How to Clean & Whiten Piano Keytops: Gentle to Abrasive

Kevin Busse Feb 07, 2024
69 People Read
Clean Piano Keys

How do you clean and whiten Keytops?

The best solution for white keys does not always require harsh chemicals to return to its original color.

Here is an article that contains simple steps to cleaning and whitening the keys of your piano to their former glory with multiple methods from gentle to abrasive.

Applying one or a few of these methods will guarantee you end up with the lightest key tops possible for your piano.

If at first the provided solution doesn’t work, I’ll go on to suggest other methods that become increasingly aggressive to try next!

*Please note that some key tops are intentionally off-white.

Types of Keys: Ivory Tops Vs. Plastic Piano Keys

For the most part, whether the type of material is Ivory Keys, Plastic Keys or Ivorite keys, they are often cleaned the same way when using gentle methods.

Article: How to tell if piano keys are made of ivory or plastic


However, as for whitening, there are advanced methods that require specialized equipment owned by professional piano technicians that may or may not be the best thing for the material depending on the type of key; in which case, consult a piano technician for your specific needs.

Ivory

Ivory Keytops


Ivorite

Ivorite keys

Ivorite keys are intended to feel closer to ivory keys yet are still plastic, the texture of the key being the major difference may effect the color of the key.


Plastic

Plastic Piano Keys

All digital piano keys are made up of plastic or Ivorite key tops (off-white) rather than actual ivory keytops.

#1 Damp Cloth with a mild mixture

The first step is to take a clean cloth and fill a spray bottle with the following mixture to spray on the soft cloth and rub the keys.

With the damp cloth, clean piano keys and see if that doesn't fix the problem.

Cleaning Spray bottle


What do I clean piano keys with?

Recommended Mixture


  • 1/5 parts Rubbing Alcohol

  • 1/5 parts Fantastik

  • 3/5 parts Water


After lightly saturating the cloth by spraying the mixture to the cloth, wipe down the keys using firm pressure to remove the dirt, stains and discoloration.

It is also acceptable to use cheese cloth as an alternative to a cloth made out of a T-shirt because the material is softer.

…if that doesn’t yet work, try this!

#2 Fantastik

Fantastik

If the above solution does not work, spray Fantastik onto the cloth and wipe down the keys with firm pressure.

This is an effective method if the mixture mentioned above does not remove the filth quickly or effectively enough.

Choosing to use Fantastik on its own also helps if there is a significant amount of filth that takes multiple passes to remove from the keys.

70% Isopropyl Alcohol

Rubbing Alcohol


Depending on the kind of material of plastic on your piano, it is rare but possible that the keys could be damaged by solvents like pure rubbing alcohol.

While unlikely, it is a good idea to start out with gentle cleaning solutions first and work your way up.

…if that doesn’t work, try this!

#3 Trying to remove tape?

Mineral Spirits

How do I remove tape from piano Keytops?

The absolute best way to remove foreign substances like scotch tape is to get a different cloth and saturate a portion of it with mineral spirits.

Mineral spirits is by far the best method for removing a particularly stubborn piece of scotch tape from the keys of a piano.

...if that doesn’t work, try this!

#4 Compound

Menzerna Compound


How should I polish my piano keys?

Another way to clean a key and rid it of particulates is to get “compound.”

Compound has some grit in the mixture that can grind down particulates that don’t seem to rub off with a soft damp cloth on its own.

When working with compound be sure to have a few paper towels nearby to keep your workspace clean.

A reliable ”compound” used by piano technicians like me is called “Menzerna.”

...if that doesn’t work, try this!

#5 Ultra Fine Sand Paper


Sand paper

In order to remove substances that really won’t come off of the piano key is to get ultra fine sand paper.

The method to the madness is to only apply the sandpaper to the spec of material that will not come off.

Warning: You will scratch your piano key if you do not use sand paper that is a high enough grit.

You will also scratch your piano key if you apply the sand paper beyond the substance that you were trying to remove.

...if that doesn’t work, try this!

Article: Need to repair a key? Repairing Keytops with Acrylikey in 10 steps

#6 replace the key

Replace keys

Piano technicians should be able to source the correct piano key for your piano.

The piano technician will need the brand, model, and serial number of your piano to find the closest matching key available.

Please beware that it may not be promised that the result will be perfect due to the vast amount of subtle differences between piano keys that have been manufactured over many years.

...if that doesn’t work, try this!

#7 replace the key set

This will take a significant amount of time, effort, and cost in order for your keys to be replaced.

It may very well end up costing thousands of dollars.

When you have the whole set of keys replaced by a qualified piano technician, it may require removing the keys/action from the piano and be completed in a workshop.

Working on the keys in the piano technicians' workshop allows them to spend quality time to make final improvements to the keys before they return it to the house.

If the technician does all work in home, they will likely do a satisfactory job, however, there will be imperfections that are simply impossible to fully address under the time constraints of one appointment.

#8 Buffing/Polishing

Buffer polish


Buffing and polishing should be done by a professional who has a workshop that is setup for doing this job.

It is possible to take a buffing wheel to go over the plastic keys and have it returned to its original whiteness.

It is important to note however that the friction resulting from the buffer may burn or slightly melt part of the key or even change the shape of the sides of the keys.

This is exactly why it is necessary to have this done by a professional.

Can Ivory piano keys be cleaned, bleached, and polished?

Yes, if you are interested in having your Ivory keys bleached or polished, it is best to contact a professional who is properly setup to perform this service.

Please inquire if you need contact information of a qualified specialist for a job like this.

#9 Buy a new piano

New piano


If cleaning the keytops doesn’t seem to work and whitening keytops is cost prohibitive, it may be time to consider whether it is worth getting a new piano.

This will prevent you from throwing good money after bad and eliminate the process of finding someone who is both willing to do the job and getting a result that’s satisfactory.

#10 Avoid “home remedies”

Toothpaste


The following are home remedies that are commonly suggested on the internet but ARE NOT recommended by professional piano technicians.

What should I avoid cleaning piano keys with?

  • White Vinegar

  • tooth paste

  • lemon juice

  • white vinyl eraser

  • white toothpaste

  • ivory scraper

  • ultraviolet light / uv light

  • over the counter hydrogen peroxide

  • dish soap / mild soap

  • steel wool

Please avoid these “remedies” that are either ineffective or that will damage your piano keys.