How to Take Care of a Piano | Simple Piano Care Guide

Piano Care and Cleaning Guide (image of a decrepit piano)

Pianos are expensive, heavy, and delicate instruments. Take good care of them and they can last decades, take bad care of them and they will go out of tune frequently, sustain damages, and last much less long.

3 Main Factors of Piano Care

So how do you take care of a piano? The factors that go into piano care can be distilled into three main categories:

  • Environment
  • Maintenance
  • Cleaning/common sense

Factor 1: Environment

One of the biggest factors of a pianos health is its placement in the house. Pianos are sensitive to humidity and temperature fluctuations, so it is important that you place your piano in a temperature and humidity controlled area.

Humidity

According to Steinway, one of the top piano manufacturers, the best humidity is between 45%-75%. And large humidity fluctuations are bad for the piano (even if it is within the range). Some tips:

  • Purchase a humidifier/dehumidifier for your piano room.
  • Place the piano in a room with air conditioning
  • Install an internal piano humidifier

Temperature

Steinway also claims that the best temperature for piano is 20°C or 68°F. Again large temperature fluctuations throughout the day are not ideal. Some tips:

  • Place the piano in a climate controlled room
  • Place the piano away from direct sunlight, windows, or vents.

Piano Placement

So where should a piano be placed? The best place to put a piano is on an internal wall, away from vents, fireplaces, doors or windows. Keep it away from direct sunlight. These guidelines keep the piano away from high temperature and humidity fluctuations.

How far should a piano be from a wall? As long as your piano is next to an inside wall, it won’t sustain any damages. However, pianos often sound better several inches away from the wall.

Factor 2: Piano Maintenance

The second factor of piano care is maintenance. Even though you have ensured that your piano is in the best spot possible, it will still loose intonation and wear down over time. The most common types of piano maintenance are tuning, voicing, and regulation.

Piano Tuning

You should tune your piano annually or bi-annually. Fortunately all pianos that haven’t sustained structural damage should be tunable. An experienced technician should know how to deal with a piano that hasn’t been tuned in years. If you are unsure, here is a guide to check if your piano is out of tune.

However, the longer you leave a piano untuned, the more challenging it is to tune it to pitch on the next tuning. Over time a piano may loose a semi-tone or even a full tone in which case the tuner will need to go through several passes of raising the pitch before they can set the final pitch.

Once a horribly out of piano is tuned, it will likely loose pitch quickly and need to be tuned within the next several months. So it is more costly to tune a very out of tune piano than a slightly out of tune piano. The cost for a standard tuning is about $100, more if it is seriously out of tune.

Piano Regulation

The piano has a sophisticated action that translates a key depression into a hammer strike. In total there are a thousand moving parts in a piano’s action. With all these parts, the action goes out of wack eventually.

The solution is to regulate your piano. The bad news is that this is costly – within the ballpark of $500. The good news is that you only need to do it once every ten years or so.

To tell if you need to regulate your piano consider the following:

  • Does it feel uneven when you play it? Some notes may sound more loudly than others.
  • When you move your head down to the level of the keys, are some higher than others?

Both of these are signs that the action on some keys, is inconsistent with the action on other keys, and indicate that your piano should be regulated.

Piano Voicing

The final common form of piano maintenance is called voicing. Overtime the felt on the hammers compresses, resulting in a harsh, tinny sound.

If you notice a harsh sound on some notes, open the lid of the piano and check if the hammers have grooves in them as this indicates felt compression.

Voicing is also in the $500 ballpark; some recommend that the piano is properly tuned, and regulated before voicing. So if you want to voice your piano, you will be looking at a hefty bill.

If you don’t mind the harsh sound, I am unaware of any drawbacks of not voicing your piano, so it may not be as necessary as the other repairs.

Other Maintenance

There are other repairs you may run into. Strings may snap during a tuning (in which case the technician will probably automatically replace them), the strings may be rusty, or pedals may be broken. Discuss with your piano technician the cost and necessity of fixing such features.

Factor 3: Piano Cleaning and Common Sense

Compared to the other two factors of environment, and professional maintenance, cleaning your piano is less important. Nonetheless, cleaning it prevents dust from working its way into the inner workings; excess dust can lead to sticky keys.

Dusty Piano
Dust in a piano can cause sticky keys. (That said, I think the photography used flour to make this shot look extra rustic).
Photographer: Pelle Sten
License: creative commons
source

You can dust your piano with either a feather duster, or a slightly damp cloth (dry immediately after). Avoid using a dry cloth because the dust may scratch the keys.

When cleaning your piano, you should leave the inside of the piano to a professional. Pencils, coins, pins, gerbils and other small items may somehow make their way into the piano (thanks kids). These items can get lodged in unfortunate places, so consult a technician (or watch some youtube videos) to get them out.

Otherwise, use common sense while around a piano. If you have cats that like to sit on top of it, consider using a cover to prevent hair from getting inside. Leave drinks off and away from the piano so they don’t spill in.

Piano Care FAQ’s

Skim this list of piano care FAQ’s to see if any apply to your situation.

How do I take care of a digital piano?

With a digital piano a lot of the same care tips apply, the main difference is that you are trying to protect the internal electronic as opposed to mechanical mechanisms.

Some tips:

  • Avoid water near the piano.
  • Don’t unplug it while it is on.
  • Check that the outlet has the proper voltage.
  • Avoid high heat fluctuations and keep out of the direct sunlight so the electronics don’t over-heat.
  • Avoid bumping it by transporting it carefully, and keeping it away from doors and walkways.
  • You can find more information about digital piano care here.

Should I cover my piano?

While there are some benefits, covering your piano is probably unnecessary. If you do cover your piano it can keep the sun from fading, or even drying out the piano’s finish; it can prevent your cat’s hair from falling into the piano if it likes to sit on top of it; and it can help mitigate changes in environments that have large temperature and humidity shifts.

Is it ok to put a piano on carpet?

Placing a piano on carpet won’t cause any issues to the piano. The carpet will however dampen the sound. Unless the piano is extremely bright/loud by nature you probably won’t like placing it in a fully carpeted room. However, if you want to take the edge off the piano, its not a bad idea to stick a rug underneath it.

How long does a piano last?

An acoustic piano can last for 75-100 years if it is well built and maintained. Following the tips on this page should help it last on the longer side.

Conclusion

With the proper care, you can help your piano keep its intonation, and prevent more serious damages from arising. By placing your piano in the right environment, scheduling routine maintenance, and cleaning it you can help increase its longevity for years to come.

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