Piano hygiene - How to avoid spreading germs?

Learn about pianos and how to maintain them

Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 24, 2005 12:43 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:No, I never intended the slightest sarcasm or irony--this is a significant enough problem that has plagued many performers and teachers, and I am grateful for the expert advice.

I think the original concern was the possibility of infection from kids with colds or other ailments, and it appears not to be good judgement to use anything on the keys that contains a viable disinfectant.

This thread is a great illustration of why we have this board. It has started a valuable exchange on a real problem that most of us probably haven't thought about a lot.

I also looked a little furthur into the Clorox disinfectant wipes Dr. Leland mentioned earlier. The active ingredient is not "ammonium chloride", but 0.14% "ALKYL (60%C14, 30%C16, 5%C12, 5%C18) DIMETHYLBENZYL AMMONIUM CHLORIDE" and
"ALKYL (68%C12, 32%C14) DIMETHYLETHYLBENZYL AMMONIUM CHLORIDE" according to a filing with the California department of pesticide regulation. While ammonium chloride is a simple inorganic compound with no bactericidal activity, these compounds are actually organic-substituted quaternary ammonium chlorides ("quats" in the trade) which have long been known to have bactericidal activity. The "fat-like" organic parts of these molecules turn them into pretty good surfactants, which is the basis of their activity.

These probably aren't too hard on the piano keys. Unfortunately, we don't know what the over 99% of inactive ingredients are comprised of, although the majority is probably water. There is a claim on the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes web site that a university study shows that such wipes remove 99% of viruses from surfaces, but it is unclear if that is anything more than could be achieved by wiping with water or a dilute solution of a mild detergent (especially given the fact that many detergents and cleaners contain these same types of compounds!). So, these wipes look pretty innocuous for the piano keys, assuming that the inactive ingredients are mostly water, but I'd still be careful not to allow residues to build up on the keys. Wiping with a damp cloth should remove those residues.

Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread. It's been interesting and educational. :cool:




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Feb 24, 2005 6:10 pm

Now, what would we do without Dr. Zeigler???
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Postby Beckywy » Thu Feb 24, 2005 6:45 pm

go on our merry way, damaging our piano keys with chemicals, and later wondering why our keys are cracking? :D
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Postby pianoannie » Thu Feb 24, 2005 7:48 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:I also looked a little furthur into the Clorox disinfectant wipes Dr. Leland mentioned earlier. ...
So, these wipes look pretty innocuous for the piano keys, assuming that the inactive ingredients are mostly water, but I'd still be careful not to allow residues to build up on the keys. Wiping with a damp cloth should remove those residues.

Dr. John,
Do you think that we should wait a particular amount of time after wiping with a Clorox wipe, before wiping back off with a cloth? Is a little time required for the disinfectant to "do its job"?
Many years ago when I worked with patients requiring blood transfusions, protocol was to leave the Betadine on the skin at least 30 seconds before inserting the I.V. needle.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 24, 2005 8:23 pm

pianoannie wrote:Dr. John,
Do you think that we should wait a particular amount of time after wiping with a Clorox wipe, before wiping back off with a cloth? Is a little time required for the disinfectant to "do its job"?
Many years ago when I worked with patients requiring blood transfusions, protocol was to leave the Betadine on the skin at least 30 seconds before inserting the I.V. needle.

Based on some statements on the Clorox wipes web site that I linked in an earlier post, the bactericidal effects of the "quats" in the wipe are near instantaneous (because they work by disrupting bacterial cell membranes, if I recall correctly). However, the same web site says that the surface treated with the wipe should be allowed to stay wet with the solution for four minutes. Take your pick. I suspect that the 4 minute number is the one that (just taking a guess) allows Clorox to make the "99.99%" claim, rather than saying 90 or 98% after a much shorter period of time. Betadine takes a little longer because it has a different mode of action. Of course, if you leave a few viable germs on your piano keyboard, chances are that no harm is done. If you leave a few viable germs at an injection site, lots of harm is possible.

