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44. Moth, Mildew, and Fire Damage in The Piano


NEVER get any liquids of any kind on or near the tuning pins.
There are pin treatments made for tuning pins, but all other liquids are a no no.



It is customary to give the reader the impression that we know all about bugs and how to restrain their nasty manners when around humans. Frankly, my experience with bugs and creepy crawlies has been more in the field rather than in the class room. As a little brat in Oklahoma, I once sat down on the ground to play right on a hole where a mud dauber hornet was digging for mud to make a nest. When he had a load of mud and tried to back out of his mud mine, we both met for the first time, and the meeting adjourned at once as I joined the red hot minority elsewhere and voted for relief to be sent to the southern district.

I also recall as a kid, growing up in the bug laboratory called East Africa, how many ways bugs got my attention. I have been attacked by mosquitos who gave me malaria, and I have had my pants full of pinching ants which have the ability to teach you to dance violently and shout things which we must not allow into print.

Rather than give you a big entomological blab blab, I will simply tell you how to be sure to keep the beasts away from you piano. What you do about ants, las cucarachas, and chiggers is up to you. Keep them where your are please.

Moth larvae are deadly on the felt parts of all pianos. All piano felt is made of real lamb's wool, and this is gourmet eating to any respectable moth. We are also concerned here with carpet beetle larva which eat any kind of protein material. These critters are found more in northern US areas I believe. Most new pianos, no more than 12 years old, will still have mothproofing that is active. On older pianos, especially old uprights, the felt parts-- ALL of them-- are very susceptible to being eaten by these varmints. I have seen the tops of hammers eaten off badly, and the inner pieces of felt in the action are also targets for these little beasts.

Moth balls are the first step. You New Agers can get moth crystals which do just as well, and they smell better to your guests. Open the bottom board of the piano (See Chapter Five for opening a piano), and put the crystals in the bottom. Keep the key cover closed to make sure the fumes go up through the whole piano. A second bag in the upper parts near the action would add protection.

The grand is a bit more complicated. You must open the piano, as instructed in Chapter Five, and take the fall board (key cover) out so you can reach the area where the action is. You must find some place to stash the moth balls or crystals where they will neither be in the way nor be able to fall into the way later. You may hang the moth balls / crystals in a mesh bag under the piano from a tack and get some help, but inside is better. Lay a few in the top in the pin area if you want to deal with the felt there. Once the lid is down on the grand, the fumes will work well if they are stashed inside.

Make it an annual event to replace the moth treatment, like on your birthday.

The most vulnerable time for moth damage is when a piano is stored.  Throw moth balls into the cabinet if you have to store a piano! 

If you can find a NON-water base aerosol bug killer, use it in the bottom of the piano (upright), and spray the under side of the grand piano. I spray it right into the upright action lightly when I have one open.

One of the best ways to keep moths away is to play the piano regularly. Moths will not inhabit a busy piano. Mice will, and we'll deal with them later.

You Buddhist and Hindus, who think your grandma may have come back to work off bad karma as a moth, I have no suggestions to offer you as to controlling moths in your piano. Of course, you must also consider the possibility that your deceased uncle may have been sheered to make the piano hammers. Cruel world, eh? Being a convinced Christian, I am only going around once and then be off to meet my Lord, where "moth and rust" corrupt no more:-)

The reincarnationists in California tell me that Abe Lincoln is, sho nuff, back with us. He is alleged to be living in the Mojave desert of California. That figures. Could you imagine that old Abe would go back to Washington DC? Not likely. Besides, General Robert E. Lee is delivering pizzas in DC.



Mildew gets into pianos rather easily when they are not under humidity control conditions. This is because the wool and other soft materials in the piano hold moisture so well, like a wick. To stop mildew, first of all get the humidity down. It is a waste of time to clean our mildew if you cannot control humidity. This may mean moving the piano. The worst mildew situations are found in basements. A piano should not be in a basement unless a dehumidifier is being used also.

Be sure the piano is completely dried out before you start cleaning. If there is mildew in the piano, you can wipe it down inside with Lysol in a rag. Do not get any liquid that is water based on the strings or anything made of iron or steel. Do not get anything wet of any sort in the tuning pin area. In those areas you may use a cloth dampened with denatured alcohol, NOT rubbing alcohol. This means some odor will not be coming out. Read on in the Fire Damage section below to learn about odor control.

We also carry in our catalog online a chemical which is highly recommended by industrial hygienists and environmental consultants for control, eradication, and restraint of mildew FIND IT HERE Instructions for use are with the product description.



If the piano was in a fire, and if the smoke line went below the bottom of the cabinet, you need to call a technician to determine if the piano was structurally damaged and should be replaced in your insurance claim. If the smoke line only touched the top and part way down the side, you may only have smoke damage. This does not destroy the piano from making music, but by now you know that it leaves the piano smelling terrible. You may also have to have the top and sides refinished.

Soot is oily and easily stains carpets, draperies and other household textiles. You need to consider your piano stained to some degree as you start to clean it. For this reason you must remove the soot before you attempt to clean or deodorize items. Cover the carpet under the piano with a drop cloth if the piano is the last thing you are cleaning.

If possible, use a fine grain chemical sponge available from a cleaning supply company or a cotton cloth to clean soot from walls. Paint thinner or rubbing alcohol may work, but use with caution because thinner is flammable. Thinner may also try to dissolve the finish. Rubbing alcohol is the most benign. Wear rubber gloves, open all windows and use an electric fan to increase ventilation while working. You may use this technique on all parts and surfaces in the piano except right in the tuning pin area. Do not let your sponge of cloth get dripping wet.

Murphy's oil soap may be used with some water in a damp cotton cloth, but ONLY on finished wood surfaces, not on steel and metal parts, and not on the action wood parts.


These products are now available to YOU!
Ordinary household deodorizers are only temporary when challenged with smoke damage. Stronger treatment is essential. There are large areas which cannot be cleaned with solvents and water based cleaners, and there are places in the piano which you simply cannot reach.

Never use a pistol grip sprayer to soak the inside of the piano with ANY kind of chemicals.

You can manually clean the inside and outside of the piano with special cleaning solutions. Keep in mind that most household deodorizing sprays and disinfectants provide only temporary relief. In addition, deodorizing sprays may interact with smoke odor and create an additional odor. Also, there are areas you cannot ever clean with these solutions, that is, all metal and moving parts and the area around the tuning pins.

For a number of years professional cleaning crews have had special chemical solutions that they used to clean up smoke odors and eradicate the smoke odor causes. These are now available to you, and they are safe if handled properly. For chemical masking and counteracting smoke damage, read the information with the products on THIS PAGE in our catalog. These products are the most powerful chemicals that are safe to use in smoke damage situations.




WARNING: Ozone is an oxidizer, and a strong one. It can degrade many things, including the finish on the piano. Most pianos that have smoke damage, mildew, or mold have a dulled finish also and need some restoration anyway. Do not do an Ozone Treatment to a piano which has none of the issues on this page. Also, do the Ozone Treatment BEFORE the finish is restored or buffed, NOT afterward. This is not a big matter really since the time you will be subjecting your piano to ozone is very short in terms of oxidizing issues. Be sure that the odor of smoke, or the mold and mildew issue, is more urgent than the shine of the finish.

Professional fire restorers and dry cleaners use ozone treatment to break up smoke molecules and eliminate odors. If the process is done in the home, items are put under a tent while an ozone generator is operating. Ozone can cause asthma issues for some people but is generally benign. Fire damage removal professionals frequently use ozone generators in homes, but we have found no one who is making this option available to the do-it-yourselfer in the home who has smoke damage or mold and mildew issues.

We offer Two Ozone Generators in our online Parts Catalog.


Here are Safety Instructions on the use of this Product.

Ozone can cause mild discomfort to a small percent of people. The following warning is common where ozone is present:

The acute and chronic effects of excessive exposure to ozone have been well investigated. Exposure to concentrations of ozone in excess of several tenths of a ppm sometime cause reports of discomfort in a small susceptible portion of the population. This can be in the form of headaches of dryness of the throat and mucous membranes of the eyes and nose following exposures of short duration. Repeated exposure to ozone at such concentrations at 24-hour intervals, however, caused no further increase in airway irritability. In fact after the first exposures, additional exposures to ozone had progressively lesser effects suggesting that tolerance may develop over time.

We can see that the health issues are not severe, but after even an hour of exposure to low levels of ozone, symptoms can be experienced. With High Level Shock Treatment levels of ozone (read more below) severe health issues would arise very quickly.


Run the Ozone Generator while you are away from home. Do not run it overnight as you are sleeping. Keep windows open so that ozone that escapes from the piano will escape quickly.

Ozone is a more efficient oxidant than pure oxygen, so do not smoke or have an open flame in the room while the generator is running. Ozone cannot start a fire, but it will help a fire burn very well which already exists. The same precautions must be taken with smoking and flame as with people using oxygen assist medically.

We offer no instructions or suggestions for using the Ozone Generator for other issues except to kill mildew and stop smoke odors.

Evidence of medical benefits of ozone therapy
From Wikipedia

With regards to the debate of the merits of ozone therapy, the promotional claims by some marketer's of ozone generators that it is a miraculous cure for all disease including cancer and AIDS has given many people false hope and hurt the credibility of ozone therapy.

Leading the opposing argument is the US Food & Drug Administration who insist, ozone is a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy and in order for ozone to be effective as a germicide, it must be present in a concentration far greater than that which can be safely tolerated by man and animals.

Although the FDA recently approved ozone’s use as a disinfectant in the food processing industry. A search of the Journal of the America Medical Association (JAMA) or the New York based World Health Authority (WHO) database will reveal no literature on any research reporting benefits of ozone use in medicine.

However, a search of internationally published peer reviewed medical journals will reveal hundreds of articles reporting positive outcomes of medical ozone research and application for a vast range of pathology. Most of these published since 1990 and accessible on medline, they include pre-clinical studies, animal experiments, patient case history's, placebo controlled blinded human trials and reviews, by researchers mostly from Italy, Poland, Russia, Germany, Cuba, Spain, Israel, Japan and America whom draw conclusions that conflict with the FDA. The literature in their native languages is more abundant.


Since many USA states do not allow the sale of ozone generators for health enhancement, we comply with this, and we assume there IS some concern. Thus, we insist that you not be in your home while ozone treatment is in progress, especially with High Level Shock Treatment methods.

Keep the ozone you generate inside the piano, and ventilate the room as the ozone generator is running. The Ozone Generator we sell is made to treat whole rooms for mildew, so whatever ozone escapes into the room from your piano can be quickly made benign by leaving a couple of windows open. Our Ozone Generator is unique in that is has a burst setting. This allows you to set it to run intermittently is less ozone is needed to accomplish the task with your piano.

The ozone actually eradicates the smoke chemically. The neutralized smoke tars cannot then release molecules into the air in aerosol form which you smell. The residue of smoke tars remains in the piano, but it does not release smell. If, after time and with high humidity, an odor seems to come back, simply treat the piano with the Ozone Generator again.


Use of the Ozone Generator:

Materials needed--
Air Zone-120 Ozone Generator, cotton sheets enough to cover the piano, and blankets enough to cover the piano. We suggest a ordinary timer to turn the Ozone Generator on and off so that you do not even need to be in the room during the whole treatment cycle.

Instructions for using our Ozone Generator:

Before doing the following, wipe off all loose soot and film you can reach with a damp cloth. The ozone cannot penetrate through a sooty layer. You will be neutralizing odor, not doing heavy cleaning with the ozone generator.

1. Place the Air Zone-120 or 240 inside the upright piano, or under the grand piano.

2. Plug the Air Zone into the timer and the timer into the wall plug. Set it on Burst setting a setting between 30 and 50. Set the Air Zone to run for four hours and shut off. If this does not seem to remove all smoke odor, repeat the process with the ozone generator full on, no burst, for several hours. You MUST be out of the house while it is running.

3. Open a couple windows, but do not run a fan to cause an air flow. Ozone is easily drawn along by any air movement, and this could reduce the effect of the Ozone inside the piano.

3. Cover the piano completely to the floor with cotton sheets, and then cover that with blankets all the way to the floor. If you want to expose the outside finish of the piano to the Ozone, you will need to invent a way to keep the sheets and blankets from laying against the outside of the piano. Use sticks of some sort, and lay several on the top of the piano so that they hang down to the floor but do not touch the piano and allow circulation of the Ozone.

4. Let the Air Zone run for four hours while you are outside the home. Make sure pets are outside of the area where the piano is being treated. Don't forget the parakeet. I do not know if fish would suffer from small amounts of ozone in the air, but you should check with a pet shop.

5. Do not enter the house until four hours after the Air Zone shur off.

Low Level Treatment:
Enter the room, leave the door open, grab part of the covers over the piano, and walk away, dropping the covers on the floor as you walk out the door. Do not linger at all. Please read the Wikipedia clip in the side box to see that Ozone is not deadly. We simply want you to take moderate precautions.

High Level Shock Treatment:
If you gave the piano the the High Level Shock Treatment (Read instructions down the page for mold and mildew) open doors and place a fan in a doorway blowing to the outdoors for a couple of hours before removing the covers. Then, with the fan blowing to the outside in one doorway, pull off the covers and exit by another door.

6. If you still have odor from the piano, repeat the process again.

7. COMPLICATIONS: So that no one in the family develops symptoms associated with exposure to Ozone (cough, chest pain, and eye, nose, and throat irritation) you MUST run the ozone generator with a timer so that you do not have to be in the home to turn is on or off.

If you wish to use the Ozone Generator to eradicate smoke odor in the rooms of your home, you need to follow the instructions which come from the manufacturer of the generator. This is the main use of the generator, but we are not confident enough to give instructions for room odor eradication.

The odor of smoke can soak into the finish of the piano if the finish was softened at all by the heat from the fire. Later, during hot humid weather the smoke molecules may be released from within the layer of finish, and odor may again be given off. Simply repeat the process using the Ozone Generator.


Read here to learn more about the use and safety of ozone





High Ozone Shock Treatments are very effective for removing stubborn odors like smoke, mold, and animal odors. It is useful to "blow out" an unoccupied room with a large amount of ozone to kill many of the odors and germs that may be present. This is completely different from the use of ozone for low level air purifying. Air Purifying is usually done with the ozone level set very low when people are present.

High Ozone Shock Treatments are only to be done in rooms when no people, animals, or plants are present. This is because a high toxic level of ozone is needed to kill the germs, mold, and viruses present in the room. The ONLY way to truly sterilize an area of mold, bacteria, or serious odors is with these very high levels of ozone. You cannot totally "sterilize" of mold with lower air purification levels of ozone. This High Lever Shock concentration of ozone can easily be reached inside a small area like a piano.

You may have seen many low output ozone generators or ionizers advertised TV or radio that claim kill mold. While these types of machines may kill SOME airborne mold spores they cannot possibly sterilize a room of bacteria and mold, and have little or no effect on surface mold and bacteria. Sterilizing areas of mold and bacteria can ONLY be accomplished with levels of ozone Far Above that which we could normally stand to breathe. This statement is not simply conjecture on our part, it is scientific fact.

This can be proven by ozone / bacterial / mold killing studies where several prominent universities and labs have proven this fact beyond a reasonable doubt. Covering up a mold smell with an ionizer or low level ozone generator is NOT the same as actually killing a great deal of the mold present in a room. In fact we believe that low output ionizers and ozone generators are actually worse to use because they give the user a false sense of security because some of the mold odor has been covered up.

The idea is to kill as much mold and bacteria as possible with High Ozone Shock Treatments.

