Tips to keep your piano clean

Restraint is the name of the game when it comes to cleaning a piano. It's no small task, and most professionals recommend that home cleaning is kept to the basics. A thorough cleaning is needed every three to five years, and a professional will come to your house to do this. The smaller jobs you can tackle yourself include polishing the piano exterior, vacuuming the keyboard, cleaning the keys and also dusting the soundboard.

Tips to keep your piano clean

1. Dust with care

  • If your piano's casework is covered with a high-gloss, black lacquer finish, it needs only dusting with a soft, dry cloth.
  • Give it some extra elbow grease if you're buffing away fingerprints.
  • To brighten mahogany pianos, wipe with non-silicone, oil-based furniture polish.
  • Put the polish on a soft cloth sparingly — just enough to remove that last bit of dust clinging to the wood.
  • Avoid wax-based polishes as they can build up and cloud the finish of the wood.

2. To clean the keyboard

  • Go over it with a vacuum, using the upholstery attachment.
  • To clean plastic or ivory key tops, mix a solution of mild dishwashing liquid and water.
  • Dip a cleaning cloth into the solution and wring it out thoroughly.
  • Clean each key individually and then dry it immediately.
  • As you clean, make sure that no liquid drips down the sides of keys. Both plastic and ivory key tops can warp and pop off when wet, and moisture can severely damage the working mechanism of the instrument.
  • Rinse with a barely damp cloth and dry off with a clean towel.
  • Ivory keys, which yellow with age, can be cleaned with a cloth dampened with methylated spirits — but remember the yellowing of ivory is natural, and it can't be completely whitened.
  • An alternative is to dab some ordinary, white (non-gel) toothpaste on a damp cloth and rub the keys. Wipe the toothpaste off and then buff with a dry cloth.
  • Sunlight also helps whiten real ivory keys, so try to position a piano so that it gets some sun (but not direct sunlight) and leave the cover open. Sunlight has the reverse effect on plastic keys — it yellows them — so for plastic, leave the cover closed.
  • To protect the tuning, don't place a piano against a poorly insulated outside wall.

3. Cleaning the soundboard

  • Grand pianos, with their open lids, collect a lot of dust. Use the bare hose of your vacuum cleaner, held just above the soundboard but not actually touching it, to suck away dust and dirt.
  • You can cut down on dust by shutting the lid when the piano isn't being used or by placing decorator felt (available from piano shops) over the soundboard.
  • On an upright piano, cleaning the soundboard requires removing the bottom panel, which is heavy and therefore requires extra care.
  • A spring that releases the panel is usually found beneath the key bed.
  • Before vacuuming, look for small parts that may have fallen out of the piano or into the piano cabinet — a broken hammer, for instance.
  • Again, the vacuum hose (with no attachments on it) should hover above the soundboard and strings, but never come into direct contact with them.
  • Never polish the top of a piano bench. The polish will combine with skin oils and perspiration and soak deep into the wood, making it virtually impossible to get out.
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