Subject to my prior comments about the nature of inactive ingredients in the wipes, I don't believe you could do much harm to the keys by leaving the quat residues on for minutes or, even, hours. It's only periods of days or weeks that they might become a problem. That view is also consistent with what Yamaha said about using "soap and water" to clean the keyboard, followed with a damp cloth wipe. Since "soap" often contains the same chemicals for their surfactant (chemist shorthand for "surface active agent") qualities, the two situations should be pretty analogous.

For what it's worth, here's what I'm going to do from now on to clean my piano keyboard, based on what I knew or have learned in the last 24 hours: Regular cleaning: lightly dampened soft cloth with water only; for obvious dirt: a pinch of Tide or similar washing detergent (but NOT one with bleach of any sort in the formulation) dissolved in a cup of water and applied with a soft, lint-free cloth, then wiped with pure water; for disinfection: clorox (or Proctor & Gamble's version of the same product) wipes, followed by a damp lint-free soft cloth wipe. Hope this helps. :)




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Postby 80-1105266639 » Fri Feb 25, 2005 5:00 am

Good morning,

I wrote the original question, but never expected such a great response. I'd like to thank everyone who offered a suggestion (or suggestions) -- I think there are enough solutions to please even the most germ-conscious mother.

I, personally, have decided to clean my keys periodically using some spray cleaner/disinfectant on a cloth. Then, have the Purel (or other brand) hand wash by the piano for the kids to use while I open their assignment books and get the lesson rolling. Knowing my kids, they'll love using it.

The other thing I will do is spray some wax into a cloth and wipe the keys to a nice shine once a day. (I hope that isn't a problem!)

The rest is up to the parents.

Again, thanks for all the terrific interest in my question! As I said in my question, I am new to the board. Now, I'm anxious to check out the other discussions.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Feb 25, 2005 8:42 am

PianoPatty wrote:The other thing I will do is spray some wax into a cloth and wipe the keys to a nice shine once a day. (I hope that isn't a problem!)

I would advise against waxing the keys, for the same reasons I have advised against using most disinfectants (excepting the quaternary ammonium salt-based disinfectants). Eventually the wax will be absorbed in and swell the keys, resulting in yellowing and, eventually, cracking. Unless the keys are particularly worn, they shouldn't need wax if kept clean.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Feb 25, 2005 2:44 pm

Good Grief, Patty, have you ever played waxed keys? I once was to play the Grieg Concerto in Chihuahua, Mexico, and found that the anxious-to-please maintenance men had waxed the entire piano including the keys. I was skating all over the place! We had to stop and get the wax removed before we could start again. Fortunately, concerts are very informal there and everybody took it in stride. They get up out of their seats now and then to walk up and take your picture, or just slip quietly around to where they can watch your hands for awhile--but in Mexico they're always the greatest and most appreciative audience anywhere!

Please don't wax the keys!

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Feb 26, 2005 11:52 am

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:For what it's worth, here's what I'm going to do from now on to clean my piano keyboard, based on what I knew or have learned in the last 24 hours: Regular cleaning: lightly dampened soft cloth with water only; for obvious dirt: a pinch of Tide or similar washing detergent (but NOT one with bleach of any sort in the formulation) dissolved in a cup of water and applied with a soft, lint-free cloth, then wiped with pure water; for disinfection: clorox (or Proctor&Gamble's version of the same product) wipes, followed by a damp lint-free soft cloth wipe. Hope this helps. :)

It occurred to me after I made this post that there are still a number of people out there with vintage pianos having ivory key tops. Do not use Tide or any similar washing detergent to clean ivory. Tide and other detergents contain an enzyme (subtilisin) or enzymes (subtilisin and mannanase). Subtilisin is a proteolytic ("protein cleaving") enzyme that will slowly degrade ivory, since it is made up mostly of a protein called keratin (the elephant version of the protein that makes up our finger and toenails). I'd avoid putting proteolytic enzymes on ivory keys. For ivory keys, a dilute water solution of the simplest soap, followed by wiping with a damp cloth is the safest approach to cleaning. The Clorox wipes are also probably safe for ivory, so long as it is wiped with a damp cloth after the wipe to remove residues.




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Postby 75-1095335090 » Sun Feb 27, 2005 7:07 pm

Has anyone else here seen that Lysol disinfectant spray commercial?

