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Cleaning Piano Keys

Category Miscellaneous
Piano Keys
This instrument's keyboard can become quite dirty over time, and can suffer some coloring abuse with youngsters around. This guide is about cleaning piano keys.
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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 0 found this helpful
April 3, 2011

One day I was showing my cousin how to play the piano and I used a dry erase marker to write the notes on the keys. Now it won't come off! I tried rubbing alcohol, water, and Windex. Please help!

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By Sami from Twin Bridges, MT

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Answers

April 4, 20110 found this helpful

Wow, don't have any advice but wondered why you would do such a thing!

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April 4, 20110 found this helpful

I hope you named the keys correctly! Good for you for passing on your music training.

Go to an office supply store. They have a solution you can buy just for that. Unfortunately, I don't know what it is called.

Or you could try a little hairspray (but that's mostly alcohol).

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April 4, 20110 found this helpful

When this happens on a dry erase board, I just run the marker over the spot again. It seems to wet it enough, where it comes off. Good luck.

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April 4, 20110 found this helpful

As a teacher this is something common that happens in a class room. Get a rubber eraser and rub hard and it will erase it. Sometimes following this up with hairspray or alcohol also helps.

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April 5, 20110 found this helpful

OFF bug spray. Crazy but it works. Took permanent marker off of the wood part of the piano and did not bother the finish whatsoever. Amazing! Let us know what works.

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April 5, 20110 found this helpful

Hello Sami. Yikes! I'm sure you are regretting writing on the keys, but please don't rely on "home remedies" to solve this problem. Please contact the manufacturer of your piano for the ultimate results.

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While some of the suggestions listed here might work for some piano keys, your particular solution will depend on the materials used to make your particular piano: Very old piano keys were actually made of wood and ivory. Newer pianos are made of different materials and composites and finishes that I believe have changed over the decades, and since you didn't mention the age or manufacturer of your piano, the generalized suggestions listed here might not be the best for your particular piano and keys.

If you can't contact the manufacturer, please find a reputable piano sales store to ask for more advice. What works to clean a whiteboard was probably not designed to work on your piano keys so don't count on an office supply store or a well intended share site like this to give you "things to try". Please go to a more primary source, for the ultimate solution.

A piano is a huge investment. To protect your investment, again, please go to the most primary source you can find before "experimenting" with unproven solutions for your particular piano.

And Sami, good for you to share your knowledge of music (what a gift) . . . just don't write on piano keys again, okay? :) Good luck and best wishes!

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April 5, 20110 found this helpful

I think that's a great idea. I would just leave them there.

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April 5, 20111 found this helpful

Ok, thanks everyone! The rubber eracer actually worked. And it isnt a piano piano, it is just a keyboard. I would never write on a real piano!!

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April 6, 20110 found this helpful

I'm grinning, grinning, grinning, Sami! So glad you found a solution to erase your "keyboard" labeling vs. a full sized, very expensive, real piano "key" labeling with a dry eraser pen!

But seriously (LOL) consider using post-it notes above the keys next time! :) (You can buy the skinny ones very inexpensively that are designed to merely mark pages)

So very happy all worked out well for your dilemma and keep passing on your music abilities as you can! Best wishes!

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July 23, 20160 found this helpful

I live in the UK and we have a disinfectant called Zoflora that I used to do this

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September 20, 20160 found this helpful

First you need to determine whether they are covered with ivory or plastic. It is easy to tell; if each white key is topped with two pieces - a larger, rectangle piece (the end that you press) and a separate, skinnier piece that goes between the black keys, noted by a seam in between, they are probably ivory. If it is one piece, generally it is topped with plastic. You cannot tell by age as I have a Hamilton / Balwin studio model that was built in the 1950s & they are plastic. I've successfully removed dry ink markings on the plastic, capped keys as well as much of the yellow nicotine stain using a 3/8" - 1/2" block wrapped with a rag lightly soaked with 90% Isopropanol, (Rubbing alcohol), & a little elbow grease. The keys are acceptable but not perfect. I have yet to find a product that removes the remaining 62 years of yellow stain, however, short of replacing the tops, this may be as good as it gets. Somewhere I read to use Hydrogen peroxide. I would not recommend it as it seemed to melt the keys so I stopped.

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By 0 found this helpful
November 15, 2010

I just got an old piano and there is some gunk, like old stickers on some of the keys. How do I clean this off? I can't use Goo Gone because of the ivory keys, correct?

By Kathi from Montgomery, AL

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November 15, 20100 found this helpful

I think the ivory can take it. I would try the Goo Gone or if you are really paranoid about that stuff try some Simple Green. Spray it on and let it soak, then clean it off. I used to buy Simple Green at my local automotive store like Pep Buys, High Gear, Advanced Auto or Auto Zone. Any of them should have it.

