Piano, Organ, and Keyboard/Chickering piano keys


I just bought a Chickering upright piano that I believe was buit in the early 1950's (serial# 199668) and wanted to clean the keys because they are dusty and dirty but am unsure if they are ivory or not. I know they stopped using ivory in the 1920's-30's but they have the "fingerprint" design and you can see the faint line dividing the top of the keys in two. If they are ivory what is the best way to care for them. Thank you.

Hi Irene:

Usually, ivory is in three pieces: The front, the top, and the tail.

The front is at the very front of the key, the top is under the fingers, and the tail goes between the black keys.

You can see a seam between the top and the tail if it's ivory.

Cleaning is not so easy as ivory is bone and very porous.

I have seen technicians bleach them, but that requires removal to do it safely.

What we do in the shop is remove the key and rub the ivory on a piece of 220 grit sandpaper laying on something very flat. This will remover the layer of pores the contain the dirt and discoloration.

Again...this requires removal and is a bit of work.

After the 220 grit I go up to 400 grit to make sure they are smooth and even further if necessary...not an easy process I'm afraid.

If you want them cleaned and I just scared you from doing it yourself...and if I did I apologize...go to http://www.ptg.org and find a registered technician in your area. Interview several until you find someone comfortable with cleaning ivory.

The bleaching method is used thusly: remove all keys and lay them down next to each other in order. Lay a clean cloth soaked in a bleach/water solution 1:1 over the keys and let that stand about a half hour. Let them dry and view the results. Repeat if necessary. Personally...I never liked that method...the sand paper method is quicker and there is no bleaching.

Let me know how you do.

Piano, Organ, and Keyboard

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Ralph Onesti


I am a Registered/tested member of the Piano Technicians Guild (RPT) with 49 years of experience in all phases and levels of the acoustic piano. I will answer any questions regarding acoustic pianos only. All questions and answers are to remain public. Please to not include sensitive material! If they are marked private, I will change them to public. My answers may be of assistance to others. If privacy is an issue, please contact me through my web site: http://www.onestipiano.com Electronic keyboards, organs, and player/reproducing piano mechanisms are outside of my expertise. Anything to do with: Construction, Service, Tuning, Climate Control Systems, Piano Disc, Purchasing, Selling, Insurance Appraisal, Rebuilding, Repairs, Legal issues, Maintenance, Environmental issues, Finish issues with acoustic pianos. My full resume can be found at: http://onestipiano.com/pages/history.html You can like us on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/onestipianoservice


In business since 1964, Extensive Rebuilding/Repair/Service facility. A certified, tested, member of the Piano Technicians Guild, Member of the Technical Advisory Service to Attorneys. Have performed piano service on Concert Stage, Recording Studios, and in the home. Http://www.onestipiano.com. The shop's work comes from all over the world from private clients or other techncians.

The Piano Technicians Guild, Master Piano Technicians of America, Technical Advisory Service to Attorneys. (TASA), IAPBT. The Piano Technicians Guild is the only organization in the US that offers a certification test to become Registered. There are no "factory authorized techncians".

The Piano Technicians Journal

Attented Temple University, Drexel University, Philadelphia Community college all in the areas of engineering and Music. I taught a two semester course in Piano Technology and the related acoustical physics at Temple University. I have taught extensively for the Piano Technicians Guild and the Master Piano Technicians of America.

Awards and Honors
Service Award for the Rose Tree Media School District in Pennsylvania. Chapter Award from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild.

Past/Present Clients
The list is rather extensive. I would suggest you go http://onestipiano.com/pages/testimonials.html where there is a comprehensive list of clients past and present.

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.