Cleaning Records Equipment

How to Clean Old Records

Some folks have been carrying their records from place to place for decades. These people--as well as those who perhaps haven't owned albums for as long--should check out record cleaning equipment. Here is a deeper dive as well as some choices.

Many folks have a pile of old records that they wish to play. It’s about the music. But it also is about the memories. It should also be about finding the best record cleaner.

Vinyl (and often the equipment that plays it) is the living history of people’s lives. These records  have been dragged between parents homes, dorms, off campus houses, apartments and houses for years. They are home to dust and dirt in addition to all those memories.

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For this reason, they — like us — often are a bit damaged, dirty and rough around the edges. While physical damage is permanent, there are steps that can be taken to rid records of the decades of grime to which they have been exposed.

There also is a thriving market in vinyl releases of both new and classic albums. While there obviously is not as much dust and dirt and, therefore, remedial work to be done on new records, they don’t necessarily come from the store completely clean. Just like new silverware or plates get a run through the dishwasher, a quick appointment with a record cleaner is not a bad idea for a new record.

Following is a look at vinyl record cleaners that can ensure that vinyl, both old and new, is as pristine as possible. It all comes under the broad banner of vinyl hygiene. There are vinyl cleaning machines, cleaning solutions, brushes and ultrasonic devices.

A great starting point in the search for the best vinyl record cleaner for your use is podcasts at The Spindle Podcast hosted by Marc Henshall. In one of the episodes, Marc methodically goes through the options, from least to most expensive.

Of equal importance is his counsel on what approaches to cleaning vinyl records to avoid. Records are fragile and easily damaged by physical objects and chemicals. Even the impurities in tap water is a potential danger. It’s possible to do a whole lot of damage while trying to clean them. The microscopic pieces of matter can be driven more deeply into the grooves. Poorly designed brushes can extract debris from the grooves just to deposit it elsewhere.

Click here to skip ahead to information on record cleaning products from 6 vendors

It seems that the grooves separating in a record are something of a tiny archaeological dig. There is stuff to pay attention to near the surface, such as spills and fingerprints. Deeper down, there is the grit, grime and residue of years past.

There are two ways to approach the best record cleaner for you. The job can be done by record cleaning machine or by hand. A handy tool that is applicable across the board is a carbon fiber record brush. Hanshell’s advice is to use such a brush — he recommends AudioQuest — before and after playing a record. Think of it like brushing your teeth in the morning and evening.

On the record cleaning machine side, it is possible to clean large number albums simultaneously. There also are vacuum devices that suck the microscopic pieces of dirt from between the grooves. Still another approach is ultrasonic, which uses a combination of water and sound waves. Degritter, which has a product in this category, explains:

Ultrasonic cleaning works by creating a large number of microscopical bubbles in the cleaning bath, a phenomena called cavitation. The bubbles are a vacuum created by high frequency pressure waves moving through the water. Every ultrasonic cycle bubbles are formed and collapsed, releasing energy as heat and minuscule strong water jets. These effects combined thoroughly clean all surfaces down to a microscopic level.

The best manual method is to use a bush and solution. Experts say that it is a good idea to use distilled water and to stay away from any combination of tap water and dish soap. Depending on where you are, the water may contain impurities that are deleterious to the vinyl. Likewise, the liquid is for washing dishes, not vinyl records. What’s appropriate for dislodging pork chop remains from a plate may be dangerous for the grooves of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.”

5 Tips on Vinyl Cleaning Products

– How deeply is the grit and grime embedded? This generally is related to how old the record is
– Some products come with stylus cleaning capabilities as well
– There are several approaches to cleaning with different effectiveness and price points
– Sturdiness and design quality differ
– Avoid home remedies unless you know what you are doing

One approach that some people advocate seems outlandish: Completely covering the record with wood glue (I imagine something like Elmer’s), waiting for it to set and lifting it off. Not surprisingly, Hanshell thinks this method can damage the record and, in any case, is labor intensive.

Electrohome provides guidance on protecting vinyl records going forward: They should be kept vertically in a clean and cool place, not be exposed to the sun and not press too tightly against the album next to them. They should be kept in wax or plastic sleeves — paper shreds and collects dust.

It’s a good list, but I couldn’t help wondering how my albums have survived for decades considering that at one time or another I’ve broken each of those rules. I bet just about everyone has as well. The bottom line is that vinyl is tough. It bends but it doesn’t (usually) break.

Wikihow offers three vinyl record cleaner approaches. One idea is to used canned air to blow the debris away. This may work – but it may drive debris deeper into the grooves. Another handy idea is use of a static gun to neutralize the debris’ electrical charge and thereby easier to discharge.

Another common way to clean vinyl records is a home brew consisting of distilled water, isopropyl alcohol and dish washing detergent. Don’t do this: The alcohol can harm the vinyl. The article scores big points by including a short video in which a demonstration is done using a turntable straight out of 1975.

Sticky rollers — the name pretty does a great job of describing what the devices do — is yet another option. These are re-washable and long lasting. Brushes that hang down from frames that are attached adjacent to the platter and drop down in front of the cartridge as it traverses the record is recommended. After all, dirt that doesn’t reach the grooves does not have to be removed.

The bottom line is that there are many ways to clean vinyl records. The most extreme are pricey, but a many are inexpensive. A second conclusion is that proper care of records is an ongoing matter, not something to be done once every few years. It’s good to know, however, that even albums that have been neglected for decades can come back to life and regain their fidelity beyond, of course, actual physical damage.

