How To Clean Piano Keys Properly

William Cramer by William Cramer | Last Updated: June 16, 2020

It is very important that you keep your piano keys clean, and to clean them on a regular basis. By keeping piano keys clean, you make sure that they are in best working condition.

Piano cleaning shouldn’t be performed only to enable the instrument to play better. There is also an aesthetic side to it.

If a lot of people play piano in a short period of time, there will be a lot of fingerprints on it. This doesn’t look well, but it could also affect the playing. The keys can become sticky and inhibit the piano player.

When it comes to the frequency of cleaning piano keys, there is no rule. It depends on how often you are playing the piano.

If you are playing piano just for yourself, at home, a couple of times per week – you will perform the cleaning seldom. But if you play regularly, every day, if you give piano lessons or have a private school – you will have to clean it more often.

What is The Best Way To Clean Piano Keys?

Why Piano Keys Become Sticky and Dirty?

It’s absolutely normal when piano keys become sticky and dirty. In general, the greatest factor is the sweat from the hands. When a piano player performs, hands tend to become very sweaty, especially in expressive players. But there are also people who simply sweat more.

Then, there is a lot of dirt coming from the furniture, or the carpet. Small particles of dust are flying through the air in the room, and a lot of dirt eventually lands on piano keys.

There is also the question of skin oils and moisturizers. They stick to the surface of piano keys, and stay there until cleaned. And the surface of piano keys is extremely prone to collecting dirt and smut.

The polished surface of piano keys wears out quite quickly. Because of this, the dirt easily gathers on it.

In the past, the piano only had keys made of ebony and ivory. Nowadays, it’s different. Many modern pianos and digital keyboards have plastic keys.

In a way, this makes the whole cleaning process a bit easier. But there are still things you have to learn, so that you know how to clean piano keys.

Why Piano Keys Become Sticky and Dirty?

Cleaning Piano Keys

Before you even get to cleaning piano keys, there is one piece of advice to bear in mind. It’s highly beneficial that you wash your hands prior to playing the piano. By doing this, you will eliminate all the dirt and sweat on it, and be ready for good playing.

But of course, this is not enough, especially if you’re sharing the piano. And even if you’re not – it’s normal for dirt to collect over time. So, cleaning the keys is definitely necessary. Let’s begin.

Ivory Keys or Plastic Keys?

Many people don’t know to tell the difference between ivory keys and plastic keys. They are also not sure whether they can clean both types in the same way. Here’s what you should know.

All piano keys are actually made of wood. They are all the same in that respect. But they are different “on the surface”. Older pianos have ivory-coated keys, whereas new pianos have plastic keys. Nowadays, a vast majority of pianos have plastic keys.

Before 1930, most pianos had ivory keys. It was simply a necessity, because there was no plastic back then.

After plastic was introduced, things slowly started to change. Plastic keys have since dominated the digital piano market. However, although plastic is used worldwide, ivory still has a place in the piano world.

There are still many players who prefer having ivory keys on their instrument. And who could blame them? Ivory definitely has its benefits. It is highly responsive to touch, and is absorbs well.

Because of this, it doesn’t gather as much sweat as plastic. On the other hand, ivory cracks easily, whereas plastic is a much stronger material.

If you don’t know whether your piano keys are made of ivory or plastic, there is an easy way to check it. Ivory has a different texture, and you can notice small “veins” on it.

Plastic is smooth and in one hue. But nowadays, plastic imitates ivory quite well, and sometimes you have plastic keys that have a texture similar to ivory. So this is not the best way to check it.

The best method for checking the type of piano keys is the build of each key. Ivory keys always have three parts – stem, front and key. Plastic keys only have two parts – the top and the front.

This is the best way to see which type of piano keys you have. And it’s very easy to notice ivory keys, because their keytop and stem and joint. If you see a very thin line between these two pieces, it means that the keys are ivory.

Once you know which type of piano keys you have, you can move on to the actual cleaning process.

The Cleaning Process 

The best way to clean piano keys is by using a cloth. A cloth should be gentle – be sure not to forget this. If the cloth is not soft, it may damage the surface of piano keys.

And although there are a lot of colored cloths, you should always use a color-free cloth. You simply cannot be sure that the cloth won’t let color onto the keys. So, avoid using colored cloths.

But you should also use another cloth – a dry one. The first one is for applying the cleaning liquid, and the dry one for wiping the liquid off the keys and drying them. Some people use one and the same cloth.

They simply wring it out, and use it to wipe the keys. But this is not recommended. You can never remove all the liquid from a cloth by wringing it. It would still be wet.

Another very important thing is the manner in which you apply the cloth on the keyboard. Be sure not to do it in a sloppy way.

Some people want to do it as soon as possible, and they wipe the piano keyboard in one single stroke. But this is definitely not a good method for cleaning the keys.

The Cleaning Process

The problem with this method is that it’s not very efficient. By simply wiping across the whole keyboard, you will only smear the dirt around. You also risk the dirt getting stuck between the keys.

This problem is often called “sticky keys” because the stuck dirt will act as glue for adjacent keys. In turn, this can inhibit your playing. When you press one key – two will go down. Or, they may stay down after you release them.

