Everyone who owns a piano or a keyboard knows the feeling. One day you look at your instrument and notice how dirty the keys have become. It isn’t something that happens overnight but a general build-up over time.
And it’s not that your hands are dirty. Even if you wash them regularly, it still builds up. Therefore, learning How To Clean Your Piano Keys is an important skill that you need.
It could be from the natural oils in your skin. Or just the general dust and grime we seem to collect daily. In fact, I am looking at my keyboard now thinking, “time for a clean”…
Do It Yourself
You don’t have to get someone to do it for you. It’s something you can do quite easily yourself. But there are some things to consider before you jump into DIY piano keys cleaning.
Ivory, Imitation Ivory, or Plastic
This is very important because the materials you use will be different. Let’s deal with the Keyboard first as it is the easiest.
Quite simple, the keys on a keyboard will be plastic. Since they were first released by Casio and Yamaha, the keys have always been made of plastic. They may feel weighted and designed to feel like a piano when you play them. But they are plastic, with a smooth, shiny finish.
It gets a little more complicated with the piano. Piano keys were traditionally made from Ivory. So, how do you know piano keys are ivory? Generally speaking, if a piano was made before 1970, it is almost certainly given ivory keys.
A dark trade…
If a piano was made later than 1972, then it should not have ivory keys. The slaughter of elephants and the ivory trade, in general, began to be legislated against about that time.
Not a day too late, as the African elephant was moving towards extinction because of this trade. Much of the ivory was shipped to a small town in Connecticut named Deep River. It has long grappled with hiding its dark past.
Ivory trading was finally banned
In 1989, the Ivory trade was finally made illegal. Being humans, though, the trade still exists. Hunters pay pots of money to go “on safari” to kill them. And in China and Vietnam, there is still a busy trade. The point being, after 1972 but certainly after 1989, you will have plastic keys on your piano.
These are easy to deal with. They are quite rare, and you don’t often see them. They are made to look like ivory, but they are too smooth to the touch. Treat them as you would plastic because that is what they are.
Recognizing What is What
Knowing the difference between plastic, ivory, and imitation ivory piano keys is important for cleaning your piano keys. You need to look for tell-tale signs.
- Ivory keys are more off-white in color if they are well maintained.
- Ivory keys have a two-part design that is joined together that is very visible.
- Older ivory keys that have not been maintained are a light yellow in color.
- They will be slightly rough to the touch. Plastic keys are smooth.
Before you get in a panic, if you own a piano with ivory keys, then that is not illegal. Common sense prevailed in that area. But it may be illegal to buy new ivory keys if some are damaged, although second-hand ones are acceptable.
Let’s Start Cleaning
You are dealing with an instrument here. Be it piano or keyboard; it is vulnerable, so care needs to be taken. If you want to know how to clean your piano keys properly, these are some of the things you should keep in mind.
- When wiping the keys, don’t use a sideways motion. Wipe them vertically, running down the length of the key.
- Use different cloths when cleaning black and white keys.
- Use mild soaps and avoid any chemical cleaners or polishers.
- Do not use disinfectants.
- Use a soft cloth for wiping down, not paper towels. But make sure the cloths are lint-free.
Given the situation, you do need to ensure that your keys are free from any form of germs. As I have just said, never clean piano keys with disinfectant. But you can use filtered water with a mild solution of white vinegar. Wipe using a vertical motion down the length of the key. Use separate cloths for black and white keys. Don’t use too much vinegar.
Before you start
It is always a good idea to dust down the keys. Removing surface dust will help. Use a soft brush. Again use a vertical motion and don’t brush ‘across’ the keys.
The keys on your keyboard should be cleaned with a mild solution of warm soapy water. It’s the best way to clean piano keys; just don’t apply too much. It wouldn’t be a great idea to have the liquid flowing down between the keys. A slightly more than damp cloth will suffice.
Use a vertical motion to clean the keys. Again, it is best to use separate cloths for the black and white keys. Clean the tops and the front of the keys. You can clean between them by holding a key down, but care needs to be taken. Furthermore, clean one octave at a time, making sure the keys are dry before moving on to the next.
Possibly more than once…
You should avoid a scrubbing motion, and care is needed not to press down too hard. For particularly dirty keys, they may need more than one clean. If so, let them dry before attempting a second effort.
If they do need a second clean, do not increase the strength of your soapy water. After you have finished, wait until they are all completely dry. Then cover them if possible.
This is a very different scenario. Before we get started, if you have a vintage piano, there are other things to consider. If this is the case, then I would recommend bringing in a professional piano cleaner. It is a valuable asset, and you don’t want to cause any accidental damage.
Okay, let’s get started…
- Do not use any soaps or chemicals at all.
- If you can, wear white cotton gloves.
- Dust the keys with a very soft brush using a vertical motion.
- Whiten the keys using plain white toothpaste with no colorant or a white vinyl eraser.
- Expose the keys to sunlight. This can bleach the ivory.
If you are using toothpaste, just a gentle wipe with no hard rubbing action. The same applies to the eraser. Ensure there is not too much pressure on the keys. This only applies to the white keys.
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How To Clean Your Piano Keys – Final Thoughts
After you have finished, your keys should be bright and clean and ready for you to play again. There are some things you can do to help them stay clean.
- Wipe the keys over about once per month.
- About every two months, dust the keys down with a soft brush.
- Ask anyone who uses the piano to wash their hands first.
- Cover the keyboard or close the lid of the piano.
If you need a keyboard cover, a very good option is the Piano Keyboard Dust Cover for 88 Keys.
Okay, now you have sparkling clean piano or keyboard. So, get to tickling those ivories.
Until next time, may the music make you merry.