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November 16, 20100 found this helpful

In days gone by we used mayonaise to clean ivory keys.

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November 16, 20100 found this helpful

Whatever you use, don't spray it on as the excess leaks down between the keys into the piano. Wipe anything on with a soft cloth and use sparingly. Doing this 2 or 3 times is better than having the excess ruin the inner workings and the wood!

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Anonymous
April 5, 20160 found this helpful

No

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By 0 found this helpful
September 13, 2009

My daughter put a Sharpie stain on one of the keys of our piano. Any suggestions on how to remove it? Thanks.

By Hemakapadia from San Jose, CA

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September 13, 20090 found this helpful

Hey Hemakapadia, try alcohol, it should come right off :)

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September 17, 20090 found this helpful

Try using a little bit of fingernail polish remover on a cotton ball. I have gotten Sharpie off plastic, as well as hard things. Hope this helps.

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September 17, 20090 found this helpful

Alcohol works really well. If that doesn't do it, try a bit of baking soda on a damp cloth scrubbing carefully. The abrasive soda should take it off with a bit of elbow grease.

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Anonymous
November 2, 20160 found this helpful

You can use a dry erase marker, rub it over the sharpie stain, and it should work. I saw this on the internet so give it a try if you want to.

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June 26, 20110 found this helpful

I need to know how to clean black spray paint off of white ivory keys. Is it even possible?

By Julie

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June 27, 20110 found this helpful

Believe it or not, Off! Bug spray. It works! I took permanent magic marker off of my piano and it did not leave any residue or hurt the finish!

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By 0 found this helpful
December 6, 2014

Hubby hired a new cleaning service, and I don't know what they did to dust the piano, but half of the keys have some kind of rough residue on them now. It is so distracting when you play! I tried a little alcohol. I tried spraying general cleaner on a soft cloth. Nothing seems to touch it. Help?

By Jen H.

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Archives

ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

November 15, 20100 found this helpful

How do I clean nicotine off of ivory piano keys?

By Kay from Nashville, TN

Answers:

Cleaning Piano Keys

Alcohol was the recommended cleaner for ivory. I don't know what else is safe for them. (10/12/2010)

By aldishopper

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October 11, 20100 found this helpful

How do I get the yellow out of my ivory piano keys without harming it. It has to be a child and animal safe substance. We have tried fingernail polish remover. Does this damage the keys?

Kiki from SC

Answers:

Cleaning Piano Keys

I just read on another website that a solution of 30% hydrogen peroxide and an ultraviolet light is used by a professional antique piano restorer to whiten genuine ivory. This sounds like a treatment used by dentists to whiten teeth. I just used a solution of regular hydrogen peroxide and some swabs to clean my yellowing ivory piano keys. It certainly removed some built up dirt and oil from previous owners. As far as whitening it immediately I haven't noticed anything extremely significant. However, it seems to evaporate quickly off the keys which seems like a good idea. (03/14/2007)

By Jennifer

Cleaning Piano Keys

I have had an old Heintzman Upright Grand for about 40 years. It was built in Toronto Canada iin the 20s. It is in pristine condition. I have had many piano tuners over the years, however the very first fella that came had been in the piano tuning business for many years. He gave us the very best advice for whitening and cleaning my ivory keys.

A little lemon juice on a soft rag with a little elbow grease.
Do it often so that the oils from your fingers do not have a chance to build up residue on the keys. Air-borne dust, dirt, and particles can also lead to graying of the keys so if you value your piano and play it often, wipe the keys often with lemon juice. You will notice results. (04/01/2007)

By My Ivory

Cleaning Piano Keys

"Spray Nine" is the name of a cleaning agent sold in paint stores. A reputable piano restorer suggested I use it to clean the keys by rubbing with 000 steel wool and "Spray Nine" and it worked quite well. (04/25/2007)

By Jay

Cleaning Piano Keys

I have a very rewarding 1898 Bechstein upright with original ivory keys, the ivorys are in excellent condition and my piano tuner always remarks on their whiteness.

My secret is to treat them like you would treat your teeth, ivory is bone after all.

Never use WATER or anything ACID or SOLVENT based, this will damage and erode the ivory.

I firstly wipe over the keys with a dry lint-free cloth, then I gently apply regular non coloured toothpaste and gently rub it in. Then the toothpaste is rinsed away with milk using another lint-free cloth. Finally I use an extra soft lint-free cloth to buff the keys to a brilliant shine.

