How to Clean Ivory Piano Keys

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Ivory piano keys will yellow over time.
Ivory piano keys will yellow over time. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Even though it's currently illegal in the United States to manufacture pianos with ivory keys, due to a wildlife conservation act that protects elephants, plenty of older pianos with ivory keys still exist. Ivory piano keys can suffer from the accumulation of dust and dirty fingerprints, and will eventually need cleaning. Yet, unlike plastic keys, ivory keys are porous, so excess moisture can result in damage.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean, white soft cloths
  • Small container
  • Warm water
  • 4 to 5 drops of mild liquid soap

Fill a small container with warm water. Add 4 or 5 drops of mild soap to the water. Agitate the water with your fingertips to mix the soap and water.

Dip a clean, white, soft cloth into the soapy water. Wring the cloth free of excess liquid.

Wipe two or three ivory piano keys with the damp soapy cloth from top to bottom. Wipe the damp keys with a clean, white, dry cloth immediately to remove the residue.

Rinse out the cloth and wring it as needed. If the cloth becomes soiled, retrieve a clean cloth for use. Repeat Step 3 as many times as needed to clean all of the ivory keys.

Tips & Warnings

  • Alternatively, 2 tbsp. of white vinegar mixed with 1 gallon of warm water can be used instead of soap and water.
  • If you use a commercial spray cleaner, proceed with caution. Saturating the keys with spray can cause damage.
  • While cleaning ivory with milk has long been thought a safe and effective method, it actually does nothing more than create a scummy, smelly coating on the keys.
  • Do not use dirty or brightly colored cloths to clean ivory keys because they can stain the ivory.
  • Avoid wiping keys from side to side so the cleaning solution won't seep in between the keys.

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