October 14, 2023

Why Do Piano Keys Stick? - 6 Causes and Remedies

It's a musician's nightmare - sitting down at the piano and finding some of the keys are sticking! Nothing ruins the flow of playing, like having to pry a key up before striking the next note.

Why do piano keys stick? Piano keys can stick due to buildup of dust and debris, humidity changes causing wood parts to swell or shrink, parts shifting out of alignment, sticky spills drying between keys, worn key coverings, and climate or weather changes that affect the wooden action.

But don't panic - sticky keys are usually an easy fix. Here are the 6 most common causes of sticky piano keys and how to get them moving freely again:

1. Dust and Debris

Let's face it - pianos are dust magnets. All those nooks and crannies easily collect dust, pet hair, dirt, and other gunk over time. When this debris builds up around the keys, it can make them sticky and sluggish. The solution? It's time to get cleaning! Wipe down the piano keys and in between them with a soft, dry cloth or a damp cloth with a small amount of mild cleaner. Vacuum around and under the keys with a brush attachment. Be sure to get rid of any built-up debris so keys can move smoothly. A quick cleaning can get your sticky keys moving freely again. A professional company like ours also offers piano cleaning services.

2. Why Do Piano Keys Stick? It Could be Changes in Humidity

Wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity. Since pianos have thousands of moving wooden parts, fluctuating environmental humidity can cause sticking keys. Low humidity is the main culprit, causing wooden parts to shrink and bind. Blast the A/C or heat in the winter, and you may notice more sticking keys. The best remedy is to maintain consistent humidity of around 40-50%. Get a hygrometer to monitor humidity and use a humidifier or dehumidifier as needed. Avoid putting pianos next to heating/cooling vents or outside doors. Stabilizing humidity will minimize swelling and shrinking of the wood, so keys don't stick.

3. Out of Alignment Parts

The intricate mechanism under each piano key relies on all parts being perfectly aligned. If any felt, hammer, lever, spring, or connector gets even slightly out of whack, it can cause friction and sticking. Parts can shift over years of use. A piano technician can realign any out-of-adjustment parts and get keys moving freely again. Don't try adjusting the action yourself without proper training - you could cause more problems. Let a pro handle it. Regular maintenance checks and tunings by a piano tech help keep everything in working order and keys sticking-free.

why do piano keys stick

4. Sticky Keys from Spills

We've all been there - a drink gets knocked over and spills all over the piano keys. Even a small amount of liquid can leave residue behind after drying, causing keys to stick. Sugary drinks like juice or soda are even worse, leaving a gummy, sticky mess. Try cleaning keys with a damp cloth and mild cleaner, working the cloth around each key to remove residue. For dried-on spills, you may need a cleaning solution specifically for dissolving sugary gunk - ask a piano tech for product recommendations. Prevent this issue in the future by not placing drinks on top of the piano!

5. Worn Key Coverings

The coverings on the white keys are made of compressed felt or leather. After decades of use, these coverings can become worn, flattened, cracked, or grooved. This allows the wood underneath to rub against the wood of the keyframe, creating friction and stickiness. Replacing worn key coverings is a job best left to a pro. A piano technician has the skills to remove old coverings and install new ones. Refurbishing the keys restores a smooth playing surface and prevents sticking keys.

6. Climate and Weather Changes

Major climate shifts and weather events can cause piano keys to stick, too. For example, a long stretch of hot, dry weather can dehydrate wood parts and shrink them. Extended high humidity gets into wood and causes swelling. Rapid temperature fluctuations buckle wood parts. Wood needs time to acclimate to environmental changes. Give your piano a couple of weeks after a move or weather extremes before tuning and regulating the action. The wood will stabilize in the new conditions, so keys don't stick from tension between misaligned parts.

Wrapping things Up

Sticking piano keys might be frustrating, but the remedies are usually simple. With some basic maintenance and TLC, you can get your piano keys smoothly gliding again. Still stumped on the cause? Consult a professional piano technician for repairs. With their expert skills, you'll be playing a sticky-key-free piano in no time.

About McLean Piano Tuning by PianoCraft

McLean Piano Tuning by PianoCraft offers expert piano tuning, repair, and restoration services for Northern Virginia homes and businesses. With over 50 years of experience, their piano technicians can diagnose and fix any piano issue. Give them a call at (703) 721-4377 for superior piano care.


How do you fix sticking piano keys?

Sticking piano keys can often be fixed by cleaning between the keys to remove built-up dust, debris, and spills. Maintaining proper humidity levels between 40-50% prevents sticking due to wood swelling and shrinking. For keys sticking due to misalignment, a piano technician can adjust the action and ensure all parts are in proper position. If the key coverings are worn and flattened, a pro may need to replace them to restore a smooth, gliding motion.

Are sticky keys easy to fix?

In most cases, sticky piano keys are an easy fix. Basic cleaning between the keys with a soft cloth removes dust and debris buildup that can obstruct movement. Adjusting humidity levels or moving the piano away from heating vents restores proper moisture content in wood parts. For spilled liquids that leave residue, using a dissolving cleaner made for pianos breaks up stickiness. Only major issues like worn key coverings or misaligned action parts require leaving repairs to a professional piano technician.

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