Cleaning vinyl records is one of the more unfortunate parts of the vinyl addiction. No matter how neat and tidy you are, your vinyl records will occasionally need maintenance. If your records are not kept clean, they will play poorly as the dust particles will build up on the stylus, causing a fuzzy sound. Worse still, if records are poorly maintained, they become prone to the dreaded “clicks and pops” of vinyl playback. In fact, many people maintain that the build up of gunk in the record grooves has more of an effect on sound than scratches on the record surface. People who have bought old, second hand vinyl will attest to the fact that there is a difference between a well maintained record and a poorly maintained record, and it is often difficult to tell by sight what will play well and what won’t.
The good news is that cleaning vinyl records is not a particularly arduous task. Much like brushing your teeth, one it becomes routine you won’t even notice it. People who have never thought to clean vinyl records may be in for a multiple hour long cleaning session, but once the records are clean it is a matter of seconds before each play.
The cleaning options presented are varied, and are summarised below.
Maintenance Cleaning of Vinyl Records Using An Anti-Static Brush
Anti-static brushes are far and away the easiest way to keep your vinyl collection clean. The key word being keep. The anti-static brush is best used before each play of a record. It eliminates static electricity that builds up as a result of insertion and removal from record sleeves. It also removes dust from within the grooves of the record, but won’t deal with anything that isn’t superficial. If you are a new collector and your vinyl is new or near new, then the anti-static brush is probably all you need. A small tip to save you contorting your wrists at odd angles is to set the record down on the platter, get the platter spinning and then hold the brush in one spot to clear off all the dust as it passes by. A simple device yet highly effective price, at under 30 dollars it is a no brainer for anyone who listens to vinyl.
Washing Your Vinyl Records Clean
People with old and dirty records with sound alteration or visible smudge marks need a solution to get their vinyl records clean, not just keep them clean. Across all methods, one ingredient is common: distilled water. Tap water contains minerals that might damage your vinyl. You can buy distilled water from just about anywhere, including supermarkets and hardware stores. Washing records with a microfibre cloth and distilled water will remove just about any surface blemish. While this method works great for cleaning superficially, it won’t get deep in the grooves to reduce the clicks and pops.
The Glue Trick
I have two records that I just could not listen to despite my efforts: Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and an original pressing of Dark Side of the Moon. The usual surface cleaning methods had done nothing for the surface noise and I found myself giving up on these two classics.
That was before I discovered the so called Glue Trick. The glue trick is extremely simple: cover your record lightly in wood glue such as , let it set, the peel it off. The right glue to use is Titebond II Wood Glue, as it has been tested to be effective by many users. Apply about 30ml evenly across the record using a laminated card such as an old credit card. It dries in around 3 hours, so it is certainly not a quick task. When applying, a small tab can be left at the edge of the record to make it easier to peel off. Using glue to clean vinyl records is a fantastic way of getting them really clean, especially when combined with a record vacuum before and after. Some users of this technique have reported a completely silent surface noise afterwards!
Vacuum Cleaning Your Vinyl Records
Two machines, the Nitty Gritty and the VPI, are excellent for cleaning vinyl records. Trying to split the two is a difficult process so perhaps just go for whichever machine you find more aesthetically pleasing. Both machines put the record through a multi stage process that involves scrubbing with a record cleaning solution, vacuuming the record (to remove the solution and any extra particles that are hanging around). The base models of either brand will set you back around $500.
The holy grail of record cleaning machines is the Loricraft record cleaner, by the same guys who now own the Garrard name. For upwards of 1000 pounds you can own a record cleaning machine that is the equivalent to Mary Poppins in cleaning ability. This is of course overkill for the vast majority of folk, but will suit vinyl audiophiles with high end systems.
Some folks have managed to DIY their own method of cleaning vinyl records, usually using a turntable playing at high RPM, some DIY cleaning fluid and an old vacuum cleaner. If this sounds possible, or remotely fun, then give it a try! There are various instructions available via Google.
Be Careful of Some Products
One product I came across recently is the Spin-Clean Record Washer. What this item is is basically a water reservoir with a brush within, and a device to attach a record to with which the record can be spun through the water. The Spin-Clean does a good job with old and dirty vinyl, but should definitely not be used on new vinyl as some users have found that their new records sound noisier after using the device. As we have established, cleaning vinyl records by hand using distilled water is a boring but not a taxing task and does not need to be carried out very often at all, so just doing it manually is an alternative for the thrifty. The included towel is rubbish for drying the records and a microfibre towel should be used instead.
For those with massive collections of vintage vinyl that has not been touched in a while, the Spin-Clean Record Washer could save you some time. Unfortunately, part of the design is that the water reservoir stays the same throughout the process (part of the time-saving component). This has the unwelcome side-effect of depositing residue from your earlier cleans on to subsequent records. Anyone who has washed the dishes before has wondered just how clean that last plate was that got washed in grey, murky water. Limit your cleaning sessions to 10 records per reservoir of distilled water.
Consider the price, consider that’s at least three new records, then go and make up an alcohol/distilled water solution.