It has one kid playing Chopsticks on the piano, then his younger brother comes to the piano and plays, and one of them sneezes over the keys. So, the mom comes up with the Lysol spray and sprays the cartoon germs away.

My mom couldn't figure out what my problem was the way I was groaning and covering my eyes. I told her about our conversation here. Perhaps we should send a note to Lysol about it... she sprayed right at the keys! (No cloth)
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Feb 27, 2005 7:40 pm

Kittypalooza wrote:Has anyone else here seen that Lysol disinfectant spray commercial?

... Perhaps we should send a note to Lysol about it... she sprayed right at the keys! (No cloth)

I haven't seen that commercial, so I won't comment directly upon it, but some Lysol formulations actually contain as at least part of their active ingredients the same quaternary organoammonium salts as the Clorox wipes we have discussed. Unfortunately, many Lysol formulations also contain alcohols or phenols, which should not be put on piano keys for more than a few seconds. Some people are also hyperallergic to phenols.

Various Lysol formulations differ in their components. For example, Lysol disinfectant spray (aerosol can) has as its active ingredients ethanol and ortho-phenylphenol (in addition to some quaternary ammonium salts listed among the "inert ingredients"), both of which should not be applied to piano keys, either ivory or synthetic. Unless you're a chemist and can read and understand the label ingredients of the Lysol product you are considering to use on your piano, I would avoid using any of them - not because they are necessarily bad products, but because you need to be able to assess if the particular Lysol product you have is "safe" for the piano.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Mar 02, 2005 8:28 am

Because Lysol brand disinfectants are so well-known on the U.S. consumer market, I did a bit more research on their components. As I said earlier, the aerosol can version should not be used on piano keys, because it contains alcohol and phenol derivatives that would not be good for the key tops.

There are numerous other Lysol products, some of which are probably safe for the piano. The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that the manufacturer of Lysol Brand Disinfectant All Purpose Cleaner-All Scents (Trigger Spray) filed with the U.S. government indicates that it's active ingredients are quat salts similar to the ones in the Clorox disinfectant wipes. It should be safe for the piano. However, don't spray it directly on the keys. Spray it onto a clean soft cloth and use that to wipe the keys.

The corresponding MSDS for Clorox disinfecting wipes indicates that the solution contains 1-5% by volume isopropanol ("rubbing alcohol" for you non-chemists), in addition to the quat salts I mentioned in earlier posts. While one shouldn't put alcohol on the piano keys, this small amount shouldn't be a problem for several reasons.

I know this is probably more than any of you ever wanted to know about these products, but I thought it potentially valuable to give you another option for use on the piano.
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Postby 75-1095335090 » Fri Mar 11, 2005 4:15 pm

I remember hearing somewhere (hmm... embarrassed to say it was probably on Oprah...) that white vinegar will kill most of the bacteria found in the average home.

The first question is, is this remotely true? (White vinegar does an amazing job on hard water stains, and makes a pretty good substitute for fabric softener.

The second question is, how would white vinegar work on piano keys? (if used very damply on a cloth similar to how I'm already using plain water.)
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Mar 11, 2005 4:31 pm

Kittypalooza wrote:how would white vinegar work on piano keys? (if used very damply on a cloth similar to how I'm already using plain water.)

It depends on whether you have ivory keys or not. Like most "gentle" cleaning/disinfecting agents, white vinegar probably won't immediately hurt synthetic polymer piano keys, though it may impart an odor from the acetic acid in the vinegar.

Definitely do not use vinegar on ivory repeatedly. Ivory is a proteineous material which depends for a good deal of its hardness and resiliency on calcium salts within the protein matrix. Vinegar will slowly remove those salts.

I don't know how effective vinegar will be in disinfecting. Anybody who has done home canning knows that vinegar (or other organic acid in the food) retards bacterial growth. By the same token though, you still have to can, disinfect (by steaming), and seal the food to preserve it. That would suggest that vinegar, by itself, probably isn't all that great a disinfectant. It probably has little or no effect on viruses.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat Mar 12, 2005 10:09 am

All of this reminds me of something I've been meaning to ask Dr. Z.:

My C7 grand has ivory keys. Is there any safe way to remove strokes from a Magic Marker felt tip?

Thanks!

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