Are your piano keys looking a little off-color? Were you going to clean your piano keys with the cleaning products under your kitchen sink?

Hold it right there!

Avoid any and all cleaners that contain harsh ingredients such as alcohol (isopropyl), chlorine, ethanol, benzene, peroxide or salts. These ingredients contribute to discoloration and cracking.

When it comes to cleaning your piano keys there are right ways and there are some very wrong ways.

Not to worry, though, here’s your simple list of 7 ways to clean piano keys properly.

Cleaning Your Piano Keys

A piano keyboard is a major investment and when cared for properly, can last a lifetime and beyond. They add beauty, elegance, and culture to any living space.

These 7 simple ways to clean your ivory piano keys can mostly be done with products or items you probably already have at home.

1. Use the Proper Cloth

We know, it can be so tempting to run to your pantry, grab a paper towel, and wipe. Resist the urge! For that matter, resist the urge to grab a sanitizing wipe as well, or any chemical-ridden rag.

When it comes to choosing the best thing to wipe your piano keys with, not all rags are created equal. You want to find something soft and non-abrasive such as:

  • Cheesecloth
  • Flannel
  • Chamois
  • Microfiber
  • Soft cotton

Try to avoid choosing a colored or dyed cloth as the colors can sometimes bleed when wetted with whatever cleaning agent you end up using. You certainly don’t want to end up with pink ivories because you chose a red cleaning rag.

Never, we repeat, never, scrub your piano or piano keys with anything as harsh as steel wool or tough bristle scrub brushes.

2. How to Wipe

Did you read that title and get a flashback to potty training 101? Well, the direction you wipe those ivories may be just as important.

The best method is to start with one set of keys first, either black or white. When wiping, start at the top of the key (closest to the piano), and wipe towards you. This is because wiping side to side can trap moisture between the keys and cause future damage.

Typically, it is smarter to wipe the black keys down first as you will likely brush dust or dirt, (or even paint), onto the white keys. That means if you’ve already wiped the whites, you’ll have to redo them, ugh. So start with black.

Oddly enough, the “how to wipe” tip has so much to it, we’re breaking it down into sections:

Dust First

If you’re planning on doing more than just dusting, (say actually using a cleaning agent), it’s best practice to do a thorough dusting of all the keys first. This will stop you from trapping dust on the keys with whatever cleaning agent you’re working with. Once those first few keys are clean, move to the next group of keys and repeat, sliding the damp cloth from the back to the front of the keys. After you’ve cleaned the tops and fronts of the keys, you can always wipe the keys in between down with a soft dry cloth. You can also use a feather duster to gently brush any dust off the keys.

3. Lemon Juice or Milk

If your piano keys are real ivory, you are probably aware they were once bone of a living creature. This being the case, they are very naturally porous.

This means that using other natural items like diluted lemon juice, or even milk, can be a good method for cleaning. This is because the naturally occurring acids in things like milk or lemon juice help fight the yellowing stains on cleaning ivory keys.

Of course, be careful to dilute the acids so they do not wear down the bone.

It’s also best to allow each key or set of several keys, to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next.

4. Clean with White Toothpaste

Once again, if you have real ivory keys, you may try cleaning them with a very mild, white, toothpaste to avoid discoloration.

Be sure not to use some glittery blue, gel toothpaste or one with high amounts of whitening agents or flavors. Stick to basic white so as not to stain the keys.

Once you’ve cleaned the keys with the toothpaste, wipe away any toothpaste residue with whole milk. You read that right, milk isn’t just healthy for human bones and teeth, it’s good for those tusks as well.

Again, make sure each key is thoroughly dried before starting to clean the next. You don’t want to do more damage than good in your attempts to clean.

5. Clean with Diluted Vinegar

Once again, we’re sticking with those naturally occurring acids to clean true ivory. Don’t forget to dilute!

If you opt to clean your piano keys with diluted white vinegar mixed with warm water, you’re likely to see faster results.

Be sure to dust first, and then use the smallest amount of vinegar to make sure you don’t corrode the bone. Think a combination of 1 part vinegar, 4 parts water.

Dip your soft cloth into the mixture and gently wipe the keys to remove stains.

6. Give Your Piano Keys Some Vitamin D

We’re not talking vitamin drops. We mean, stick your piano in some direct sunlight. Open a window, or move your piano into a location where it can get sun.

Of course, if your piano has plastic keys, this is not the best method. Too much sun will actually discolor plastic keys so be sure to cover your piano when you’re not using it if your keys are plastic.

However, if you have ivory keys, that direct sunlight will actually ward off deep stains that will be harder to remove later with scrubbing.

7. Dry and Clean Regularly

While what you choose to clean with is important when cleaning piano keys, how often you clean them, and how well you dry them may be just as vital.

Some may suggest cleaning keys one octave at a time, letting them dry thoroughly, and then moving on to the next octave. However, if you really want to protect those keys, we suggest cleaning and drying one at a time.

To keep that piano in the best shape possible, clean it regularly. This will prevent very deep stains from occurring and in turn, prevent you from doing more harsh scrubbing than you should.

Continuing to Care for Your Piano

Now that you’ve got the basics for how to clean your piano keys, be sure you’re performing the other important maintenance tasks to preserve the life of your instrument.

Check out our piano restoration and rebuilding page for more ways to care for your piano through a lifetime.