Also it helps if you wash your hands or at least wipe them in a dry towel before playing an instrument with ivory keys. Keeping the lid up to expose them to sunlight does also help and wiping the keys after playing can be beneficial. (07/14/2007)

Cleaning Piano Keys

That is if your piano keys are ivory, piano keys using early plastics discoloured easily from body oils and the old plastics also discolour purely from age anyway. In this case the only option is to have the keyslips replaced with new plastic. Though if it is an antique piano yellowed keys are an expected feature by dealers and buyers. (10/19/2007)

Cleaning Piano Keys

My mother said, "that her mother told her 45 years ago, to clean them with real mayonnaise". We tried it on a 100 year old piano that we just acquired, and guess what? It really worked. They are not snow white, but it did make a really big difference. And they are silky to the touch.
(01/24/2008)

By Patty

Cleaning Piano Keys

My mother told me that her Mom told her 45 yrs ago that real mayonnaise would clean the keys. They didn't turn out pearly white, but it made a huge difference. We thought we get even more creative and use peanut butter. It did an even better job, go figure. Our updates will continue as we experiment further. Peace out. (01/24/2008)

By Patty

Cleaning Piano Keys

Some pianos use bone and mammoth tusk material for key tops also. All ivory key tops have a head and a tail piece distinguished by a fine line joining them near the end of the sharp keys. Some plastic tops look very similar with even a grain structure molded in, but they are all one piece without the line.

There is a polish called Ivorene used for ivory by piano technicians that works well. Also sunlight works best for age yellow. Contaminated ivory suffering from piano lounge syndrome ie., cigarette smoke, can be rubbed with the finest steel wool and then polished with fine rubbing compound.

Real ivory is an opaque material that lets sun shine through it. Manufacturers used zinc oxide on top of the keys to whiten them first so that the ivory will appear whiter on top. If you have to glue one back on, make sure the wood is covered in white first if it came off with the glue wafer they used.

(piano technician)

(11/22/2008)

By Emmery

Cleaning Adhesive Off Piano Keys

I've had great luck getting old sticker and tape adhesive off ivory piano keys by rubbing olive oil on the keys, then gently scraping the adhesive off. Works like a charm, and doesn't harm the ivory! (09/16/2009)

By purplepudley

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September 4, 20060 found this helpful

I recently bought an old player piano. The keys are really yellow and I have tried many cleaners and nothing seems to be working at whitening the keys. Any suggestions?

Judy from PA

Answers:

They may not become white again...

If they are yellow and the piano is really old, they are probably ivory. Be careful what kinds of cleaners you use on pianos! You can ruin them quickly putting the wrong cleaner on them -- especially the newer ones with shiny black lacquer finish. My piano, in particular, can have no cleaner at all other than a slightly damp (with water only) soft cloth. I would ask a reputable antique dealer what to use to clean the keys. They may not become white again if they are ivory and very old. (04/12/2005)

Vinegar

I have an antique piano with ivory keys. We have used straight vinegar to whiten and clean the keys since we got the piano in the 1950's. We dip the cloth to get it slightly wet and do a key at a time. You might have to repeat the process over time but they should get whiter each treatment. (04/12/2005)

Vinegar

I don't know how old this piano actually is, but if it is 50 or more years old, I am pretty sure that the keys are ivory, and ivory tends to yellow over age. DO NOT use chemical cleaners on the keys if they are ivory. The best thing to use for cleaning piano keys is a solution of vinegar and water. Ivory keys used to be the norm, and those keys turned yellow just because of age. There isn't a whole lot you can do about it, but if you do have ivory keys, that piano is probably worth having appraised.

Modern piano keys are made of plastic, and they don't tend to yellow. Find out how old that piano actually is, and if it is old enough to have ivory keys, don't do anything -- other than dusting them with a dry dust cloth or washing them with vinegar and water. I know this because my mother was given my grandmother's piano -- a 1926 Steinway baby grand (5'2" long -- a very unusual size,) and my mother thought she was improving the piano by having it refinished, and a host of other things. The long and short of it is that she replaced the keys which happened to be ivory, and diminished the value of the piano -- and ruined a special part of it in the process. (04/12/2005)

By skbeal

Get Professional Help

Since this piano is obviously quite old, it's highly possible that the keys are real ivory. In that case, I don't think it's possible to change the color. However, having said that, my recommendation is that you contact a professional piano tuner and get his/her advice. You definitely don't want to use any excessive moisture on them. (04/12/2005)

By

Keep the Lid Open

We were told when we got an older practice piano years ago that the best way to lighten your piano keys was to keep the lid open. The light will help take care of the problem. (04/13/2005)

By Dee

The Sun

I've been assured that leaving the keys in the sun will change them back. (08/03/2006)

By Andrew

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