Piano Care: Caring For Your Piano’s Finish

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 couple things to keep in mind to keep your piano’s finish looking its best.

Pianos today are finished using multiple types of material, including polyurethanes, traditional lacquers, and polyester resins.  The main function of the piano finish is to protect the instrument –  from knocked over drinks (which you should never set on the piano to begin with) to dirt and dust. The finish is also intended to minimize any of the damage incurred from changes in humidity, and, for clear finishes, to bring out the natural beauty in the wooden piano case. Modern finishes are created to do their job with no additional help from any waxes or polishes, and are best maintained by simply keeping them clean. It is also important to keep your piano out of any direct sunlight, avoid extremes in both humidity and temperature, and, of course, any abrasion or blunt force damage.

Because it is constructed from wood, your piano’s cabinet will expand and contract with changes in humidity. If exposed to enough of these changes, your piano’s finish will eventually begin to develop cracks and can even come loose from the wood itself. So, moderating the environment around the piano is a vital part of caring for the finish (as well as helping with tuning stability and the overall structure of the interior parts of the piano, like the action). It is important then to keep your piano in an area that is not subject to wild swings in humidity or temperature – keep it away from air ducts, doorways leading to the outside, heat sources, and always avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

Be careful when dusting your piano. Always start with either a feather duster or a wet cloth to remove dust. Dust is, surprisingly, extremely abrasive, and will scratch your finish (especially a polished ebony finish) if it is removed with a dry cloth.  Also, make sure you use soft fabric towels – like cotton – and avoid most synthetics as they are usually quite coarse.

Avoid polishes. Common household products such as “furniture polish” and “lemon oil” should be avoided absolutely, as they can ruin the finish. Furniture polishes often contain silicone and other oils that actually soften the finish, making it more prone to scratching. The presence of silicone is especially dangerous as it contaminates the wood beneath the finish, and can spread to the internal parts of the piano, often wreaking havoc on vital, interior parts. Also, avoid aerosol sprays, as the over-spray from these canisters can damage the metal parts inside your piano, such as the tuning pins and the strings. If you feel your piano does need some polishing, make sure you buy a sanctioned polish specific to your piano’s finish that is designed FOR pianos. Your best bet would be to stop by your local piano dealership and ask their technicians what they recommend.

And lastly, you may notice that over time your piano’s keys become grimy from accumulated oil and dirt from playing. The best method for removing this buildup is to use a soft cloth with water and just a little bit of mild soap.  Make sure the cloth is good and wrung out so that no water or soap trickles down over the side of the keys into the keybed.

With these few precautions, you can keep your piano’s finish looking as good as it did the day you bought it!

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