Whitening ivory keys

Dear members,

I got quite some info on how to whiten yellowed ivory keys. These included:
using toothpaste: doesn’t work
sanding the keys (not an option at least for the moment)
using citrus acid (e.g.: squeezing lemons/lime): doesn’t work.
using hydrogen peroxide: this is supposed to work and is also used to bleach bone and your hairdo. Normally this is sold in a “safe” mixture good enough to do e.g. some basic disinfectation of small wounds (3% as sold in the apthecary). There are also more “aggresive” solution going to upto 35% and these are quite dangerous. What would be a good solution for whitening bone/ivory and how long should the product be in contact with the keys?

Sunny greetings,


All the piano supply houses have products to whiten ivory keys. Fletcher and Newman for example:

Bone is a slightly different matter as it has a much more porous grain structure.

Hello Andrew,

Thanks you very much for the reply.I don’t know this product but I wouldn’t be surprised if it just contained your “normal” products but sold at 10 x the price.

I had the same experience when finding a product for killing mold using oxalid acid. The local alchemist just gave me some powder so that I could dilute in water at whatever degree I wanted it. The commercial version was sold at significant more expensive price but of course it came in a fancy bottle and was sold as a “miracle” product :slight_smile:

To return to the topic: an organ maker recommended me to use hydrogen peroxide but warned me to use gloves as it could result in burnt skin. It’s the latter remark that made it clear to me that this wasn’t the kind of peroxide I can buy in the pharmacy to treat small wounds.

I also remembered the words of an old harpsichord maker who sawed bones in his workshop. He mentioned peroxide to get rid of the fat & bleach them but at that time I was too young and ignorant to ask for more details :frowning:

On the internet I found sites where hydrogen peroxide can be bought at higher concentrates. However I’m not sure what would be good to use on bone/ivory.

Have a nice weekend,


Whatever is in the piano supply house products and whetever the cost, it’s bound to be far less toxic. I know what I would use. And it’s a proven product that works.

Thanks Andrew.

I’m waiting for a reply from the organ maker. Apart from that: my dentist insist that I clean my mouth with peroxide (of course a very low mixture) before she starts working. It’s supposed to decrease the risk of COVID infection.
So I’m pretty sure that there’s is a mix suited for bleaching bone/ivory which one can make themselves at a fraction of the cost of the commercial products. I’ll experiment and let you know.

Have a nice weekend,


I cleaned yellowed bone keys with ordinary HP (10 or 20%, I’ll have to
see if I have any left). I applied it with a brush on the keytops. Let
it sit for a couple of hours, wiped off whatever was left (most of the
keys were dry by then). I know you can also bleach bone by simply
leaving it in the sunlight for a few days.

“KeyBrite” is just a cleaning solution for ordinary cleaning.
Bleaching ivory is not a simple process. It can soften the ivory surface and really needs careful cleaning and scraping to remove the bleach salts. Moisture can cause ivory to swell and come loose, requiring special tools and techniques to re-attach.
Mario Igrec (Pianos Inside Out) suggests trying UV light (plant growth lights) without bleach for moderate stains. Cover the wood part of the keys and expose to UV for several days.
In my career as a piano technician, I sent quality ivory restoration to a specialist. I don’t know what is the status of such work in the US today. The person I worked with is retired.

An article just published in the New York Times on April 14 2022, an obituary for Franza Mohr titlled ’ Franz Mohr, Piano Tuner to the Stars, Is Dead at 94’ concludes with this story:

Mr. Mohr, who retired in 1992, said in 1990 that the first time he tuned Arthur Rubinstein’s piano, before a recital at Yale, he cleaned the keys. Then he proudly told Rubinstein what he had done.

“Young man,” Rubinstein told him as they stood in the wings with the audience already in their seats, “you didn’t know, but nobody ever cleans the keys for me. It makes them too slippery.”

Mr. Mohr had to find something to gum up the keys and find it fast, before the lights went down. The stickiest thing he could get his hands on backstage was hair spray. “I went pssst up, pssst down,” he said. “The audience laughed. But he loved it.”