How to clean piano keys?

Svetlana November 11 2021

The piano is the most common instrument found in homes and schools. It has 88 keys, each producing a slightly different tone when it is played. Because of this, there are lots of germs that can be found on these keys, especially if your hands produce large amounts of sweat or oil (which could also accumulate due to uncleanliness).

Cleaning piano keys regularly not only keeps them clean but improves their touch and feel as well.

So, what exactly makes up a key?

On each key, you will find three components: the white and black parts and the spring underneath it all. If you wanted to be very thorough with your cleaning job, you would have to take out each one of those three pieces and clean each separately, but that tends to be an impossible task.

First, you would have to remove the key from the piano and take off all of the black pieces (which is usually not possible without damaging them). Then, you would have to take out each spring and clean it separately.

Next, there may be a few screws holding the white and the black pieces together; removing these screws will cause them to separate and thus make your job harder. Luckily for us though, we only need to worry about two parts: the part with which we touch (the white part) and the rest of it (usually covered by a black piece).

But before it, you have to determine the material of your keys.

Piano Key Material

There are three widely used materials for keys. The first one is wood, usually birch, with white "ivory" paint on the front side of it. This type of key has a very nice touch to it and feels really smooth when touched or played. However, these come at a cost; they can easily warp if you expose them to water (which is why many pianos have metal covers over their keys).

Also, since these keys are made out of wood, germs like to stick onto them like glue (therefore making the cleaning process difficult).

The second type - there are plastic piano keys. These are basically just pieces of plastic that go through an injection molding machine before being painted into any color you want. They can be found in a lot of cheaper pianos, and they feel a bit harder compared to wooden keys - but that also means your hands won't get sweaty as much when playing them.

These keys are not very susceptible to water damage either, which is why they are easy to clean. Plastic is easier to cut or shave off if you want an even cleaner result.

The third type - you guessed it: metal! Often made out of aluminum alloy, these keys provide the brightest sound possible since they don't absorb any sound at all. However, this makes their touch somewhat harder than the other two types due to their lack of flexibility.

Also, because they have so little friction against each other when you press them down (less than 2 grams of contact pressure), germs find it easier to stick to them.

Ivory keys are the fourth type of key that you might meet, but these are no longer used in modern pianos. However, you can still find them on old pianos, and some manufacturers still produce these every now and then (check out the best digital piano review if you want to buy one).

They are made of real ivory that has been treated with pigments or another type of paint. Although they look really great, these keys will warp over time due to moisture damage just like wooden keys.

Main cleaning methods

Cleaning piano keys can be really easy as long as you know what kinds of materials they're made of. If the dirt is not that bad, then using some cleaning solution or water misting should be enough to make them shiny again! You'd want to avoid these chemicals on ivory keys though.

Also, remember to use a soft cloth whenever possible since harder substances might cause scratches on your keyboard's surface.

  • Dusting - if you just want to remove the surface dirt on your keys, this is the way to go. You can simply use a soft cloth or feather duster to brush off the dust that has accumulated over time.
  • Water misting - if there are too many germs, you may have to do something stronger than just brushing them down with a cloth. This is where water comes into play. Remember to use warm water so it kills off any remaining germs afterward. Also, try spraying some disinfectant spray beforehand for even more protection against germs!
  • Soapy water & cleaning solution - another alternative would be using soap instead of plain water. However, if you decide upon the latter option you should know that not all cleaners are created equal.
  • Chemicals - some people might think that chemicals are bad for you, or that they should be avoided at all times. However, this is not the case when it comes to cleaning your keys, since these cleaners really kill off any germs you don't even know exist! It doesn't matter which chemical you use; just make sure it's strong enough so it can dissolve whatever dirt or grime there may be on your keys.
  • Waxing - this method can be used to restore the shine of your keys. It could also be useful if you want your piano keys to last for a really long time since it will protect them against dirt, germs, and moisture!
  • Polishing - if you used any of the methods above, or if your keys are just looking a bit dull and boring, polishing them will help bring out their shine and luster.

Wooden Keys - how to clean them

These types tend not only to get dirty but also quite sticky as time passes. Therefore, regular cleaning has to be done in order for them to remain clean. To begin with, you need to make sure that all of your fingers are cleaned - especially the fingertips that come into contact with the keys.

