What type of wood finish do I have and how do I clean my piano?

Posted by Sarah Czarnecki on

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Not all piano finishes are the same. Treating your unique finish correctly will extend the life of the wood and maximize your piano’s beauty. Piano care is simple when you take the time to understand which finish you have and match it with the ideal polish and cleaners.

Take care of your piano's finish regularly to maintain a lustrous sheen. Cory Products are designed to maintain and beautify your piano's finish but are not restorative products. Piano polish alone will not revive a worn finish or repair one with numerous scratches and gouges.  

High Gloss Finish

High gloss finish is the easiest to identify: if you can see your reflection in the piano, it’s high gloss! The signature mirror-like surface is popular with Yamaha and Kawai brand pianos. These are commonly finished with high-gloss polyester, lacquer, or polyurethane. High gloss pianos are usually shiny black, but can be any wood color, white, or even colorfully painted underneath the lacquer. The smooth surface looks incredible when properly polished.


Lacquer, polyester, and polyurethane high gloss finishes can all be treated safely with Cory Super High Gloss.

Satin Finish

Satin finish is actually a high gloss finish that has been hand-rubbed to a gleaming yet non-reflective surface. This elegant, classic look is achieved with fine-grain sandpaper or specialized steel wool. Look closely at the surface of your satin finished piano to see tiny grooves running the length of your piano. It’s important to treat these grooves carefully since scratching or even polishing against the grain will damage the effect.

A well-cleaned satin finish piano is beautiful and gleaming! Cory Satin Sheen lifts dirt from the grooves, revealing your piano’s original beauty without adding gloss or wax.

Satin Ebony

Not all black pianos are high gloss! In fact, satin ebony - that is, a high gloss black piano that has been treated with satin finishing - is one of the most beautiful, popular black finishes available. It’s also one of the more difficult finishes to maintain since it combines the delicate hand-rubbed grain of satin finish with the fingerprint and dust revealing qualities of a black high gloss piano. Despite this, satin ebony pianos are among the most popular finishes. Satin ebony pianos are handsome statement pieces when properly cleaned and polished.


We recommend Cory Pre-Polish to lift away visible dirt from your satin ebony piano before applying Cory Coconut Wood Cleaner or Cory Satin Sheen. Less is more when caring for satin ebony finish -- regular dusting is usually enough to keep your piano looking its best.

Open Pore Finish

When a very thin layer of lacquer is applied to the wood surface and wood grain is allowed to peek through, the finish is called “open pore.” You can see and feel the texture of the wood grain. Under careful examination, you can determine that an open pore finish differs from satin where the wood grain curves and reveals the wood’s natural fibers. A satin finish is scored in straight lines, no matter the wood grain underneath. The wood is not tightly sealed up, so an open pore finish may be subject to damage due to weather conditions or rough handling. 


We prefer Cory All-Brite, Cory Harmony Detailing Oil, or Cory Honey Oak Conditioner to hydrate and protect the nearly-exposed wood while adding luster to the finish.

Painted Surface

Some pianos have been beautifully painted. Treat these works of art with Cory Coconut Wood Cleaner or Cory All-Brite. If your painted piano has been fully coated in polyurethane or other high gloss finish, it is safe to use Cory Super High Gloss polish.


Damaged Finish

Over time, finishes will become damaged. Wood expands and contracts with the weather, and if the lacquer is not polished and conditioned regularly, tiny cracks will appear on the surface. Maintain a steady level of humidity for your piano using a Dampp-Chaser system to help protect your piano from the inside out. When maintaining damaged finish, use an oil-based formula to penetrate the cracked lacquer and treat the wood directly. Cory All-Brite, Cory Harmony Detailing Oil, and Cory Scratch-Brite Restorer are all safe to use on damaged finish. Scratch-Brite blends colors where the finish may have been scratched or abraded.

Very old finishes may become cracked, checked, caked with dust, or develop a patina. Use Harmony Detailing Oil to maintain the wood and Scratch Brite to erase visible damage.

What about the keys?

Piano polish that is formulated for treating the wood surface is NOT recommended to be used on keytops. Instead, use Cory Key Brite to dissolve dirt, wax, and oil from fingerprints. Key Brite leaves the keys brighter, smoother, and non-greasy. It’s safe to use on all plastic, ivory, ivorite, and wood keytops.

How to clean your piano

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Now that you know which products to use on your particular piano, take care to apply the polish correctly.

In most cases, spray or apply piano polish directly onto a clean microfiber cloth. We recommend a high quality polishing cloth like Cory Excalibur Microfiber Cloth. Always spray cleaners onto the cloth if you will be working near the piano action, strings, or tuning pins. Test the polish in an inconspicuous location first.

For high gloss and open-pore surfaces, gently rub the polish into your piano using a circular motion. Use care when treating painted or damaged finish; always polish in the direction of the grain if your piano has severe cracking or fragile paint with irregular finish.

Satin and satin ebony finishes are very delicate. Always polish with the grain. Cleaning against the grain or in circles on a satin finish may ruin the effect.

After rubbing the polish into the piano’s finish, wipe off any excess polish with a clean, dry microfiber cloth. Cory piano polishes protect the finish and leave your piano fingerprint resistant.


Deep Cleaning

If oil-based polishes were used on a piano that should be treated with water-based solutions -- like high gloss or satin finish -- use Cory Pre-Polish Finish Cleaner to scour and prepare the surface for a new application of polish. Household waxes and wood cleaners should be cleaned away before polishing. Cory Coconut Wood Cleaner is great for deep cleaning and lifting away stubborn oil and gime.

Older pianos may have been treated with oil-based cleaners, and in that case, it is best to continue using these types of cleaners. Cory Harmony Detailing Oil, Cory Natural Wood Polish, or Cory All-Brite are perfect for antiques and old pianos. Use oil-based cleaners sparingly.

For very dirty pianos, use Cory Pre-Polish Finish Cleaner before using a piano polish. You may wish to spray Cory cleaner directly on the surface of a very dirty piano, but take care not to spray onto the action, strings, or tuning pins.

Between Cleanings

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After your piano has been cleaned with high-quality cleaners and polishes, maintenance and upkeep is easy. Simply use a Cory Dust 'n Buff Mitt, feather duster or dry cloth to remove dust and wipe away fingerprints. Avoid using household cleaners or rinsing with water, no matter what type of finish your piano has.

Remember that piano polishes are not refinishing products -- Cory polishes clean and rejuvenate the finish your piano already has. All Cory piano cleaning products are gentle and safe to use as frequently as needed. Properly using the correct products will bring your piano to the height of elegance.

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