Cleaning Your Piano

There's a joke in mock German about Achtung! Das machine is nicht für Gerfingerpoken und Mittengrabben. Cleaning a piano is like this. You can't just poke anywhere and use whatever force or device your whim brings to bear! You'll have Springenwiren und Poppenpinnen.


In addition to dust and hairs (gray ones!), the soundboards of teachers' grands gather all sort of debris (eraser crumbs, bits of paper, pencil leads, etc.) no matter how much care is taken. Home instruments can be just as fertile.

You can clean your soundboard to some extent yourself, but your tech knows what he's doing and should be called if there's some exceedingly strange object between the strings and wood.

Be very careful:

What you can't get with these benign techniques leave to your tech. Do -not- contrive to run a thin piece of fabric between strings and wood, pushing it along with a coat hanger or a BBQ skewer!

You may not be able to get everything. Live with it! The only way to get it pristine is to unstring. And then it'll get dusty again.


The trick is to remove the soil without causing the keyslips to come loose. (Keyslips are the pieces of plastic or ivory on the white keys.)

Solvents and commercial cleaners dissolve the glue bond. Bleach dissolves the glue, too. Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) reacts with plastic keyslips; it dries out the natural oils in ivory keyslips, making them brittle. Even water penetrates!

What to do?

Use a different cloth for black keys, in case there is some dye which is transferred.

The Case

The casework should be cared for as you would a piece of fine furniture.

If you have a high-gloss case, buff away fingerprints with a soft, non-abrasive cloth. Some manufacturers sell cleaning products specially made for their finishes. Call your dealer or manufacturer or check with your piano technician. Also see Cory Products and Professional Piano Products.

Many piano manufacturers advise against a regular furniture polish, but I have had no problems with a cream-type product. Obviously, a spray-type product will be impossible to control, though you might be able to spay the product on your rag.

I like Weiman's Furniture Cream by the Stanley Company, Skokie, Illinois. It is very difficult to find. It is wonderful for lifting skin oil from the places the students and I rest our hands. My piano is mahogany, not a high-gloss black finish, so I treat it as I do the rest of my furniture. If yours is a high-gloss finish, don't use regular furniture cleaners.

Note: I have had good experience covering up small scratches with Tibetan Almond Stick (Zenith Chemical Works, Chicago),available at most well-stocked hardware stores). I don't know how it works, but it's a good short-term fix. I use it just before recitals only, not on a regular basis.

Fortepianos, Harpsichords, Clavichords, and Virginals

A soft touch is really needed here! Follow the same techniques, but with extra gentleness and care. Contact the manufacturer for specific tips for your particular instrument.

Keep the lids down on these instrument to minimize dust accumulation.

Keyboards are often of wood (not covered with keyslips). Exercise particular caution here. I do not use a furniture polish (even Weiman's) but a slightly damp cloth with a bit of soap (not detergent), followed immediately by a dry soft cloth, one key at a time. What you can't remove? Ah! That's the patina of time and use! (Let's put as good a face on it as we can!)

copyright 1999-2001, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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