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How to clean piano keys and wood cabinets the right way?

Looking after your piano involves more than paying to have it tuned and serviced now and then.

If you want to keep it looking and sounding great for years to come, you have to keep it nice and clean.

Cleaning your piano can be more confusing than it sounds, so some people just don’t do it. Some clean it the wrong way, which can do more harm than not cleaning it at all.

We have put together some top tips for cleaning your piano, and some important do’s and don’ts that will help keep your piano in pristine condition.

Why should I clean my piano?

The size and stature of an acoustic piano instantly make it more than just an instrument in your home; it’s a piece of furniture.

If you own a piano, you probably agree with us that it’s a particularly beautiful piece of furniture. Yet, we don’t always treat pianos like the showpieces they are for some reason.

Like any other household furniture, a piano will get dusty, and dust can ruin a beautiful finish if not dealt with properly.

dusty piano

Dust can be very abrasive, and the longer you leave dust on the wooden surface of a piano, the more abrasive it becomes.

Over time, letting dust build-up can lead to scuffs and scratches when removing it unless you’re very careful.

In more severe cases, enough dust getting into the action mechanism for the keys or the soundboard could damage the performance of the piano.

As well as dust, you’ve got to think about the oil from your skin/fingers. You transfer oil from your fingertips to the keys each time you play, even with clean hands.

In more prolonged or grueling practice sessions, your hands may also start to sweat.

dirty yellowish piano keys

When oil or sweat mixes with dust, the keys become dirty, don’t feel very nice, and eventually begin to turn an unpleasant shade of yellow.

Beyond spoiling the look of the keys, severe cases can lead to performance issues like sticking keys.

Which parts of the piano should I clean?

You should clean the outer parts of your piano; everything you can see, basically.

In particular, we are talking about the keys and the wooden surfaces, but you can include the foot pedals, too.

What should I use to clean my piano?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask, and it’s often where things start to go wrong.

Using any liquids or cleaning fluids with harsh ingredients can cause terrible damage to your piano.

There are many cleaning products available, too many to list here for both the keys and the cabinet. So, here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind.

If you feel a deeper clean is needed but don’t know how to disinfect piano keys, you should:

  • USE – diluted alcohol-based disinfectants;
  • AVOID – bleach-based disinfectants and anything containing citrus.

Similarly, if you want to use a cleaning product on the wood, you should avoid anything corrosive, which rules out common household polishes/cleaners.

Some piano-specific cleaners are safe to use but do your homework first. Roland makes some great piano cleaning kits, despite not manufacturing acoustic pianos.

If you want the safest and easiest option, use a soft microfibre cloth and plain water. You should use filtered or demineralized water to avoid any impurities when possible.

soft microfibre cloth for cleaning piano

When you don’t feel plain water is enough but are worried about using a cleaner, you can add a mild soap to the water.

Again, this soap shouldn’t contain any harsh or abrasive materials; simple dish soap is often suitable, but use it sparingly.

Should I wax or polish my piano?

Again, the answer depends on who you ask. There are high-quality products on the market, but we advise speaking to a professional before taking matters into your own hands.

Don’t do it too often if you want to try polishing your piano. Over time, a build-up of wax or polish on the piano finish can become difficult to remove safely. You could do far more harm than good.

We would recommend that you don’t wax or polish your piano without the help of a professional.

How to clean piano keys?

If you’re looking for the best way to clean piano keys, follow these steps:

  1. Take your microfibre cloth and lightly dampen it with plain water (DO NOT soak the cloth, use just enough water to say it’s not dry).
  2. Starting at either end of the piano, begin wiping each key (individually) from back to front.
  3. If the keys are particularly dirty, make sure you are always using a clean part of the cloth.
  4. When you reach the last key, go back to the start with a dry microfibre cloth to remove any leftover moisture.

If you are using a cleaner or disinfectant, you can follow the same steps, replacing water with your chosen product.

How to clean piano wood?

If you’ve ever wondered how to clean a piano surface, we’ve got you covered.

Follow these steps when cleaning the wooden surfaces of your piano:

  1. Take your microfibre cloth and lightly dampen it with plain water (not wet, just damp).
  2. Apply the cloth to the surface as you would with any delicate object (not too much pressure).
  3. Wipe the surface in sections (top, side, lid, and so on) with relatively small circular movements.
  4. After completing each section, remove any excess moisture with a dry microfibre cloth.

If using a cleaner, follow the steps but replace water with your chosen product.

Avoid large sweeping movements and cloths with rough edges or labels to limit the chance of scratching the finish.

Adding soap to your water

When using soap, you should add a minimal amount to your water to create a mixture before dampening your cloth. Whether cleaning the keys or wood, you can do this step before the ones above.

Lightly dampen your microfibre cloth with the soap and water mixture.

Make sure you follow all other steps, which means you have the following sequence:

  • Soap dampened cloth,
  • Damp cloth,
  • Dry cloth.

Tips for keeping your piano clean

The best way to deal with any problem is prevention, rather than finding solutions after the fact.

We can’t tell you that any form of prevention will stop dust from landing on your piano, but there are things you can do to limit the problem.

Things to do:

1. Wash your hands before every practice

You won’t completely eliminate the transfer of dirt, sweat, or oil from your skin, but it’s a good idea to make sure your hands are always as clean as possible.

2. Use the piano lid

We know that a piano looks even more beautiful when the keys are on show, but lids are there for a reason.

The piano lid is the best way to keep dust from your keys when not in use.

3. Daily dusting

It’s not practical for most people to clean their piano every day, but there’s no harm in spending two minutes with a soft duster.

4. Regular cleaning

There are a lot of factors at play, like how dusty the house is and how often you play. But, it’s wise to maintain regular cleaning, whether it’s twice per week, once per week or every two weeks. Whatever you decide, stick to it.

5. Regulate humidity levels

We aren’t expecting you to get too scientific with this one, but you have to think about humidity. Humidity can do funny things to organic materials like wood; it can make it shrink or expand.

These kinds of changes in the wood can lead to severe problems for your piano, from tuning issues to jammed mechanisms.

Things to avoid:

1. Don’t clean the inside

It might be tempting to look inside the piano and extend your cleaning routine, but don’t do it.

There are so many things that you can damage inside a piano; it’s just not worth it. Leave inside to a professional.

2. Don’t position the piano too close to light or heat sources

When we say light, we are mostly talking about direct sunlight. Modern piano keys are plastic coated, which means sunlight doesn’t yellow them as quickly as older keys.

However, direct sunlight will still speed up the process and can damage the wood finish.

Being too close to a fire or radiator could cause the wood to warp over time. You can, of course, have your piano in the same room as a fire; just be sensible with the positioning.

3. Don’t take shortcuts

As we mentioned above, you should avoid large sweeping movements when cleaning the wood to limit the chance of scratching.

Similarly, you should avoid wiping all or multiple keys at once to ensure no liquid/moisture goes into the gaps between the keys.

4. Don’t trust any crazy techniques

For every piece of helpful information on the internet, there are probably 10 pieces of useless information.

You’ll come across advice that sounds crazy, advice like you should use toothpaste to fill in scratches in the piano wood.

As a general rule, if something sounds crazy, speak to an expert!

Conclusion

A piano is a beautiful thing; it should be played, enjoyed, and loved. If you want to enjoy it for many years to come, make sure you look after it. Follow our steps and keep it clean.

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