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Turning Yellow Keys into White Keys

Probably the best way to clean white keys on a 100-plus-year-old antique pump organ is by using “SoftScrub” and steel wool.

However, it’s important to mention that you want to use “0000” steel wool. Steel wool comes in different grades of coarseness, with 0000 being the finest grade or the least abrasive. Your local home-center or hardware store should have it.

In any event, don’t simply use whatever steel wool you happen to have on hand! Chances are it’s not going to be 0000, because most home owners don’t have a need to use that fine a grade steel wool.

I can tell you from past experience that if you don’t use 0000 steel wool, you’re going to regret it. Why? Using a steel wool that’s too coarse will permanently scratch the keys.

Now, before we get into the cleaning sequence, there’s one thing I’d like to cover. When I clean a set of natural keys (the white ones) the keys have already been removed from the organ. Because when I restore a pump organ it’s completely dismantled - completely!

As a consequence, it’s a lot easier cleaning the keys when they're out of the organ than in. Therefore, you need to be careful not to use too much cleaner that you slop in down between the keys - this would not be good.

Okay, here are the steps:

  • First, you squeeze out about ¼ cup of SoftScrub onto a scrap of paper or piece of wood. (Note: the SoftScrub product you want looks creamy in appearance and will indicate that it contains Clorox.)
  • Tear off about an inch of 0000 steel wool.
  • Dip one end of the steel wool in the SoftScrub and begin rubbing the key length-wise, not across the key.
  • The more you scrub (the more elbow grease that’s used) the more you’ll see the yellow will turn to white
  • Leave the SoftScrub on the keys overnight.
  • The following day carefully rinse off the ScoftScrub with a damp cloth. Again, it’s important to remember that you don’t soak down the keys.
  • Dry the keys with a clean cloth

Now, the final step is to buff each key with an electric powered buffing wheel. However, most home owners are not likely to have a buffing wheel on hand, but you can try using a soft cotton cloth (a buffing wheel would be best) and be sure you don’t put too much pressure on the keys if you are using a buffing wheel.

Remember, our goal here is to get the keys free of scratches and shiney.


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