Piano Maintenance Guide



There are many types of piano key covering materials that have been used over the years:
·         Ivory
·         Celluloid
·         Plastic
·         Walrus
·         Even wooly mammoth!

There are also many types of glue used in adhesion. These glues can be unpredictable when used with chemical cleaners. It is best to stay clear of using any type of chemical cleaner to clean piano keys. To be safe use a damp white cloth followed by a dry cloth. Pay special attention to not allow moisture to penetrate into the wood. If necessary, use a gentle soap added to the water solution. Another safe product for cleaning piano keys is Cory Key-Brite which cleans, brightens, and preserves all plastic, ivory, ivorite, and wood instrument keys. Cory’s instructions for spraying directly onto the keys should be avoided. Spray onto a clean cloth and then gently rub onto the key top surface.


Cleaning Inside and Underneath Strings

The inside of your piano and underneath the strings are areas that should be cleaned occasionally. Vacuum the action cavity and internal areas of the piano to get rid of unwanted dust and to keep the piano free of foreign objects. There are inexpensive specialty tools available for the cleaning of the soundboard underneath the strings and a couple that we recommend are pictured below.
A flexible soundboard duster with handle.


·         Keep it clean
·         Avoid direct sunlight and environmental extremes
·         Thwart abrasion

Out of all musical instruments, the piano is unique in that it also serves as a furniture piece for the room in which it sits. It is more than just a fine musical instrument. The piano is such a prominent feature amongst western culture specifically, that the term “piano finish” has been universally adopted to describe the highest quality in wood finishes. Being attentive to the finish of your piano can not only help maintain the value of the instrument if you ever decide to sell it, but it also adds to the overall décor of the house. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind to keep your piano’s finish looking its best:
·    Taking care of the finish of your piano can help maintain the value of the instrument. A piano finish is best maintained by simply keeping it clean, avoiding exposure to direct sunlight and extremes of temperature and humidity, and abrasion.
·    Your piano’s cabinet, like all woodwork, is subject to expansion and contraction with humidity changes. Excessive wood movement can eventually cause the finish to develop tiny cracks and even separate from the wood. Moderating the temperature and humidity swings around the piano will help preserve its finish as well as its overall structure and tuning stability.
·    Locate the piano in a room with a fairly even temperature, away from drafts, dampness, and heat sources. Always avoid direct sunlight – it will age the finish prematurely and cause color fading.
·    To prevent scratches, never set objects on your piano without a soft cloth or a felt pad. NEVER place drinks or plants as spillage and condensation can cause major damage.
·     Dust is very abrasive and can scratch the finish if wiped off with a dry cloth. Always use a feather duster or a damp (but not wet) soft- fiber cloth – as coarser fibers can leave scratch marks.
·    Before using polish on your piano, be sure it is actually necessary and beneficial. Common household products such as “lemon oil” or inexpensive “furniture polish” should be AVOIDED. Avoid aerosol products altogether as the over-spray can contaminate piano strings, tuning pins and action parts.

It is often difficult for the average piano owner to determine what type of wood finish was originally applied to his or her own piano. Many types of varnish, lacquer & other material have been used in the past. Setting up definitive rules in cleaning and polishing of all types pianos would be difficult. 

However, there are some helpful ideas about the care of your pianos finish that we can suggest:

·         Avoid silicates
·         Avoid polish not designated for pianos
·         Avoid direct sunlight

First, avoid anything that contains silicone. Silicone will be absorbed by the finish and can cause the wood to become saturated and difficult to repair or refinish in the future. Second, when cleaning modern high polish and high gloss piano finishes using a damp cloth followed by a dry cloth is acceptable. There are also polishes made especially for these polyester finishes available from most piano technicians and piano stores. 

We have had good results using Cory piano finish products on all types of piano finishes including polyester as well as lacquer finishes.

