How to clean yellowed ivory piano keys

Written by chris rowling
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How to clean yellowed ivory piano keys
Piano keys are now made of plastic rather than ivory. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Both plastic and ivory piano keys go yellow, but for opposite reasons. Plastic turns yellow when left in sunlight, while ivory turns yellow in the dark. As ivory is illegal to buy now, all ivory keyed pianos are classified as antiques. Although the yellow may look unattractive, this is expected, as it shows the item is genuine, but it's wise to clean the keys occasionally to ensure the yellowing does not get out of hand and destroy the ivory.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Soft brush
  • Grater
  • White vinyl eraser
  • Groomstick
  • Lemon
  • Lint-free cloth

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  1. 1

    Dust the keys with the soft brush on a regular basis. Dust on the keys will make cleaning more difficult and the dust itself could react with the ivory to turn them yellow.

  2. 2

    Grate some white vinyl eraser and rub the keys with it using the brush, cleaning away used eraser as you go. As the pieces of eraser are small, a reasonable amount of pressure can be applied without risk of damaging the keys.

  3. 3

    Rub a whole eraser on the keys very lightly. This will do the same job as the previous step but will remove the remnants of the grated eraser and clean the keys in itself. Do not apply much pressure, as rubbing too hard may remove the thin layer of ivory.

  4. 4

    Roll a piece of groomstick across the keys. This is a sticky natural rubber product, which can be bought from antique restoration suppliers. As it's very adhesive, it should only be issued lightly, as otherwise it may pull up the ivory.

  5. 5

    Put a little lemon juice on a lint-free cloth and gently rub the keys. Clean out the lemon juice soon afterwards with a cloth dampened with water.

  6. 6

    Hire a professional restorer. These people can use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, which will remove all yellowing, but should not be attempted by an amateur.

Tips and warnings

  • Wash your hands before playing. The chemicals in your hands will yellow the keys.
  • Leave the keyboard cover open. Natural sunlight will stop ivory keys yellowing.

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