Afterward, you would have to remove any dust or dirt you see on the key itself using a piece of cotton. Although this should be done regularly (after every few hours of playing), it is still recommended that you do it once in a while just to get rid of germs and dirt build-up. By doing so, not only will your piano become more enjoyable but also your keyboarding experience as well.

Plastic keys cleaning

Plastic keys don't require as much cleaning as wooden ones since they aren't as sensitive. They can be wiped down with a paper towel or cotton cloth in order to remove any dust that has accumulated during the time you haven't played your piano.

Like previously mentioned, you should wipe them clean quite often - especially if it's one of those days where you have been eating quite a bit of oily food! Germs tend to stick around when oil is involved, so make sure they are gone by wiping the keys down with some paper towels. Also, make sure there isn't too much soap on the key itself since it might get stuck behind it once you put everything back together again.

Cleaning metal keys

Metal keys tend to be the most difficult ones to clean since they don't have as much flexibility as other types of keys. Therefore, it is recommended that you do not attempt to clean them on your own. Take them off from the keyboard itself and bring them to a professional piano technician who will make sure no damage is done - especially if the key is very old or valuable.

In general, though, they shouldn't have any problems with water but just in case it does - do NOT use any soap! Soap leaves a residue behind which can get stuck inside the key's mechanism and screw up your piano. Just stick with using warm water and a bit of dish-washing liquid instead.

Make sure there isn't too much soap left on the key and let it dry before putting everything back together again.

Washing ivory piano keys

Ivory is a pretty sensitive material so make sure not to use any soap or chemicals on it. Just stick with using a piece of cotton and a bit of warm water instead. If needed, apply some alcohol onto the key so germs don't stick as much.

Also, you can use natural acids like lemon juice or vinegar for cleaning ivory but you have to be careful with these chemicals because of their high acidity.

First of all, mix some lemon juice and a bit of water together in a small cup - just enough so the key can sit inside it. After that, carefully dip the key into the mixture just enough so it gets wet only on top. Carefully take out the key from the mixture and let it dry completely before putting everything back together again.

Make sure not to damage any leather parts (if there are any) as well as signs (if there are any). If you don't see any such parts on your piano, then you can probably use this method without having to worry too much! I hope this article helped with all of your piano cleaning needs!

Other cleaning methods

  1. Alcohol and a piece of cotton - the classic method. If you don't have any other options, this is one that should do just fine as well! Make sure there isn't too much soap on the key and let it dry before putting everything back together again.
  2. Dental floss and warm water - another alternative to using cotton, especially if you're out of those as well as alcohol! Simply wrap the floss around your fingers and dip them into some warm water with a bit of dish-washing liquid in order to remove any excess dirt or germs from the delicate piano keys.
  3. Windex and a paper towel - Windex has been pretty popular for cleaning electronic screens so why not clean metal/ivory piano keys? Just spray some Windex on a paper towel and carefully wipe the key down. Make sure there isn't too much soap left on the key and let it dry before putting everything back together again.
  4. Soda - Unless you want to spend some time scrubbing away with soda and water, then I would actually recommend you don't use this method! The inside of your piano can become corroded and damaged pretty quickly if you use soda to clean the keys. Stick with using a simple piece of cotton in order to just wipe away all the dirt and grime without any issues.
  5. Yogurt replacement - If professional piano cleaners aren't available in your area, then the next best thing would probably be a combination of warm water and a bit of dish-washing liquid. Just mix it up in a small bowl until the soap is completely dissolved and then use a paper towel to clean away all that ugly grime!

Conclusion

If you failed to clean up your piano keys, you might be highly disappointed in the sound your piano makes - because it will just not be as clean and healthy. Plus, having germs sitting on top of the keys can cause some serious problems that you wouldn't want to deal with.

For example, there is actually a chance that all that dirt could get inside the key's mechanism itself which would result in all of them becoming jammed! A jam-like this can take at least an hour (if not more) to fix up so it's definitely something you want to avoid if possible.

So make sure your piano keys are always clean and healthy by using this easy method for how to clean piano keys! And remember, if you're ever unsure about what method to use - always consult a professional! Plus, you should always try to get your piano tuned every year or so - the technicians will really know what they're doing and they can help keep your piano healthy at all times.

You also want to make sure you have some kind of piano cover for when it's not being used so dust doesn't accumulate as quickly on top of it too.