In spite of the digitization of the world – especially when it comes to music – vinyl records have seemingly inexplicably come back into the fray as a favored audio format amongst audiophiles around the world. And while there are arguments to be made on both sides about audio quality, warmth, or whatever else, the format’s reemergence is undeniable.
Whether you’re a long-time collector or a new fan building up your own library of records, however, there are a few things you need to know to keep your vinyl in good condition – both in regards to the records themselves and their overall sound. And the simplest thing every record collector should be doing regularly is cleaning them. In the following guide, we’ve laid out all the tips and tricks necessary to keep your records playing beautifully – this is the complete guide to cleaning and maintaining vinyl.
Why Cleaning Vinyl Is Important
Peaks & Valleys
One of the most common complaints from detractors of vinyl is that records can often skip or that they emit too much static once they reach your speaker system. And while this can certainly be caused by imperfections in the records themselves, more often than not these issues aren’t the result of scratches at all. Rather, this occurs because there is dirt, dust, and grime between the grooves of the vinyl or on your turntable’s stylus (AKA the needle).
Luckily, that means that getting your vinyl records back into crisp and clear playing condition is a lot simpler than you might think. Rather than replacing them or abandoning them altogether, all you have to do is get in the habit of cleaning them. We think you’ll be surprised at just how effective a simple cleaning regimen can be when it comes to making your favorite vinyl sound like the first time its ever been played. And yes, this goes for both the records and your turntable’s stylus – as the cleanliness of both is necessary for optimum sound.
Brushing The Records
A Clean Sweep
The bulk of your cleaning task is going to take place with the records themselves. And there’s good reason for that. You see, the way vinyl works is that the sound is imprinted into the material in a series of peaks and valleys – or grooves, as they’re more commonly called. It’s an old technology that actually predates vinyl itself, but it’s an excellent way to create recordings of sound for later listening.
A pressed record, however, is also a magnet for dust – sometimes quite literally. This is because vinyl is especially conductive and has a tendency to become statically charged. And dust is attracted to static electricity. So, any dust you might have floating around your home will likely find its way into the grooves of your albums. Then, when the needle of your turntable passes through those grooves, it will bump into that collected dust and create static sounds, skips, or even collect the dust itself – thereby causing all your records to sound less than ideal. The following devices are some of the best for keeping your records clean and sounding clear.
Electrohome Turntable Platter Mat
Many publications and brands will suggest that you need a cleaning mat for your records, but they’re actually somewhat hard to come by and a bit unnecessary. You can get the same benefits from a standard turntable platter mat. The purpose of this device – in regards to cleaning – is to give you a surface on which you can brush your records without causing them harm. As turntable platter mats are specifically designed for setting records upon, they’re also great candidates for cleaning mats. One suggestion: if you’re going to use one of these to set your records onto in order to clean them, do it away from your turntable and playing area, so as to avoid cross-contamination. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with that same dust right back on your albums.
MagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
In an ideal world, you’re going to want to use a record cleaning brush. If you don’t have one, cant afford one, or need a quick solution in a pinch, microfiber cloths can work just fine, as they are incredibly delicate and excellent for cleaning off dust – hence why many glasses brands include one for wiping off your lenses. Again, we do not suggest these as a long-term solution – because they’re not the most effective when it comes to getting between all the grooves, but they’re not the worst thing in the world for your vinyl, either.
AudioQuest LP Record Cleaning Brush
If you really care about your records enough to keep buying and listening to them, then you’re going to want to invest in a record cleaning brush, like this one from AudioQuest. The bristles on this brush are actually made from carbon fiber, which (while very cool) actually serves a dual purpose. First, the bristles are great at getting in-between the grooves of your vinyl records, cleaning out even the most deep-set grime. But the other benefit is that the bristles are also conductive – meaning they will remove static charges from your record, making them less likely to collect dust from the air around. And using it is as simple as gently drawing the brush around each side of the record a couple times.
Spin-Clean Record Cleaning Kit
The casual album collector is probably going to be fine with the two methods above as their most in-depth vinyl cleaning processes. But if you’re more serious about keeping your records in tip-top shape, then you’re going to want something a little more comprehensive, like the Spin-Clean Record Cleaning Kit. It comes with a sturdy base that will hold your records vertically (more effective than laying them down when it comes to cleaning and maintenance), brushes to clean the grooves, washing fluid specially formulated for vinyl cleaning, and drying cloths to clean up the fluid after you’re done. Yes, this process is more expensive, but it’s also a whole lot more effective – especially when it comes to deep-seated dirt and grime.
Record Doctor V Vinyl Cleaning Machine
Of course, technology is one of the best friends of anyone who can afford it – as is evidenced by the Record Doctor V Vinyl Cleaning Machine. Essentially an automated mechanical version of the Spin-Clean device above, this machine – while very pricey – is an excellent record-cleaning option for anyone with the extra scratch necessary to purchase one. All you have to do to get your records clean is turn on the machine, put a record on top, and give it a spin by hand. There are, of course, more expensive versions of this same device that will do everything including spinning the record, but they’re also much more expensive.
Don't Forget The Needle
A Spotless Stylus
Cleaning your albums is only one part of the equation. In fact, it isn’t going to do you much good at all if you’ve got a dirty stylus, as its the needle that picks up the sound of the album. So, if the stylus is grimy, so is the sound that comes out of your speakers. So, if you’re having trouble getting your records to sound good and you’ve already cleaned them thoroughly, you probably need to clean your stylus, as well. Luckily it’s even simpler than cleaning the records themselves.
Pro-Ject Stylus Brush
For the most part, dust on a stylus can be easily removed simply by taking a cleaning brush – like the Pro-Ject Stylus Brush – to it. Simple and straightforward, the brush has a small handle attached to a small cleaning surface. All you have to do is gently brush your turntable’s stylus and that should do the trick,
Audio-Technica Stylus Cleaner
Of course, just like with records themselves, some dirt needs a little coaxing to get clean. In that case, it’s a good idea to have a stylus cleaning solution on hand. And few companies are as reliable when it comes to caring for audio equipment like Audio-Technica. Their needle-cleaning fluid is effective and comes with its own applicator brush, but you might want to combine it with the above stylus brush for good measure.
The Rumor Mill
Records are delicate things and require a good amount of care, whether in the case of cleaning them or not. Still, there are a lot of half-baked DIY methods that have made the rounds even amongst the staunchest of audiophiles. If you’ve heard of any of these methods, they might sound promising at first, but please do not attempt them. Yes, there’s a chance that your records will be fine, but the other side of it is that you ruin your favorite albums. As a rule, do not attempt to clean your vinyl with anything other than devices and fluids specifically designed for the task. Anything else is just not worth the risk. We’ve outlined two of the more common methods below:
Tap Water & Dish Soap: This method calls for owners to treat their records like dinner plates. But the problem is, records are not surfaces on which food goes – they’re delicate works of art with nuanced grooves. Dish soap is great for getting off food grime – but do you really want to take a de-greasing chemical compound to a delicate audio device? We think not. Even just using tap water is a bad idea, as (in most places) tap water has impurities, such as mineral deposits. These harsh impurities could result in record scratches. Avoid this method at all costs.
The Wood Glue Method: So the story goes, this method actually does work when completed without any hiccups. Problem is: no hiccups is hardly a guarantee. