VINYL 101: A Simple Guide to Cleaning Your Records

With repeated spins, your vinyl records will eventually get dirty. Fingerprints, microscopic bits of dust, smoke, and other airborne pollutants land on the playing surface and work their way into the grooves. Over time, these pollutants will create audible noise, pops, and eventually lead to the wearing down of both your vinyl records and your stylus. Periodic deep cleaning of your records will ensure the best possible sound, save wear and tear on your albums and equipment and make for a more enjoyable listening experience.

There are many ways to clean a vinyl record, with some processes and cleaning solutions being more effective than others. While there are a number of commercially available cleaning solutions available for purchase, a quick Google search for “home brew” options, offered up by vinyl enthusiasts, can provide a more cost effective solution. The following three methods have proven to be effective and, most importantly, will not damage your precious vinyl. These suggestions are based on my 40+ years of personal trial and error, after cleaning literally thousands of lps and 45s.

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OPTION ONE: Sink Cleaning
EFFECTIVENESS: Good

Fill a sink with warm water and add a few drops of Dawn dish washing liquid. Place a few records in the sink and let them soak for a few seconds, without submerging the labels. Gently scrub, in a circular motion, using a soft bristle paint brush or a wet microfiber cloth, rinse well. I also suggest a second rinse using a spray bottle filled with distilled water. While this may seem like overkill to some, tap water is often “heavy” with minerals and fluoride, which will inevitably wind up in the grooves of your records. Distilled water is purified and can be found at any pharmacy for just a few dollars. Once you’re done rinsing, wipe down with a micro-fiber towel and place in a dish rack to air dry. If water gets on the label, simply wipe it down and let it air dry; no harm will be done.

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OPTION TWO: Spin Clean
EFFECTIVENESS: Better

The basic Spin Clean unit retails for about $80 and comes with a specially formulated cleaning liquid and some cleaning cloths. This “bath” type record cleaning device can easily be adapted to wash 45s, 10″ and 12″ records. Once you dunk your record into the Spin Clean system, the brushes do a very effective job of gently scrubbing both sides of your records at once, eliminating dirt and grime from the record grooves. Given that the cleaning solution provided is a non rinse formula, distilled water should be used. to fill up your Spin Clean device. Once you are done “spinning”, wipe
the record down with the supplied towels and air dry in a dish rack. It’s a simple, quick and effective tool that will provide an audible difference, after use.

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OPTION THREE: Vacuum Type Record Cleaning Machine
EFFECTIVENESS: Best

While completely automatic Record Cleaning Machines like the Nitty Gritty or Okki Nokki systems do a great job, they can be prohibitively expensive, with some models selling for thousands of dollars. While they are simple to use and they are highly effective, manual RCMs like the KAB EV-1 can be attached to an ordinary Shop Vac and will work just as well. The main advantage to a vacuum RCM is they literally suck the contaminants out of the grooves. Sink cleaning or the Spin Clean obviously doesn’t offer this advantage and can, in fact, push contaminants back into the grooves during the drying process.

CLEANING SOLUTIONS

Over the years, I’ve used both home brews and packaged formulas. Until recently, I had the greatest success using the Nitty Gritty brand formula PUREnzyme+, followed by a distilled water rinse. While very effective, $37.50 for a 32 oz bottle can get quite costly, especially if you have a large collection.
Several months back I researched the use of Tergitol 15-S-3 and 15-S-9. This is the same
combination of surfactants used by the Library of Congress for record cleaning. They come in pint bottles and cost about $25 each. The suggested working solution is 10 drops of each liquid per gallon of distilled water, meaning that this $50 investment will more than last as long as your need to clean your records does. Clean according to the instructions for your RCM and follow with a distilled water rinse. Of all the methods described, this is by far my favorite record cleaning regimen. The Tergitol works as well or better than anything I’ve used in the past, is extremely cost effective in the long run and will ensure a lifetime of clean records and enhanced listening experience.