Are these High Ozone Shock Treatments safe. They are safe because they are ONLY to be performed when rooms have been evacuated of any living people and animals. The user simply turns the machine up to it's maximum ozone output, sets the countdown timer, and vacates the area. Any warnings you have seen against the overuse of ozone in an OCCUPIED space do not apply when performing High Ozone Shock Treatments because they are ONLY done in UNOCCUPIED areas.

Ozone is the strongest available sterilizer known to man, yet it is safe because it is made up completely of Oxygen, and completely reverts back to Oxygen in a relatively short time. That's one of the best features of ozone. It can be very toxic at high levels, which means it can kill, and yet it has the ability to revert completely back to a completely non toxic state (simple oxygen) very quickly. Because of these amazing qualities ozone may be the safest, yet most powerful bactericides available. Fungicides are great and do kill mold, yet they remain in the treated area leaving toxic substances around your home. While their strength diminishes it takes a very long time for them to completely vanish. Residual fungicides don't have enough toxicity left to kill any remaining mold, and they can't prevent it from coming back.

In other words you will still have toxic chemicals in your home, and they are doing little or nothing to prevent the mold from returning, yet these toxic substances could still be entering your body. When you use a fungicide it's not as strong as when using the proper amount of ozone to kill the bacteria, yet it is more toxic to use because it remains long after it is used. Imagine a gas like ozone that is made up of something we depend upon life to breathe, being able to be generated to very high toxic levels that can kill any bacteria, virus, or mold known to man, that reverts completely back to it's non toxic form in a short time.

Ozone is the way nature purifies the earth, and truly one of God's greatest gifts to man. High Ozone Shock Treatments are done with the Ozone Generator run at full power for a measured period of time in an unoccupied room. The more ozone you blast into an unoccupied room them more mold or bacteria you are likely to kill. These treatments are safe because once again, they are only done in unoccupied rooms. You simply turn the unit up to it's maximum capacity of ozone output, and leave the room. You can then return to the area an hour or more after the unit's timer has shut the machine down all the ozone will have reverted back to simple oxygen by then.

Ordinarily, larger ozone generators would be needed to cleanse a home room of mold or mildew, but a piano is a very small area compared to a room. So, the Ozone Generators we sell are adequate to do a piano if left full on, not on burst setting, for several hours.

We suggest you purchase the AZXT-240 if you can afford it. This will give a very high Shock Treatment inside a piano when set full on with no burst.

Use the same steps for Ozone Treatment of the piano above for Smoke Damage. The only alteration to those instructions would be to put the Ozone Generator on a timer, set it to run for eight hours while NO ONE, AND NO ANIMAL LIFE IS PRESENT IN THE HOUSE. Do NOT use the Burst Option-- Set it on Full On) Set the timer to go off four hours before you enter the house again. The ozone will have degraded to common healthy oxygen. Under NO circumstances may you enter the house while the Shock Treatment in in progress.

If you are in doubt about this, use the protocol for treatment for Smoke Damage above, but let the Ozone Generator run for a couple of days on 30 to 50 Burst Mode.



Though the piano will be completely covered with sheets and blankets while being treated, it is still the safe policy to not be in the home while the Ozone Generator is running. Also, the room should be open to the outside air during treatment to dissipate ozone that escapes from the piano into the room. After shutting off the ozone generator, and taking the coverings off, exit the room at once and allow several hours for the ozone to exit the piano and degrade to plain oxygen.

Again, we are NOT telling you that ozone is harmless, and we do not believe it is safe to use as a health enhancer. Generally, health officials do not feel ozone should be added to the environment, at any concentration, where people are present.





Here are a number of areas that may have brought the initial entrance of mold of mildew into the home.
You need to deal with these problems also, or your problem in the piano could return:

Basement flooding, water intrusion
Basement has perpetually high humidity
Closeness to lakes or rivers
Clothes dryer exhausting into walls or attic
Construction defects
Crawl spaces
Firewood indoors
Improper foundation grading
High indoor humidity
Inadequate ventilation
Indoor plants
Leaking roofs or plumbing in walls
Sewage pipe leaks
Rainwater seeping under house
Wooded setting
Wet clothes drying indoors
Wet carpeting



On to task 45


updated june 07