How to Whiten Piano Keys

Learn How to Safely Whiten Your Ivories

Piano keyboard.
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The discoloration and yellowing of your piano keys is inevitable. Many factors play a part, and some can be prevented by practicing proper piano care.

A professional should always handle severely stained or yellowed keys. To whiten your discolored piano keys, follow these steps:

  1. Gently buff white piano keys with a thin layer of mild, white toothpaste, and follow the general key-cleaning tips.
  2. Wipe away toothpaste residue with a cloth slightly dampened with whole milk, and dry immediately.
  3. Indirect sunlight after a cleaning can help prevent white piano keys from yellowing.
    Beware: Plastic keyboard keys will become discolored if exposed to sunlight, so always keep them covered when not in use.

How to Clean Pure Ivory Piano Keys

Ebony and ivory are rare and precious materials. Replacing keys made out of them is a very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming process, so extra caution should always be taken when dealing with them.

Tips found in both this article and the general key-cleaning article can be safely applied to ivory. However, ivory is very porous, and immediate drying is crucial. Too much moisture can cause the ivory to become malformed. It can also seep past the material, damaging nearby wood and weakening glue.

Tips on Whitening Pure Ivory Piano Keys

  • Whitening pure ivory takes patience. Since it is so porous, stains are deeper and more difficult to remove. Plan on spending at least 20 minutes on each octave (depending on severity), and dry each ivory key after a scrubbing.
  • Lemon juice is sometimes recommended to clean ivory, but milk is a far better choice. Ivory is essentially dental bone, and acidic lemon juice can wear it down over time; milk’s calcium and fatty acids help protect it.
  • For stubborn stains, you can purchase an ivory scraper. Talk to a professional before using this tool; not only can you destroy your keys because of misuse, but you will have to remove the keys for a thorough cleaning (which should only be done by a licensed technician).

How to Tell If You Have Pure Ivory Piano Keys

If you are unsure whether or not your keys are pure ivory, look for a very fine, straight split on a key. Ivory is molded together, and keys made out of other materials will not have this separation. Ebony can be identified by its matte texture and will have a solid feel to it. 

Cleaning Your Piano

Compared to other pieces of furniture, the piano comes across as an indestructible beast. Actually, quite the opposite is true. Cleaning your piano like you clean your kitchen table – no matter how precious the wood – can lead to exterior and interior damage, and an annoying dent in your wallet. Learn the right way to keep your piano clean.

Piano Tuning

The piano is the least-tuned of all the stringed instruments. This is partly because pianos remain in-tune for fairly long durations, and also because most pianists do not tune their own pianos. For these reasons, many piano-owners put off a tuning until a bad pitch is heard; and by that point, it can cost you twice as much. Learn more about keeping your piano in-tune.

Detecting and Preventing Piano Damage

Given the piano’s size and complexity, it might seem easier to assume everything’s in working order so long as the keys play tune. But, while it’s always a good idea to contact a professional if you suspect damage, it’s important to learn how to detect, and prevent, a damaged piano.