Piano hygiene - How to avoid spreading germs?

Learn about pianos and how to maintain them

Postby 80-1105266639 » Wed Feb 23, 2005 7:05 am

Hi,

It's the flu season and I'm experiencing a lot of cancellations due to illness. The keyboard seems to be an ideal place for kids to pick up germs. My question is: how can I keep the keys fairly clean, without over-exposing them (the keys) to harsh disinfectants? I guess the best method is having the kids wash their hands before playing. (This still wouldn't protect the keys from kids who are sneezing!) Along with insisting on clean hands, is there something I can use on my keys once a day, for example, that is safe, but effective?

How do others deal with this? I've asked around my area and no one seems to do anything.

Thanks for any input![B]
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Feb 23, 2005 9:14 am

Hi, PianoPatty and welcome!

This is an important topic and one we have not dealt with on the board to date. I know lots of teachers who wipe their piano keyboards with disinfectants of various sorts (Lysol, Purel, etc) after each student, though I'm not certain how effective these are against cold and flu viruses. My wife teaches special ed in the local high school and has her students use Purel on their hands, as does she. She feels this helps.

Of course, another effective technique is to simply wipe down the keys with a damp cloth after each student. This will not kill viruses and germs but will remove them physically. It's also less likely to damage the keys than disinfectants. Another good idea, which I'm aware a number of teachers use, is to insist that each student wash their hands after they arrive at your studio, but before they start their lessons, as you suggest. Of course, probably the best thing you can do is to encourage parents of sick kids to keep them home and make up lessons later.
:)




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Postby 80-1105266639 » Wed Feb 23, 2005 11:04 am

Thank you, Dr. Ziegler. I am new to the message boards and never expected such a fast response. I've decided to go the route of my own teacher years ago -- have the children wash their hands before playing. Again, I appreciate the quick help.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Feb 23, 2005 11:22 am

Hope you'll visit often, Patty

By the way, when I spoke of "Purel" earlier, I was referring to a waterless disinfectant that one simply puts on one's hands and rubs in, without the need for washing per se. It's a way to go for studios that don't have, or don't want to provide, routine access to washing facilities. Purel is just one example of such a product.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Feb 23, 2005 11:41 am

Hi, P-P:

Get those Lysol or Clorox disinfectant wipes--individual small sheets in a round plastic container--and wipe the keys after each student. They won't hurt anything, and you can wipe other areas such as the music desk or even the bench very quickly. They don't have bleach (check the label to be sure), and since ivory keys are no longer around I think there's very little danger of harming the surfaces. A damp or wet cloth is more likely to ooze water down between the keys, which is a no-no.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Feb 23, 2005 12:24 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Hi, P-P:

Get those Lysol or Clorox disinfectant wipes--individual small sheets in a round plastic container--and wipe the keys after each student. They won't hurt anything, and you can wipe other areas such as the music desk or even the bench very quickly. They don't have bleach (check the label to be sure), and since ivory keys are no longer around I think there's very little danger of harming the surfaces. A damp or wet cloth is more likely to ooze water down between the keys, which is a no-no.

Dr. Bill Leland
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Dr. Leland,

Respectfully, I would have to disagree with you. ???

While I think the chance of a disinfectant wipe hurting the keys in the short term is small, in the long term with the hundreds of wipings necessary if you use wipes in a piano studio regularly and especially if the wiped keys are also exposed to light, that is very likely to discolor and, ultimately, crack the keys. That's the reason I didn't recommend that approach, although I know some teachers do it. Since those wipes are saturated with either water or alcohol solutions of the active agents, they are no more or less, likely than a damp cloth to "ooze" water or alcohol.

You're quite correct in saying to avoid bleach wiping of any sort, as that will discolor the keys in a matter of weeks. The problem with wipes of any sort is that the active ingredients include organic disinfectants (and/or perborate or hypochlorite bleaches), which can dissolve in the polymer making up the key surfaces, swelling and ultimately cracking them. They also can catalyze photooxidation, which can discolor as well as crack the polymer.

I think you're right that such wipes can be used safely occasionally, but for long term daily use, based on my knowledge of polymers, I would advise only the mildest of cleaners, then wiping residues of those off with a damp (not dripping) cloth.




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Postby 65-1074818729 » Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:30 pm

I have a relative residing in a home for the elderly. When I visit I am required to wash my hands with a disinfectant hand wash prior to entering the home and also before leaving. I don’t know the brand name, but I am sure it is similar to the ones listed by Dr. Zeigler.

The point I wanted to make, is that this type of hand wash would be ideal for piano students. A wiping towel is not required as the residue evaporates in a couple of minutes, and it is not messy as only a small amount is required to wipe your hands. I don’t think any residue would be left on the keys. I don’t know what these products cost, but somehow I don’t think they are expensive.

I will be able to find out the name of this particular product and the costs, and will post the information by early next week.

AFlat :cool:
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Feb 23, 2005 5:43 pm

Thanks, John. The main ingredient in the Clorox wipes is a very tiny amount (0.145%) of ammonium chloride, which I didn't think could hurt anything, since manufacturers always seem to bend over backwards to avoid possible lawsuits--but on your say so I'll abandon this practice at once. My apologies to all.

And, folks, your Editor is a widely respected chemist who we all ought to listen to on this. John, what about ordinary wet wipes like Cottenelle? Ingredients are: (take a deep breath) water, propylene glycol, DMDM hydantoin, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, polysorbate 20, fragrance, idoproynyl butylcarbamate, aloe barbadensis, and tocopheryl acetate.