6 Vinyl Record Cleaners from Big Fudge, EVEO, Spin-Clean, Studebaker, Vinyl Styl and AudioQuest

Note: All images are courtesy of the manufacturer. Hover over images for a closer view (in most cases). Vendors of products to clean vinyl records, as with other gear, have unique short hands for features and specifications. I’ve more or less left these unchanged, so the capsules are a bit inconsistent.  The paraphrased comments are subjective (and, indeed, sometimes contradictory). Folks sometimes use equipment incorrectly and then complain. Problems mentioned may have been addressed by the manufacturer. Amazon has a tremendous amount of information and feedback on the what it sells and is a recommended element of your shopping research. If you do shop and potentially buy from Amazon, please link to there from HiFi and Vinyl Now. If you are kind enough to do so we’ll get a small commission. The price you pay will remain the same. (Thanks!)

Big Fudge Vinyl Record Cleaner Kit

record cleanerTwo brushes: An anti-static velvet brush that works in conjunction with a cleaning spray (which comes in a 50ml bottle) and a stylus brush to remove particles off the needle.

The company says that not using carbon, as other brushes do, avoids damage to vinyl records. The company promises a lifetime full warranty.

 

What People are Saying about the Big Fudge Complete 4-in-1 Vinyl Cleaning Solution
Pros
+ A little liquid goes a long way
+ Stylus cleaning brush useful
+ Easy to use
Cons
– Spray bottle quality mediocre
– Doesn’t work well with comparatively large matter or fingerprints
– Doesn’t contact grooves at the beginning or end of a 33 record

 

EVEO Vinyl Record Maintenance Kit

record cleanerEVEO’s record maintenance kit cleans both the record and the need via a carbon fiber anti-static brush for the vinyl records and a gel for the needle. The brush is designed to dissipate static charges to release grit and grime that has collected. The gel removes grit and microscopic particles from the needle.

The package comes in black and measures 5.1″ x 3.3″ x 2.2″. Since wiping the brush with you finger can do more bad than good, there is a small brush included to clean the velvet brush that touches the record.

What People are Saying about EVEO's Vinyl Records Maintenance Kit
Pros
+ Swivel head helps keep brush clean
+ Simple to use
+ Good value for the cost
Cons
– Leaves fine fibers on record
– Bush not really anti-static
– Doesn’t get in crevices of vinyl or wipe fingerprints

 

Spin-Clean Record Washer System

record cleanerThis record cleaning machine vacuums both sides of the vinyl records simultaneously. No external power required. Compact, comes with materials to spin clean as many as 700 33, 45 and 78 RPM vinyl records.

The Spin-Clean comes with 4 ounces of alcohol-free MK3 cleaning fluid that is diluted before use. The device, brushes and accessories store easily. There are three versions of the Spin-Clean available.

What People are Saying the Record Washer System by Spin-Clean
Pros
+ Simple to use
+ Cleaning both sides at once is convenient
+ Solution and basin well engineered and functional
Cons
– Need to manually rotate each record
– Two cloths provided not sufficient
– Rollers popped out of grooves repeatedly

 

Studebaker Vinyl Record Cleaning Solution

record cleanerA vinyl cleaning machine that focuses on an adjustable roller system for 33, 45 and 78 RPM vinyl records. It features a dual microfiber brush system that cleans both sides of the record simultaneously. Included are washer, CleanIt Solution, Brushes, Rollers, and two drying cloths.

This product for cleaning vinyl records is made of Medium-Density Fiberboard wood cabinet and PVC wrap. The package includes a washer basin, 4oz. record cleaning solution, a pair of brushes, A pair of rollers and two washable drying cloths.

What People are Saying about the Studebaker Vinyl Record Cleaning Solution
Pros
+ Adjustable rollers adequately center vinyl records
+ Vinyl records are clearer and pops and clicks diminished after use
+ Simple yet effective
Cons
– Documentation/instructions poor
– Didn’t improve older, dirtier records
– Poorly constructed

 

Vinyl Styl Deep Groove Record Washer System

record cleanerThe self-contained unit for cleaning vinyl records uses 100% natural goat hair brushes and cleans 7″, 10″ and 12″ records.

The package includes a washer reservoir with lid, drying rack, a 16 ounce bottle of Vinyl Styl Record Washer Fluid, a label protection clamp wheel, funnel, strainer, 3 fluid filters and instruction manual. The unit weighs 5b lbs and measures 17″ x 12″ x 5″.

What People are Saying about the Vinyl Styl Deep Groove Record Washer System
Pros
+ Storage case well thought out
+ Effective and easy to use
+ Label protector clamp effectively keeps labels dry

Cons
– This record cleaner works well, but will not remove all traces of contaminants.
– Leaves residue that is not immediately apparent
– Overpriced, messy to use

 

AudioQuest Anti-Static Brush

record cleanerThe AudioQuest Anti-Static Record Bush in a vinyl record cleaner that has 1.116 million carbon fibers in two rows. The conductivity is provided by gold contacts. The bristles are designed to pull out dust and dirt while eliminating static. The company has added smaller fibers that more effectively remove dirt and debris.

The record cleaner of for vinyl records weighs 2.24 ounces and measures 4″ x2″ x 0.3″. It can be used for computer keyboards and in similar instances where dirt and grime are reducing efficiency.

What People are Saying about the AudioQuest Anti-Static Record Brush
Pros
+ Superior build quality
+ New version of classic brush removes disruptive center ridge
+ Anti-static functions improved over previous model

Cons
– Doesn’t disperse static or remove debris
– Fiber shredded onto records
– Concentrates debris on record but has no way to lift it off. Pushing towards edge of record simply redeposits

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Carl

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