Keeping the pianos in your care clean is a fundamental requirement of providing professional service. While maintaining a clean keyboard and case will protect the exterior and enhance the piano’s beauty, maintaining a clean interior promotes the optimal performance of the piano over its lifetime. Dust, dirt, and other debris can have an impact on tuning stability, regulation precision, playability, tone, pedal regulation, damper performance, and a host of other priority functions.
Large amounts of accumulated dust on the soundboard attracts moisture and subjects the piano to increased humidity sensitivity. This moisture can also introduce rust and discolor to strings and tuning pins.
Debris in the key bed can alter the regulation, action placement, strike point, and damper function of the piano. Coarse dirt acts as an abrasive between the keybed and the key frame.
A leading cause of sticking keys is debris that has slipped between keys.
Lubricating a surface that has not been cleaned may exacerbate the issue when the lubrication mixes with dust and dirt, or is added on top of old lubricants.
Lubricants are most effective when applied to a clean surface. Sometimes cleaning or polishing alone will resolve a noise or friction problem.
The mark of a thorough and conscientious technician is a clean piano. It is not necessary to spend two hours cleaning a client’s piano at every appointment. The initial deep-cleaning can be a separate or follow-up service for new clients or sold as part of a regulation or maintenance package. After the initial investment of time, it takes very little time to maintain this cleanliness at regular intervals.
The following is a list of suggested cleaning items to have in your cleaning kit.
Metro DataVac Pro Series
Small and compact with a shoulder strap, this vacuum cleaner has lots of power and is easily portable at only 4.7 pounds. This is great for small maintenance jobs like vacuuming the plate and soundboard, and also for larger tasks like keybed and action cleaning. It comes with several extension tips that help get in all the nooks and crannies on pianos. Because of the size, the vacuum bags are obviously small, which makes it easy to retrieve anything that was sucked up accidentally. Be sure not to overfill the bag as this causes the vacuum to overheat. $105 on Amazon.
Oreck Commercial BB900DGR XL Pro 5 Super Compact Canister Vacuum
The Oreck portable has been a go-to vacuum for technicians over the years. This particular vacuum is lightweight, comes with many attachments, has a shoulder strap, and most importantly has a 30-foot power cord. Over the years, Oreck has become a brand name and is expensive but certainly worth it. $123 on Amazon.
Carrying a few quality paint brushes, or a “pinblock brush” with very long bristles can help reach difficult spaces in between tuning pins or strings. Brushing dust lightly off of the damper heads with a paintbrush is much safer than applying the vacuum cleaner directly to the dampers. The brushes should be stiff enough to act as a sweeper for dust, but soft enough to not scratch any surfaces.
"Sweeper" Soundboard Cleaner
This marvelous tool is made from plexiglass and is flexible enough to transport easily. It can cover the entire soundboard and makes removing layers of dust a matter of seconds. The sock that covers the plexiglass is washable and highly durable.
Schaff #6030, $59
Spurlock Cleaner Set
This is a set of three T-shaped brass rods with felted tips. It is a fantastic alternative to soundboard steel. You can get in between the strings and “squeegee” the soundboard of dust, and vacuum off the dust from the felt tip. PRO TIP: Instead of vacuuming off the felt tips, use a WYPAL L30 towel between the soundboard and Spurlock tool. This will give more cleaning surface area and extend the life of the tool itself. Follow up with Cory Coconut Wood Cleaner to make the soundboard shine almost like new.
Pianotek, #SST-104, $45
An essential part of a clean piano is clean keys. Cory Key-Brite is the industry standard when it comes to cleaning keys efficiently and effectively. It comes in different size bottles to match the size of your kit. To use, spray a small amount on a clean microfiber cloth, or a sturdy cloth paper towel, like the box of rags from Home Depot. Regular paper towels will disintegrate too quickly to be efficient in the process of cleaning keys. Cory Key-Brite is safe for plastic and ivory keys.
Cory Pre-Polish Finish Cleaner + Super High Gloss Polish
Cory Pre-Polish Finish Cleaner is great for high gloss polyester pianos with smudges, caked- on dirt and cutting through greasy spots. Follow with the Super High Gloss Polish to add the shine back into a high gloss polyester finish.
Cory Satin Sheen
Excellent for cleaning satin, polyester, polyurethane, and lacquer finishes.
AP-1, AP-2, MicroGlaze Finishing Products
AP-1 and AP-2 are medium and fine polishing compounds used primarily in removing fine scratches in the finish. For cleaning, they can be used to polish up a brass logo, pedals, hinges, and any brass hardware. The MicroGlaze polish is used to polish the piano case parts after AP-1 and AP-2 have been applied. It could also be used instead of Cory Super High Polish.
3M Super fine finishing pads & Norton Non-Woven Sanding Pads
Use a white finishing pad to lift dirt from wood and metal, and burnish surfaces without scratching. They are washable, durable, and ideal for many jobs, wet or dry. These pads are easy to work with but will not rust or shed like steel wool.
As a rule of thumb, White = 0000, Grey = 000, Red = 00, Green = 0.
Eagle One Original Nevr-Dull Wadding Metal Polish
On older pianos, it may be necessary to polish the balance rail pins and capstans to remove any buildup that may cause sluggish key travel. Using a liquid polish can get messy and damage the felt punchings. NevrDull is a metal wadding polish in the form of a cotton swab that won’t travel or damage any punchings. Be sure to follow up with a clean cloth to buff the pins for a clean and smooth shine. Available online or at AutoZone.
For pedal polishing tips, read our Brass Cleaning article.
Many piano owners have questions about cleaning their piano. Taking time during your service to wipe away dust and fingerprints is a must. When possible, show your clients the supplies and methods to use to keep their piano looking its best between visits. Educate them on using proper products and demonstrate wiping down a piano by following the grain of the wood. It is important that they understand not to use furniture polishes like Pledge or wood soap when cleaning their piano.
There are many different ways to price a cleaning service. If you are trying to build a clientele, it may be a good idea to include a few free cleaning items in your basic service package. At a bare minimum, leaving behind clean keys, and a clean soundboard and plate will go a long way in establishing a consistent clientele.