If you have a piano and play it often, you need to maintain it regularly. One of the crucial issues is dirty keys that become yellowish over time. You should try to keep them clean from skin oils, fingerprints, and dust without damaging the surface. In most cases, you can clean them effortlessly without hiring a professional.
The first thing to do is to determine if your piano keys are made of ivory or plastic. If you have an antique piano with ivory keys, you may not want to whiten them since the yellowing patina represents the value and age. Let’s find the most convenient and reliable ways how to clean piano keys and make them white again.
Determine the Piano Keys Material
During history, manufacturers have used four materials to make piano keys, including:
- Ivory – A hard, white piece of elephant teeth used for making white keys.
- Ebony – A specific, tough tropical wood used for creating black keys.
- Cellulose – An organic plastic that is an excellent replacement for ivory.
- Acrylic plastic – Mostly used material for making piano keys in contemporary instruments.
General Cleaning Tips
Chemicals – No matter what material your piano keys are made of, you should never use harsh, chemically-based cleaners. That way, you will prevent damage to piano keys. It is smart to test the agent on a small unexposed area to check if it is not harmful to the keys’ material.
Cleaning solution – Never pour or spray the cleaning solution onto the keyboard directly. Once water seeps between keys, you will face a damaged instrument.
Cloth – It is crucial to use different fabrics for white and black keys to prevent possible smearing the color over the whites. If the keys are particularly dirty, you should use more than two clothes during the process. The microfiber cloth is the best choice for this purpose. Avoid wiping keys with paper towels that leave residues.
Dusting – Always dust off the keys and space between them carefully before start with cleaning. The best options for this task are the soft-bristled brush, soft paintbrushes, and feather duster. Take care to brush the keys down to remove the dust off the keys instead of pushing it back.
Cleaning method – Always clean one key at a time and dry it entirely before moving to another. Avoid wiping the keyboard from side to side to prevent moisture from getting in between the keys. Don’t rub the keys’ front side backward to avoid pushing dust behind them.
Waxing and polishing – Never wax or polish the piano keys no matter what material they are made of. Otherwise, an issue with building-up the dirt and agent residue will occur over time. If it happens, don’t try to remove them on your own but ask a professional for help.
Disinfectants – Keep your piano keys away from spraying with disinfectants since they may destroy the surface. Only hydrogen peroxide is safe for disinfecting piano keys.
Until the 1930s, manufacturers made piano keys of ivory. After 1972, most of them started to use cellulose and plastic since the ivory trade became illegal in most countries.
If you have a vintage piano made before the 1930s, you probably have ivory keys. The best way to confirm that is to look for a serial number and thin horizontal seam where the white key narrows. Also, this material is porous and textured, plus each key has a grain. If you are still not sure, you can ask an expert.
Keys made of this material are not pure white, but the off-white hue. So, they will naturally become yellow over time. A piano technician can apply a bleach solution to make keys white, but this will ruin the patina at the same time.
Another problem is with lost keys. It is almost impossible to replace missing ivory keys with ones that match perfectly. One of the solutions is to use the plastic key and bleach the old ones.
Keep in mind that ivory is delicate, and you will cause the occurrence of scratch marks on the keys if you clean them improperly. Some cleaners will wear and tear keys when you let them stay on the surface for too long.
If you have an expensive antique or vintage piano, you should hire an expert to clean it. That way, you will prevent any damage and possibly decreasing the instrument’s value as a result of improper cleaning. This delicate task is performed without soaps and chemicals. Always wear white cotton gloves during the cleaning process.
Cleaning ivory piano keys
1. Natural acid
Since ivory is porous, removing stains from the keys can take up a few hours. The trick is to clean and dry keys one by one. The best natural options are:
- Lemon juice – You can use diluted juice to remove stains off yellowed ivory. Keep in mind that highly concentrate citric acid will cause corrosion.
- Milk – The lactic acid from milk is an excellent agent for cleaning ivory keys.
2. Diluted white vinegar
Dampen the soft cloth with white vinegar diluted in water in ratio 1:4. Use the flannel, old tee-shirt, or cheesecloth for cleaning.
3. Yogurt or mayonnaise
Bacteria cause the acidity in yogurt and mayonnaise that can gently bleach the ivory without fear of corroding. Apply any of these ingredients, clean the surface, and wipe them away after a few minutes. In the end, polish each key thoroughly.
Take white toothpaste and soft clothes to clean piano keys. Then, wipe away the residue with whole milk, and dry the surface right away.
Optionally, you can expose cleaned keys to indirect sunlight. Never use colored toothpaste or gel since they can cause corrosion and discoloration of ivory.
Take a 90% solution of rubbing alcohol and damp the keys. Take care not to use a wet cloth to prevent damaging the keys.
6. White vinyl eraser
Use it to erase the existing stains. Rub the grated eraser over the key surface and remove old stains with fingertips or soft baby toothbrush.
7. Direct sunlight
Sunlight is a cleaning option only if you have piano keys made of pure ivory. It will bleach and prevent further discoloration of this material after leaving the piano uncovered in a sunny spot.
8. Ivory scraper
Use this scraper to get rid of deep stains you can’t remove on some other way. Be careful to prevent damaging the surface.
9. Easy polishing
Occasionally use a #0000 steel wool pad to remove yellowing from ivory piano keys successfully. Be careful since you can scratch the keys’ surface this way.
10. Feather duster
Use a light feather to clean any debris between the keys after thoroughly wiping them down with the recommended solution.
Cleaning Plastic Keys
You should use gentle cleaning solutions to clean and whiten plastic piano keys.
11. Diluted white vinegar
It is an excellent way to get rid of fingerprints and aggressive stains. Make a solution of one-part white vinegar and three parts of water. Wipe keys and let a cover open to provide proper ventilation.
12. Dish soap
You will need a few drops of dish soap and damp washcloth to wipe plastic keys from top to bottom. Never clean them side to side to prevent soap and excess water from getting between the keys.
13. Hand-wash liquid soap
Fill a spray bottle with diluted cleaning liquid made of two tablespoons hand-wash soap and water. Shake the bottle and spray it onto the soft cloth or old t-shirt. Never spray it directly on the keys to prevent damaging.
Gently wipe each key, including edges, until removing dirty spots from the surface. Always use another soft white cloth to clean the black keys. Never wipe over the keyboard to prevent the issue with sticky keys.
Cleaning Digital Piano Keys
The frequency of cleaning the keyboard of your digital piano will depend on how often you play. If you use it regularly or more people play the same instrument, you should clean fingerprints weekly.
On the other hand, if you use it from time to time, it will be enough to clean keys once in six months.
14. Light dishwashing liquid
The best option is to prepare a cleaning solution of two drops of a light dishwashing liquid and warm water. Damp a clean, white cloth in the solution and rub white keys gently one by one. Then, wipe off the surface of each key with a soft dry cloth. Use another one to repeat the procedure on the black keys.
15. Commercial cleaning spray
Pick out the appropriate commercial cleaning spray in a local store and clean keys of your digital piano individually.
If you can’t remove stubborn stains, you should hire a technician to do the job instead of you. Never clean keys with abrasives and harsh chemicals. Even though sunlight is an efficient method of cleaning ivory piano keys, always keep your digital piano away from direct sun.
Remember that all keys are sensitive to cold, humidity, and hot air, so you should protect your instrument. With regular cleaning, you will prevent any damage and can use your piano for years.