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How To Clean Analogue Vinyl Records

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Tips on how to keep vinyl records clean. Directions for deep cleaning records by hand or with a record cleaning machine. Can homemade solutions work? A complete shopping list of supplies is included and a Q & A section for answers to your record care questions.

VPI turntable with a scrupulously cleaned vinyl record on the platterGood sound starts with a clean vinyl record. Whether you are a DJ or a fanatical audiophile and vinyl record collector, many of us here at DiscoMusic.com have accumulated thousands of vinyl records over the years. In an effort to digitally preserve your priceless records you may have considered transferring and restoring your vinyl record collection to CD by using your computer and some audio recording / editing software. Before you do, remember that in order to extract the best sound from your discs it’s important to start with scrupulously clean records and equipment such as your stylus.

Cleaning Vinyl Records by Hand or with a Record Cleaning Machine?

Vinyl discs that are kept clean and free of dirt, dust and oils from one’s fingers will sound much clearer and more importantly last longer. Since clean records have less clicks, crackle and pop you’ll have less work when it comes to the restoration phase and attain much better results. The great thing about cleaning your records is that it doesn’t take a lot of equipment, but there are choices. Let’s discuss some popular ways of cleaning records either with a record cleaning machine or by hand with household solutions and items. We will start with the preferred way and work our way down.

How To Deep Clean Vinyl Records Using a Record Cleaning Machine

Nitty Gritty Mini Pro Record Cleaning MachineIf you have more than a few hundred vinyl records I’m not going to mince words: Use a vacuum record cleaner such as those sold by Nitty Gritty, VPI or Keith Monks. The results are far quicker, safer and superior to anything you could attempt to do by hand as the machine will apply the record cleaning solution, properly scrub the record and finally vacuum all the dirt and liquid off leaving you with a dry and pristine vinyl record. It’s the only way to truly deep clean a record.

A record cleaning machine is simply a self contained unit with a motor that turns a platter with a vacuum suction tube that has an applicator pad or soft brush. One simply places the record on the platter, primes the pump to apply the record cleaning solution and let the record spin a few revolutions to work loose any dirt and oils that are in the grooves of the record. You then flip the switch and the vacuum sucks up any crud and fluid as well as drying the record. Pretty simple, but make sure you clean the pads / brushes after each record.

While you could make your own record cleaning solution from household items it is far better to buy ready-made solutions such as Nitty Gritty Pure 2 or Super Vinyl Wash by Record Research Lab. All of these are safe for use in record cleaning machines and on all vinyl records (non-shellac). I have also used Record Research Lab’s Super Deep Cleaner before using the above for an even cleaner record as it helps to release pressing impurities.

As good as a record cleaning machine is there are times when I will get a really dirty record from the flea market and wash it by hand FIRST before putting it on the machine so as not to foul up the expensive machine.

I use the Nitty Gritty Mini Pro2 which works very well. If cost is a consideration, and why wouldn’t it, then consider getting a used Nitty Gritty or VPI record cleaner from eBay as they always have plenty up for sale. A new bare bones manual Nitty Gritty machine known as the Record Doctor starts at around $199.(US) whereas some of the better automatic VPI’s can go for almost a grand if not more. Another cost effective choice is the Spin Clean Record Washer MKII which has been around for decades. Regardless of which machine you choose, they are a wise and solid investment and strongly recommended if you value your priceless records.

Once records are clean it is easy to do small touch up cleanings before playing by using a small brush like the carbon fiber Audioquest Record Brush.

How To Clean Vinyl Records By Hand

The Nitty Griitty and VPI vacuum record cleaning machines are expensive so if you want to do it by hand note the following:

carbon fiber vinyl record cleaning brushJust as with a VPI or Nitty Gritty record cleaning machine, the best way to clean records is by buying a commercially available record cleaning solution such as Last or Discwasher D4, which usually come with an applicator brush. The Last Company makes excellent cleaning solutions and brushes for records and your stylus and come highly recommended. You could also use the same cleaners sold for use in machines, but you’ll need to buy a good record cleaning brush to use them.

To begin, lay the record on a clean flat surface such as on a soft towel on a table or place the record on the turntable platter. If you decide to clean your records while they are on the turntable make sure to secure the tonearm so it doesn’t accidentally swing across the record as you are cleaning it and do not apply too much pressure on the platter as you can damage the bearings. Also pay attention not to get any record cleaning fluid on the platter or turntable finish.

