How to Remove Ivory from Piano Keys: A Step-by-Step Guide for Restoring Your Instrument

For many piano enthusiasts, owning an older piano with ivory keys can be a source of pride and a connection to the instrument’s rich history. However, over time, ivory can become yellowed, cracked, or damaged, impacting the piano’s appearance and playability. In this article, we will discuss how to remove ivory from piano keys safely and effectively, as well as alternative options for restoring your piano keys. From preparation to the actual removal process, we’ll guide you through each step to ensure a successful restoration. Let’s get started!

Why Remove Ivory from Piano Keys?

There are several reasons why you may want to remove ivory from your piano keys:

  • Damaged or cracked ivory: Over time, ivory can become cracked, chipped, or damaged, affecting the appearance and feel of the keys.
  • Yellowed ivory: Ivory can yellow with age, giving the piano keys an unattractive appearance.
  • Ethical concerns: Some piano owners may wish to remove ivory due to concerns about the use of animal materials and the illegal ivory trade.

Safety Precautions and Preparation

Before you begin the process of removing ivory from your piano keys, it’s essential to take the necessary safety precautions and gather the required tools. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A well-ventilated workspace: Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling dust or fumes from the removal process.
  • Protective gear: Wear safety goggles and a dust mask to protect yourself from airborne particles.
  • Tools and materials: You’ll need a thin, flexible spatula or putty knife, a heat gun or hair dryer, a small container for collecting removed ivory, and fine-grit sandpaper.

How to Remove Ivory from Piano Keys: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to begin the process of removing the ivory from your piano keys. Follow these steps carefully to ensure a successful removal:

Step 1: Remove the Piano Keys

To access the ivory keytops, you’ll first need to remove the keys from the piano. Consult your piano’s manual or seek professional guidance for instructions on safely removing the keys.

Step 2: Heat the Ivory

Using a heat gun or hair dryer, apply gentle heat to the surface of the ivory keytop for about 30-60 seconds. The heat will soften the adhesive holding the ivory in place, making it easier to remove.

Step 3: Carefully Pry Off the Ivory

With the adhesive softened, use a thin spatula or putty knife to carefully pry the ivory away from the wooden key. Start at one corner of the ivory and work your way along the edge, gently lifting the ivory as you go. Be patient and take your time, as applying too much force can cause the ivory to crack or break.

Step 4: Collect the Removed Ivory

As you remove each piece of ivory, place it in a small container to keep track of the pieces and prevent them from getting lost.

Step 5: Clean the Wooden Keys

Once the ivory has been removed, use fine-grit sandpaper to gently sand away any remaining adhesive or residue from the wooden keys. Be careful not to sand too aggressively, as you don’t want to damage the wood.

Options for Restoring Your Piano Keys

With the ivory removed, you have several options for restoring your piano keys:

  • Replace the ivory with plastic keytops: Modern plastic keytops are an affordable and durable alternative to ivory. They can be easily glued onto the wooden keys, giving your piano a fresh, updated appearance.
  • Refinish the wooden keys: If you prefer the look of natural wood, you can choose to refinish the wooden keys by sanding and sealing them. This option can give your piano a unique and elegant appearance.
  • Reuse the original ivory: If the removed ivory is in good condition, you can clean and reattach the original ivory keytops. This option allows you to maintain the piano’s historical integrity while still improving its appearance and playability.

Reassembling Your Piano

Once you’ve chosen your preferred method for restoring the keys, it’s time to reassemble your piano. Carefully reinstall the keys in the correct order, making sure they are properly aligned and functioning smoothly. Consult your piano’s manual or seek professional guidance if you are unsure about the reassembly process.

Caring for Your Restored Piano Keys

To keep your restored piano keys looking and feeling their best, follow these tips for proper care and maintenance:

  • Clean your piano keys regularly: Dust and dirt can build up on the keys, affecting their appearance and playability. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to gently wipe the keys clean, and avoid using harsh chemicals that can damage the materials.
  • Protect your piano from direct sunlight: Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause fading or discoloration of the key materials. Keep your piano out of direct sunlight, or use a protective cover to shield the keys when not in use.
  • Monitor humidity levels: Extreme humidity fluctuations can cause the wooden keys to expand or contract, potentially damaging the key materials. Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels in your piano room and consider using a humidifier or dehumidifier to maintain optimal conditions.


Removing ivory from piano keys can be a delicate and time-consuming process, but with the right tools, patience, and attention to detail, it’s possible to restore your piano keys to their former glory. Whether you choose to replace the ivory with modern materials or preserve the original keytops, proper care and maintenance will ensure your piano remains a beautiful and functional instrument for years to come. Remember, the key to a successful restoration is patience and a commitment to doing the job right – happy playing!

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