Therefore, the best way to clean the keys is – key by key. Yes, it will slow you down a bit, but then again – it’s important for the “well-being” of the piano.

If the keys are not that dirty, you clean them in groups of two or three. Nevertheless, key-by-key is the safest method for cleaning piano keys.

This goes both for white and black keys. But when cleaning black keys, be careful when taking the dirt off their top. Sometimes, dirt can fall down in the small slots between black and white keys.

Once you clean the key tops, you can move on to cleaning the key front. The front is the small square-like below the key top. Many people tend to skip that part, but dirt gathers there as well.

Related: The 11 Best Pianists Alive Today In 2017

Cleaning Ivory Keys 

When cleaning ivory keys, you ought to be extra careful. The reason is simply- ivory pianos are becoming rare. If you don’t take care of your ivory keys, you may damage them for good.

piano keys


You can’t count on finding the proper replacement for your damaged ivory keys. Every ivory keyboard will have own hue, and it’s very hard to find the exact match for it. Ebony is also tricky, but ivory causes most problems.

This is what you should do when cleaning ivory keys:

  • Avoid using chemicals of any kind. Again, ivory and plastic are not the same thing. Ivory demands special care. If you use a chemical, ivory might absorb it, and the key hue will be damaged for good. Also, the wood of the key might become damaged.
  • Always wear cotton gloves. You do not want to press onto the ivory keys with your fingertips. And of course, the gloves should be white, to avoid colorizing the keys by accident.
  • Before you start cleaning the keys, dust them first. You can use any kind of gentle brush, and with a couple of easy strokes – take the first layer of dust and dirt off the ivory keys. Don’t stroke left and right, but back and forth. Always do this one key at a time (or two keys tops, if there isn’t a lot of dirt).
  • Use a white vinyl eraser and rub the surface of each key. It is crucial that you do this one key at a time. When you finish with this procedure, use the brush to clean the keys once again.
  • Avoid using lemon juice, milk or toothpaste. Although all these things can give good results, they are not very “ethical” when it comes to whitening the piano keys. If you’re not satisfied with the job, consult a professional.

Cleaning Plastic Keys

Cleaning Plastic Keys


Plastic keys are a bit easier to clean that ivory keys, because plastic is a stronger material, and it doesn’t get easily damaged by chemicals. Here’s the process of cleaning plastic piano keys.

  • Mix up some water with a couple of drops of mild soap.
  • Use a clean cloth (preferably white) and soak it in the cleaning liquid you have prepared. Be sure to wring it out once you’ve soaked it. It should only be damp, and not soaking wet. If it’s too wet, droplets of water might go through it onto the keys, damaging them.
  • Clean the keys by applying the cloth key-by-key, back and forth.
  • Use another white cloth to dry the keys, applying it in the same manner – back and forth, gently.
  • Repeat the same for the black keys, but using a different cloth. This is important because you don’t want any dirt left over from the white keys.
  • Remove fingerprints by applying a solution of 1/5 vinegar and 4/5 water. Again, use a new, soft cloth and gently apply the soaked (and then wrung) cloth onto the keys. This is important because fingerprints won’t come off otherwise.
  • Don’t cover the piano for a day or two, to allow the smell of the vinegar to evaporate.
  • After the vinegar smell is gone, be sure to cover the piano – to prevent dust to gather on it.

Additional Advice

If you have ivory keys, and you want to keep them shiny, be sure to give them enough sunlight. When they are not exposed to sunlight for a long time, ivory keys will turn yellow and lose their sparkle.

But don’t make it too much sunlight, because it will cause the glue holding key pieces to melt. (!Plastic keys should always be covered when you’re not playing the piano, because they yellow in the sunlight).

You should not use any kind of spray disinfectant when cleaning piano keys. These things can be very detrimental to the texture, and they can reach other piano parts as well.

If you have ivory keys, clean them only with a cloth made of light-colored material. Ivory is extremely porous, and it can easily absorb dye from a color cloth. You never know when this could happen.

Additional Advice

An air purifier reduces a lot of dust in the room. Use an air purifier in the room where your piano is. That way, you practically eliminate most of the dust coming from the air.

Place your piano in a room with no moisture, because it will eventually weaken the wood, affecting piano sound.

Always cover the piano keyboard when you’re not playing.

If your piano keys are extremely damages, with a big difference in color and texture, you shouldn’t perform any cleaning yourself. In this case, be sure to contact a professional.

Only clean one piano octave at a time. Don’t do the whole keyboard all at once. Take your time, and do it octave by octave. When you finish with one octave, move on to the next one.


If you want your piano to last for a long time, it is crucial that you clean it regularly. By maintaining the piano properly, you can keep it in perfect working condition for decades. That is why you should always find enough time to clean your piano keys thoroughly.


William Cramer, the founder of Fire Inside Music, started to learn music in 2012 with a piano. He has continued to level-up his playing skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other beginners. He launched Fire Inside Music in 2017 to make playing music more approachable for everyone looking to master a musical instrument.