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39. Piano Key tops- Cleaning, Whitening, and Polishing

We offer a number of cleaning supplies in our Catalog.

Cleaning Key Tops

Clean modern pianos with a damp cloth with some mild soap. DO NOT get the keys so wet that water runs down the sides. It could get under the keys and soak the felt bushings, hardening them.

Older pianos with ivories are harder to clean. If you soak the ivories at all, they can absorb the water and warp up, even breaking loose from the keys. Rub ivories with a damp cloth and dry at once. You could also use alcohol. You can get the worst of the cruddy ivory surface off by rubbing it with 0000 steel wool. The only problem is, the ivory may not then have the ideal touch to the pianist. You have to decide how important it is to have them whiter.

To help ivories stay white, leave the key cover OPEN. Sunlight bleaches ivories.  To keep plastic keys white, keep the key cover CLOSED.  Plastic yellows in sunlight. 

To clean plastic sharps, use only a damp cloth and some mild soap. To clean ebony or wood keys, buff them with 0000 steel wool. The wooden sharps which are not ebony are often worn through the blacking. Try some black stain after you have buffed them, but ONLY do this with the sharps OUT of the piano. Also, a black felt pen might touch up the lightened front ends of the wood sharps.

Whitening and Polishing Keytops

We sell a product which is used to whiten keytops-- Ivory Bar Polish

You can polish plastic keytops, but the results are not very predictable. The materials used have varied over the years, and you need to be cautious.

Here is how to polish real ivory keytops:

There are usually two steps to polishing white keytops.

1. You will want to scrape the tops with something. Use the sharp edge of a knife with a straight blade (no curve in it at all). Hold the knife about vertical to the keytop, and drag it along gently. Avoid chattering-- steady strokes. This will take the worst of the yellowing off. You may want to polish the top with 0000 steel wool after this. Buff lightly and briefly.

2. Us a cloth wheel with the ivory bar polish to buff the ivory. If you don't have a cloth wheel, you can try doing it by hand as follows: (requires more elbow grease!) Use a white cotton cloth. A "T" shirt with holes in it can be found in most men's dresser drawer on the bottom of the pile :-) Dampen an area of the cloth, and rub it on the Ivory Brite, getting some into the cloth. Rub the keytop with this. . Do not over dampen the ivory and the wood of the key lever. Much rubbing and repeating of the process will eventually get the yellow off.

We have customers who have successfully whitened ivory by using a 35% hydrogen peroxide solution (available from pharmacies--don't use the regular on the shelf peroxide.) DO NOT soak the ivory. Just wipe some on & put the key in the sunlight. We also have a customer who whitened ivory with beauty salon bleaching cream & powder which you mix together and wipe on the ivory.

If the yellowing is too deep, you will have to resort to one of the following:

A. Put them back in the piano looking the best you can do. Make sure plenty of light gets to the piano, but not direct sunlight. The cabinet could fade. Try to get the piano near a window, but not in direct sunlight. The sunlight will bleach the keytops slowly IF YOU LEAVE THE KEY COVER OPEN ALL THE TIME.

B. Replace the keytops with new ones.

Just to make this interesting, here are two more choices:

ONE You can now go make yourself a cup of tea and then take a nap, or

TWO You can go outside and mow the lawn.

Do you see how simple life really is :-) ?

After thought: Ivory is real tooth of an elephant. I have always wondered how the compound dentists use would work to polish piano keytops. Perhaps a dentist could run an experiment for us. 

On to task 40