Follow the directions on the bottle, but generally one applies the liquid to the applicator brush and not on the record itself. Take the brush and place it on top of the record and turn the platter counter-clockwise a few times to work the dirt loose. Look at the brush, you should see some dirt or lint on it so carefully remove it and go another round cleaning the record till no more dirt or crud appears on the brush. Since alcohol is the primary ingredient of most record cleaning solutions the record should dry fairly quickly, but do let it air dry before flipping it over to clean the other side or place it back in its sleeve. Before you flip the record over though make sure the surface or platter is clean as the dirty uncleaned side was just there!

Once records are clean it is easy to do small touch up cleanings before playing by using a carbon fiber brush.

Using Homemade Record Cleaning Solutions

zerostat gunCan’t find record cleaning supplies in your area? Don’t want to spend money? Then try using some household items instead. For light cleaning you can use Isopropyl 90% alcohol or higher. Do NOT use rubbing alcohol or witch hazel as they contain additives that can harm your records. Another option for cleaning dirty records is dishwashing liquid without any moisturizers such as plain Joy or Dawn. It cleans dirty records well, but it’s a pain to rinse off thoroughly and you have to avoid getting it on the label. Try not to get the label wet. If it does get wet then blot it dry immediately. Do NOT rub the label.

Using normal tap water to rinse off the record is fine provided your water is not unusually “hard.” If this is the case then you will want to finish up by using distilled water as a final rinse. Distilled water can be easily found in your supermarket or drugstore. The real trick is to properly rinse all this stuff off your vinyl records and get them dry without scratching them. Drying means using a microfiber type of cloth and blotting the record. Once this is done you can followup with a quick pass with a brush dipped in Isopropyl alcohol to get rid of any impurities that may still be on the record.

What NOT To Use Or Do To Your Vinyl Records

Someone once asked on the DiscoMusic.com forums about using lighter fluid to clean records. Do NOT use that on records or baby lotion either. Even if Zippo does remove dirt… one doesn’t know the checmical reaction it can have on vinyl records either now or over time. Don’t play with fire 🙂 When it comes to record cleaning, stick with the time tested methods such as vacuum record cleaning machines from VPI or Nitty Gritty, Discwasher or Last Company brand record cleaners for manual hand cleaning and record cleaning brushes for spot cleaning like the Audioquest Record Brush Hunt or Decca carbon fiber brushes.

Wet Playing Your Records

Never “wet play” your vinyl records. Thoroughly clean AND dry them before playing. “Wet playing” sounds like an ideal solution-at first. In reality the liquid starts to evaporate as the record is played and the needle just starts to dig the junk further into the grooves and now contaminates the entire disc. It clogs up the styli muddying the sound and can cause damage to the styli and cantilever as water seeps into the cracks and erodes the glue that holds it together.

As this crud starts to dry it just makes it more difficult to now properly clean the record. Once a record is “wet played” it needs to be played that way again to sound acceptable.

With thousands of records in our music collections the last thing one wants to do is ruin them. Please don’t “wet play” a record unless you know that you are going to discard the disc and want to get one last shot at archiving / restoring it to a digital medium.

How To Store and Care For Vinyl Records

vinyl record storage racksCleaning your vinyl records is only part of the equation. Properly storing and handling those records are just as important so here are some quick tips.

  • Always make sure to have a clean, properly functioning and aligned phonograph cartridge. If the styli is bent or chipped then it must be IMMEDIATELY REPLACED to avoid PERMANENTLY damaging your records.
  • Never touch the record with your fingers as the oil and dirt can transfer to the record.
  • Once a record has been thoroughly hand or machine cleaned, resist the temptation to rub any new dirt off with a T-shirt or other clothing. Use a DRY record cleaning brush for daily use instead like the Hunt or Audioquest carbon fiber record brush. Remember, that these carbon fiber brushes are for a quick DRY wisk in-between plays and are NOT to be used for deep cleaning with wet solutions.
  • After cleaning your vinyl records make sure to put it into a new paper or anti-static plastic inner sleeve as using the old sleeve will just put the old dirt right back. Mobile Fidelity and the Discwasher VPI sleeves are very nice.
  • Store your record jackets inside heavy gauge plastic outer sleeves and use poly inner sleeves. This really helps in reducing the round scuff marks on the outer jacket and keeps it looking like new for years.
  • Storage ideas for vinyl records: Store vinyl records vertically on a shelf or record storage cabinet like you would a book. NEVER-EVER stack or lay records flat as this will almost certainly cause them to warp.
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