How to clean the finish on your piano!

Hi folks!

Jamie here from Paul Hahn & Co. with a quick primer on how to clean a Lacquer or French-polished finished piano.

It’s not difficult, or time-consuming. Leave the inside of your piano to us, but you can do the outside yourself.

If your piano was made before the 1940’s and hasn’t been refinished, it probably was original French – polished. If the finish looks like a cross between old leather and alligator skin, it’s absolutely an original French-polished shellac. If your piano was made between the 1940s and the 1980s, it’s probably finished in Nitrocellulose Lacquer. 

Generally speaking, keep liquids away from your piano. Don’t use it as a drink coaster, or a display shelf for your flowers. If it does get even a little drop of water on it, dry it off immediately.

Keep it out of the sun, away from liquids, and regularly moisturize it with lemon oil. If your piano is just starting to show the signs of drying out, buy REAL lemon oil, (not a polish WITH lemon oil), apply the oil to a soft cloth, spread it over the finish, let sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off with a clean, dry, soft cloth.

If very dusty, apply liberally to any horizontal surfaces – making sure that it doesn’t drip down any edges.

Spread the oil lightly over the surface to pick up the loose dust.

Then, using a clean section of the cloth, go over the surface again to ensure that the oil is evenly applied.

Sprinkle a liberal amount of oil onto the cloth and apply it to all the other wooden surfaces of the piano evenly.

Try not to get any oil on or between the keys, and try especially not to let any oil go inside the piano!

After you have applied oil to all the case parts, using another clean cloth to remove any excess oil. Do this in the same order that you first applied the oil – this way, it has a chance to “soak in” a little.

You may want to go over it again with a clean cloth an hour or so later – just to do a final polish.

If the finish has leathered, lemon oil might help a little, but, chances are, to make it look new, it will have to be refinished.

The secret to cleaning a lacquer finish is to not have to. Dust the piano often using a feather duster, and if you have to remove a smudge or a blot, use a slightly damp cloth, followed by a dry soft cloth.

Never use any kind of over-the-counter polishes like Pledge or Endust. 

When I was little, I would wake up every Sunday morning to the sound of my mother dusting the piano. Of course, she was dusting everything, (being my mom), but nothing else in the house made that familiar badum, badum, badum sound of her cleaning the keys.

In general, the technique to clean both Ivory and Plastic keytops are the same: Spray a soft cloth with a little water or Windex, clean a small section at a time, and dry immediately with a dry cloth. Make sure you clean the sides of the black keys, and the fronts of the white keys.

I should tell you though, that all you really need to do to your piano on a regular basis, is dust with a Swiffer or feather duster, and wipe all the keys (like my mom) from the back to the front with a soft cloth.

Do this once a week, and you’ll only need to seriously clean your piano once a year, (unless someone has dirty fingers, or an accident). That’s it!

If you have ivory keytops, don’t close the keycover unless you need to protect them against marauders. Ivory yellows if not exposed to light. Plastic, on the other hand, especially the plastic keys made in the 1960s to the 1980s can turn yellowish if not kept covered.

By the way, the main reason that keys get chipped is because something has been used to depress them other than fingers, ex: A toy car, or a G.I. Joe. Please remind every little pianist: “Fingers only on the keys, no toys, or feet, or elbows please!”