How To Clean Plastic Or Ivory Piano Keys

Old piano keyboard

Nobody wants to play on keys like these!

You love to play music, so you have a piano or keyboard. In order to keep it playing well and providing you with the beauty of music, you need to properly maintain it. And one key aspect of that involves keeping the keys clean.

Whether your keys haven’t been cleaned in ages or you’ve completed the task more recently, this is really important. Skin oils, dust, and dirt can get on the keys. All of that should be cleaned up regularly.

With that in mind, here’s how to clean piano keys and keep them sparkling. Get ready for some new-looking keys.

Difference Between Plastic and Ivory Piano Keys

We’ll get to the nitty gritty of cleaning your piano keys in just a moment. Stay tuned for that. But first, you need some important facts about your keys. Specifically, you should know whether they are plastic or ivory. Also, you need to be aware of the difference between those two types.

The keys on a keyboard are plastic. Those on a piano can be made of ivory, although keys in upright and grand pianos made these days are less likely to be made of ivory than they were years ago. Although they look fairly similar to one another, there are some important differences to know about. This video explains in great detail how to check if your keys are made of ivory:

  • Ivory can be difficult to find so is rarer.
  • Ivory keys are not pure white but are instead more of an off-white hue. They may become yellowish-colored over time. It is possible to whiten them again, but that can be a rather challenging process.
  • In each key made of ivory, there are two parts joined together. That join is visible when you look closely.
  • Each ivory key has a grain. Plastic keys don’t have that.
  • Plastic keys tend to feel more smooth because of some of the differences just mentioned.

Now that you know the differences, you can determine which type of keys you have if you didn’t already know that. Then you are ready to clean the keys.

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General Cleaning Tips

Some helpful tips as you clean:

 Do not use any harsh cleaners, such as those that contain chemicals. They are too rough for your delicate piano keys. That is true whether your keys are plastic, ivory or any other material.

Clean one octave of your piano at a time. Then make sure all keys are completely dry before moving on to clean another octave.

Use a different cloth for white keys than the one you use for black keys. If your keys are particularly dirty, you may need to change to a fresh, clean cloth at some point during the cleaning process.

Cleaning Plastic Piano Keys In Six Steps

If you have a piano keyboard and not a grand or upright piano, here’s how to clean the keys.

1. You need to prepare the liquid you will use to clean the keys. Fill a small bowl with warm water, and add a drop or two of mild dish soap.

2. Dip a soft white cloth into the cleaning solution:

• The cloth must be white in order to avoid staining.

• Make sure the cloth is just a little damp. It should not be so wet that moisture from it could go between the keys while you are cleaning.

3. Clean the white keys:
• When you clean the keys, you should do so with the white cloth in a brushing motion. Do not rub the keys with the cloth or press the cloth on the keys in a way that is at all abrasive or vigorous.

Essential Information
Do the brushing motion with the cloth on the keys from back to front. Do not wipe side to side, as this can transfer moisture and dirt between the keys. Do not wipe backwards either, since this pushes dirt behind the keys.

4. Clean the black keys with a separate white cloth.

5. Wipe off any soap residue with a dry cloth.

6. After the keys are completely dry, cover them to prevent dust buildup. For the same reason, also keep the keys covered in between times when you play the keyboard.

Take your time to do a thorough job without damaging the keys in any way.

Cleaning Ivory Keys

You have learned how to clean plastic keys. Next it’s time to talk about cleaning ivory keys. Just be aware that you might want to ask a professional to do that task.

1. Know if your piano is an antique:

  • If your piano is an antique, it is wise to consult with an expert, because you don’t want to risk destroying the piano’s value by improperly cleaning the keys.

2. Avoid using soaps or chemicals.

3. Wear white gloves, preferably cotton.

4. Dust the keys using a soft-bristled paintbrush or a duster.

5. Whiten the keys:

  • Using a white vinyl eraser, gently rub the surface of the ivory. Do that on each key individually. When you’re done, gently wipe away all the eraser bits using the same technique you used to dust the keys.
  • Use a #0000 (very fine) steel wool pad to wipe the keys and remove the yellowing. Make certain to use the very fine pads, or you could scratch your keys.
  • Expose the keys to sunlight. Sunlight can bleach the ivory and brighten the color. Leave your keys uncovered in a sunny spot, and let them soak up the light.
Keys white as snow again

Keys white as snow again

So with that, you are fully prepared to clean either plastic or ivory keys. But as mentioned, use a great deal of caution when cleaning ivory keys. When in doubt, consult a professional. But here’s an extra tip:

Essential Information
Every day, or as often as you play your piano, use a dry medium-sized, long-bristled, soft paintbrush to gently brush away any dust from the keys.

Also, make sure that everyone who plays the piano or keyboard washes and dries hands before playing. That should cut down some of the skin oils and dirt that build upon the keys.

You’ll be preserving the keys and making them look more beautiful. Making them sound as beautiful as they look is up to you!

Whether you plan to play a Beethoven piano concerto, a hymn, a Christmas carol or a modern popular piece, your keys are clean and ready to go. Happy piano playing.

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