I won't tell how long it took to type that.

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Postby Beckywy » Wed Feb 23, 2005 5:47 pm

Am I hearing sarcasm in Dr. Bill's last note?

Well, I for one have a bottle of Purell next to my piano...especially since SARS last year.
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Postby pianoannie » Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:23 pm

I appreciate this thread. I have been using disinfectant wipes this winter, never thinking that they could be harming my keys. I know a lot of piano teachers who do this. But I will definitely rethink this!
I do have my students use Purel before each lesson, and reapply if they cough on their hands.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:47 pm

Beckywy wrote:Am I hearing sarcasm in Dr. Bill's last note?

I would never attribute sarcasm to Dr. Bill! :laugh:

It's no secret on this board that I'm an organic chemist by training, polymer chemist by vocation and PEP editor and webmaster for reasons too involved to explain again here.

For your information, here's the scoop on the formulation Dr. Leland reproduced:

water - this probably falls within everyone's knowledge of chemistry
propylene glycol - a thickener somewhat like glycerin
DMDM hydantoin - a nonionic surfactant ("soap-ish")
disodium cocoamphodiacetate - another surfactant for wetting
polysorbate 20 - a polyene usually used as an antioxidant or antifungal
fragrance - your guess is as good as mine as to what this really is chemically
i(o)dopro(p)ynyl butylcarbamate - surface/skin conditioner
aloe barbadensis - aloe extract for skin softening (not aloe vera, though)
tocopheryl acetate - acetate ester of Vitamin E - antioxidant

I definitely would NOT put this on piano keys long term; though a brief wiping, followed by wiping away the residue would be fine. Most of the formulation is comprised of water and propylene glycol, which are not too problematic, but the rest wouldn't be so great if it builds up on the keys.

:(




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 24, 2005 10:45 am

Without wishing to beat this horse (piano?) any more dead than it already is, here is what Yamaha says about keyboard cleaning: "Keep the keyboard clean: The keyboard should be wiped periodically with a soft, dry cloth. Never use cleaners containing alcohol, as the keys will become cracked. If the keyboard is very dirty, wipe it with a cloth dipped in a solution of soap and water and wrung out well. The same cloth should not be used for cleaning the surface of the piano, however. A good habit to cultivate is never to play the piano with dirty hands. That way the keyboard will stay clean for a long time." and " * Avoid contact with certain materials, avoid spilling: Avoid the possibility of the piano coming into contact with the following materials:

* Plastic products.

* Vinyl products.

* Anything containing alcohol.

* Liquids such as cosmetics, insecticides, any kind of aerosol."

Here's what Steinway says on the subject: "Don't use solvents of any kind to clean either black or white keys. Solvents can ruin the finish of the keys. Use only a clean piece of cheesecloth, lightly dampened, to wipe the keys. Be very careful that dampness does not seep between the keys or down into the keybed. Dampness in the keybed can cause swelling and hamper the free play of the keys."

I believe these are both generally consistent with what I was saying in my earlier posts. :D
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Postby 75-1095335090 » Thu Feb 24, 2005 10:49 am

I used to use the wipes mentioned earlier. I thought it helped at the time. However, I've stopped using them and haven't noticed any change at all. *shrug*

I stopped using them quite accidentally... or rather, I ran out and didn't get around to buying more before finding an alternate solution.

Now I use a damp (not wet) paper towel followed immediately by a dry one. I have a digital piano, so I just turn it off and wipe in a quick right hand (damp) left hand (dry) motion. The keys are "wet" for less than a second. I find this gets rid of the occational dirt and other things found on people's hands. It doesn't disinfect the keys, I guess, but as I said before, I haven't noticed any increase in sickness in the studio since I stopped using the wipes.

My suggestion to ANYone who is worried about catching a cold or flu from someone is to wash your hands often using a proper hand washing technique. I have attributed this simple step to the fact that I haven't been sick in more than four years.

I think students washing their hands before their piano lesson is a good idea even if none of them are sick.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Feb 24, 2005 11:31 am

Kittypalooza wrote:My suggestion to ANYone who is worried about catching a cold or flu from someone is to wash your hands often using a proper hand washing technique. I have attributed this simple step to the fact that I haven't been sick in more than four years.

I think students washing their hands before their piano lesson is a good idea even if none of them are sick.

Yes, Kittypalooza, this is good advice for virus-caused illnesses like colds and flu.

I checked the Purell web site to find out about the formulation and its effectiveness. The active ingredient is ethyl alcohol (62% by volume) (also known as grain alcohol, but denatured to make it non-drinkable). The site claims that Purell kills "99.99% of germs that may cause illness." Note that it doesn't mention killing viruses, just as I suspected and said in my earlier post. So, a product like Purell may be a good partial solution if you don't have facilities for washing readily available. Note that, because Purell has so much alcohol in it, you don't want to get it on the piano keys, although that shouldn't be a problem if it is used as intended.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Feb 24, 2005 12:21 pm

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.

But here's the problem I've always had: it's a fine idea to disinfect a student's hands before they play, but a lot of them sweat through the hands DURING the lesson. My best private student ever, now an established NY concert artist, always left the keyboard an unholy mess after every lesson or performance, and I'm sure he leaves a lot of grimy keys in his wake everywhere he goes (but his vibrant playing is more than worth it!).

So I guess all we can do it clean the keys with a damp cloth, and I'm sure that helps some. Do whatever you can, because I've read many times that infections are spread more by our hands than by anything else.

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