When locating your piano in your home try to keep it away from direct sunlight. It will cause the finish to deteriorate; fade and will eventually damage the wood. Direct sunlight can also affect tunings, moving action parts, the pianos pin block and the piano soundboard causing tuning stability issues, cracking, warping and pulling loose from the ribs or case. This damage is sometimes not as noticeable as the color difference in the finish of this grand piano after just a few years of direct sunlight exposure but is just as serious and actually more damaging to the piano’s longevity.
Example of Sun Damage on Piano Finish

This is a common question and optimally for regular home use, your piano should be tuned twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall, or optionally, summer then winter. This is not an arbitrary suggestion. It’s based on the fact that the changes in weather, especially humidity, heavily affect the inside of your piano.

If you just purchased a new piano, it is recommended that you have it tuned four times in the first year, once with each change of season. 

This helps the piano settle and stretch the strings. This will help your piano hold its tune well for subsequent future tunings. At a minimum, you should tune the piano no less than once a year. 

Our recommendation is that you should have your piano tuned twice a year. Not only will this help your piano sound better, but it helps extend the life of the piano.


Pianos don’t like extremes. Much like Goldilocks (of the three bears fame) pianos prefer temperatures not too hot, not too cold – and they need the humidity to be just right.
Pianos are made of wood, which is great for sound production. Unfortunately, wood is also very responsive to changes in the environment. Water in the air can cause the wood to expand and contract. Why is this a bad thing?

Just some of the problems humidity can cause in your piano:
·         Keys and action parts can swell, resulting in sticking and sluggish notes.
·         Felts can become hard
·         Tuning pins can loosen
·         Steel strings can become rusty
·         Tuning becomes unstable

In winter, the problem tends to be a sudden lack of humidity. We turn on the heater to chase the cold away, and in doing so, we also remove moisture from the air. If your skin feels dry, then chances are your piano is feeling the effects of the low-moisture air too. So, what’s a conscientious piano owner to do?

Do not place your piano near:
·         Heating vents
·         Stoves
·         Fireplaces
·         Radiators
·         Drafty windows
·         Gas heaters or space heaters

Also, be aware of how sunlight ‘travels’ over the course of a day in your home. If possible, your piano should not be placed in direct sunlight.

Why am I telling you this? Because there is something you can do about it. You may not be able to control the absorptive properties of wood, but you can do something about the humidity inside your piano. Oftentimes, people think controlling the climate in the house is enough. But as I mentioned before, no house is a perfect vacuum. There are places – like near doorways, windows, and air ducts – that fluctuate in humidity, no matter how powerful a house-wide climate control system is. In fact, areas near AC ventilation tend to dry out the wood inside your piano, even if it is during the hottest, most humid part of the year.

Humidity Control System: A Solution for Your Piano

A humidity control system designed specifically for your piano is the ideal solution.
So, what is the solution? A humidity control system designed specifically for the piano. These systems will regulate any changes in humidity with a built-in humidifier and dehumidifier, keeping the humidity level constant. Thus, there is virtually no swelling or shrinking of the wood, no pressing and receding against metal tuning pins, and no bending and cracking of the soundboard. They also greatly increase the longevity of tunings, meaning you will not have to deal with painfully sharp/flat notes in between regular tunings. And they greatly reduce issues with the action – like stuck keys, which are a result of the wooden parts swelling with humidity.

·         Humidity Control Systems increase the life of your piano
·         Humidity Control Systems make your tuning last longer
·         Humidity Control Systems protect your investment

Humidity systems also have many other benefits:

·         They help protect the piano’s finish.
·         They greatly decrease the chance of glue failure throughout the piano. When something like a hammer, or pieces of felt around the keys, or dampers come loose, they are very time-consuming to fix and can run up steep repair costs.
·         The system also keeps the strings and other metallic parts from developing rust – rusted strings being much more likely to break and rusted tuning pins more difficult to turn during tunings.
·         Regulating the humidity within the piano keeps the hammers from becoming too firm (in low humidity periods), which generates a harsh and overly bright tone.
·         And keeping humidity levels constant keeps the hammers from softening too much as well (in high humidity periods), which will make the piano sound muffled.

For a small upfront cost, a humidity control system can actually save you a lot of money in the long run and make your playing experience much more enjoyable.

To view the full guide, please visit The Piano Emporium 

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