the cloth to dampen it lightly, and then wipe the keys down. Don’t scrub them, just wipe them. Usually, the dirt or grease on the keys will come off quickly.
Whitening Ivory Keys
Over time, ivory keys go yellow due to dirt, grease, and age. You can whiten ivory keys using plain, white toothpaste. Do not use gel toothpaste, colored toothpaste, or anything but plain white toothpaste.
Put the toothpaste on the cleaning cloth and very gently whiten the keys. You can also use a vinyl eraser to gently whiten the keys – be sure not to get any eraser bits in between the keys.
After you are done with either of these methods, gently buff the keys with a dry cloth to remove and residue from the toothpaste.
Polishing A Piano
Polishing a piano is usually done by a professional, and if you are going to attempt it at home, you should do it only when necessary and exercise caution. It is all too easy to scratch or damage the finish.
Common furniture polishes will not cut it when polishing a lacquered piano. Do not use any polishing product with silicone or lemon oils either – silicone can seep into wood and lemon oils can leave a sticky buildup of residue.
Also, be careful not to attempt to polish a piano that purposely has a dull sheen. Trying to polish a piano that is not meant to shine will produce the opposite effect.
Use a soft cloth or the provided cloth and gently wipe in the direction of the piano’s wood grain. Polishing in the direction of the original finish will benefit the wood and finish.
When approaching corners and edges, lighten up. These areas have a thin layer of finish and too much pressure can ruin the finish.
If your polish or wax is leaving residue, wipe these area with a mild solution or warm water and liquid dish soap. Dry immediately to avoid streaks.
Keep polishing to a minimum. You are better off dusting frequently than polishing frequently.
How To Clean A Piano, Final Thoughts
Your piano should be cleaned with the care you would afford a beautiful piece of antique furniture – and then some. It cannot be treated roughly, as every piece is delicate.
If you'll selling a used piano, you may want to consider getting it cleaned after you move it as it may get dirty again in the move.
You should dust the piano once every couple weeks or as needed. Dusting is easy and it won’t damage the piano.
Cleaning/disinfecting the keys should be done every couple weeks if it needs doing, however washing and drying your hands before use and closing the lid when not in use will keep this to a minimum.
Finally, if your piano is very old or antique, it may be best to call in an expert. Different types of wood require different methods, and old ivory can be very stained. Better to avoid damage when you are cleaning!
Ask your piano teacher for a recommended piano maintenance person or a piano tuner that can help you get the job done.