Piano Maintenance: Tips For a Long Life

Mar 9, 2016

blog - piano maintanence

Last week we took a walk through the orchestra to take a quick look at some of the general things each section of the band can do to keep their instruments looking and sounding good for years to come. But while we did talk about the string section, some of you may have notices there was one rather large omission. Yes, the not-so-humble piano was inexplicably left off the list. Well, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that was so we could devote an entire entry to the “grand-est” of all the string instruments. And the piano truly does deserve its own entry, indeed you could probably write a weekly blog for nearly a year on nothing else but the care and maintenance of a piano. Alas, we have only this single entry, so this week we’ll be focusing mainly on simple, day-to-day maintenance that shouldn’t interrupt your life, or empty your wallet.

But before we really get into it, the first and best thing you can do for the maintenance of your piano is to find an appropriate place for it when it is first moved into your home. Keep it away from heating ducts or hot air registers, which can cause warping and cracking inside, and keep it out of direct sunlight, which can fade the finish. For a more in depth look at why location is so important, and what sort of things you should avoid when placing your piano, take a look at Pianos & Winter: Fighting Low Humidity. Now, on to the real stuff!

Tuning & Voicing

The first thing most people think about when considering piano maintenance is tuning, and rightfully so, as an out of tune piano is simply furniture. Manufacturers recommend tuning every six months, though in reality, most pianos are lucky if they see a single tuning a year. And depending on your piano, you can get away with long stretches between tunings. For example, and older piano, stabilized after years of use and dozens, if not hundreds, of tunings, will stay in tune for quite some time. However, and most surprisingly to some new piano owners, brand new pianos should be tuned more often than twice a year. The wood is young and flexible, and much more likely to subtly change shape under the tension of the strings, forcing the instrument out of tune.

Tuning is a difficult and time consuming process, so we won’t be going into the details of it here. The best course of action when your piano requires tuning is to find a local professional. These individuals are highly skilled, know what they are doing, and most importantly, are insured if something goes wrong.

In addition to tuning, it is also a good idea to have your piano voiced from time to time. Over time, as you play your piano, the felt coverings on the hammers begin to compress where they contact the strings, changing the tonal aesthetic. Voicing adjusts the density of the hammers, which in turn adjusts the tone produced when it strikes the string. Your piano should be voiced to your own personal preferences when it is moved into your home, and then again, usually during a tuning, every 3 to 5 years, or when you notice the tones becoming shrill. This, like the tuning, should be done by a professional technician.


When it comes to cleaning your piano, there are three major sections to pay attention to: the exterior cabinet, the keys, and the interior. One rule governs them all: keep drinks away! Everything else depends on the part of the instrument.

Most pianos show off an elegant wood finish that makes the instrument a thing of beauty to both see and hear. And with such a wonderful finish, you may be tempted to use the same polish you use elsewhere in your home. While this may seem convenient, it is always best to use a polish specifically designed for piano. However, the suggested method is to simply use a soft, damp cloth that has been wrung out, or a micro fibre cloth for dusting. These can usually be found in the automotive section of most department stores.

The keys can be cleaned in a similar fashion, with a clean and very slightly dampened cloth. Take care to not have too much water, you don’t want it to spill down the sides and under the keys. Make sure that they dry thoroughly. Sometimes, and in certain areas, the keys can become too dirty for simply water. In these instances you can use a mild soap, but never, ever use harsh chemicals or cleaning solutions on your keys.

One way to help keep those keys looking great is to actually leave the key-lid open every once in a while. It is usually a good idea to close the lid when the piano is not in use, and in fact, it is the best practice to have. Dust and other particles can build up between keys, causing movement problems, however, if the lid is always kept closed mold can begin to grow, especially if the instrument is kept in a dark, humid room. To keep mold at bay simply try to leave the key-lid open a couple of times a week, in indirect sunlight, with proper air flow.

The interior of your piano also requires cleaning on occasion. Dust build up can, over time, cause the mechanisms inside your piano to behave differently, sometimes by causing them to move more slowly, other times causing them to completely stick. But this is not really a job for you. Like tuning and voicing, cleaning the interior of your piano is best left to professional technicians. This part of the piano is usually cleaned by dismantling the inner workings, cleaning them one at a time, then painstakingly replacing them, essentially rebuilding a working piano.


Lastly, the best way to ensure that your piano stays in good working order is to play it regularly! Not only will you get much more enjoyment out of it, but you will be much more aware of any maintenance needs it requires. When pianos are left idle for long periods of time, maintenance issues can grow into unmanageable beasts. Felt mites and moths are also partial to the inner working of an unused piano. Playing often creates an internal environment that these little buggers want nothing to do with.