A fine piano is not just a great instruments to play and enjoy, it’s also a beautiful piece of furniture – a centerpiece to any room. The final touch of a well-made piano is the finish… and – like the rest of your home furniture – that finish needs regular cleaning and maintenance. With the right tools and a little care, here’s how you can protect and enjoy your piano’s finish for years to come:
Before you start, it’s important to know what type of finish your piano has. There are 3 common types of finishes in today’s pianos; Lacquer, polyester and Open-Pore. Let’s take a closer look at these finishes and their unique needs:
The term, Lacquer, is most recently derived from the French word, “lacre,” which pertains to a type of sealing wax that is typically applied to wood. …but the technique is first mentioned in Ancient Sanskrit and was commonly used in Eastern Asia. Originally, lacquer was made from tree sap and used as a protective clear coat, but – in modern times – it has become a popular way to finish high-quality furniture due to its flexibility, ease of use, durability and affordable price. Modern lacquer is made with a range of clear or pigmented coatings that dries to a hard, durable finish through a curing process. It cna be polished to a range of sheen levels from “flat” to “mirror-like” high-gloss.
Preferred by some for its beauty and flexibility, lacquer finishes are less common in the piano business due to their susceptibility to scratches and discoloration. If you’re not sure whether or not your piano has a lacquer finish, contact your piano technician or local dealer to make sure. Knowing both the type of finish and the desired sheen (ie “glossy” “semi-glossy” “flat” etc.) for your piano is an important first step in knowing how to properly care for your piano. In most cases it is unnecessary to apply polishes or cleaners to remove dust or dirt – a simple dusting with a microfiber cloth or extended-handle Swiffer duster is sufficient. If you want to remove fingerprints, a mild cleaner can be applied. Specifically designed to safely remove smudges from your piano’s finish, our Cory “Satin Sheen” or “Super Gloss” Piano Finish is our best recommendation here. Apply the cleaning liquid directly to the cloth, and be sure to wipe in a back-and-forth motion only in the direction of the “grain” (the little lines in the wood). Never use products with ammonia, bleach or wax products as they will damage your piano’s finish. Also, never use an abrasive cloth or furniture “wipe” on your piano.
Compared to lacquer, polyester is a very new idea. The first breakthroughs in polyester occurred in the United States in the mid 1920s. A fully synthetic, petroleum-based product, polyester wood finishes are actually a combination of resin, catalyst, and accelerant. Once cured, a piano with a polyester finish will have a similar range of sheen options to lacquer finish, but will be far more resistant to scratches or discoloration. It is also far more resistant to damage from moisture or liquids. Because of this, most modern pianos are made with polyester finishes.
Caring for a polyester-finished piano varies a bit based on the sheen. For example, proper care for a high-gloss finish usually entails wiping it with a soft damp cloth followed by a dry one. There is no need to apply heavy pressure or chemicals. For persistent smudges, we recommend an auto detailer called “Meguiars #34 Final Inspection” or our Cory “Super High-Gloss Piano Polish.” This spray can be applied directly to the high-gloss finish and wiped away to produce a mirror-like finish that is both strong and easy to maintain. If a high gloss polyester finish develops fine surface scratches (from moving or normal wear), it can be easily buffed out with compounds like “Turtle Wax” or “Meguiars Ultra Pro Speed.” (If the scratches are very minor, you can rub them out by hand with a cloth. If they are a bit more persistent, we recommend contacting a piano finish technician to buff it for you. This can be a tricky – and messy – process. It’s best to let a pro handle it.) Even with polyester finishes, it’s important to use a water-based polish that contains no solvents, waxes, or harmful additives.
A polyester finished to a “flat” (or “satin”) sheen will not show scratches or other imperfections as easily. On this type of finish, multiple layers of high gloss material are applied and left to cure before starting the rubbing process, which makes use of steel wool or another abrasive material such as 600-grit sandpaper along with a rubbing lubricant and water to serve as a buffer. It is done in one direction or the direction of the grain in order for the hand-rubbed finish to have tiny grooves that will disperse or diffract light. The high gloss is removed leaving a somewhat dull but elegant finish. It can be any color such as black, mahogany, walnut, and cherry. Matte is a variation of the satin finish, and it is completely flat and does not reflect light. A satin (or “flat”) finish is, however, more likely to show fingerprints or smudges. This is where Cory’s “Satin Sheen” polish comes in. Spray the polish on a microfiber cloth and wipe in the grain’s direction. Avoid wiping in a circular manner as it is likely to cause the grooves to become uneven, thus ruining the satin finish.
Mostly found on upright pianos, the open-pore finish is basically a thin layer of lacquer that keeps the natural pores and textures of the wood exposed. Unlike the other piano finishes, the grain or pores are not filled to create a smooth surface. This is the easiest finish to identify as it will show a texture if viewed from the side under the right lighting. Since they are lacquer finishes, open-pore finishes have the same benefits and drawbacks mentioned above. However, they are maintained slightly differently.
I recommend conditioning and preserving an open-pore finish with an oil or petroleum-based product. “Howard’s” (no relation) and “Old English” are two excellent brands. Regardless of which conditioning polish you use, however, be sure to remove any excess—otherwise it will collect dust and create an undesirable buildup over time.
Some folks think that any regular furniture polish or spray can be used on anything made of wood. …but your piano finish requires very specific care to maintain decades of beauty and duribility for you and your family. Make sure that you know what type of finish your piano has and how you should properly care for yours. When you walk into your home and see your piano looking as beautiful as it did the day you bought it, you’ll be glad you did!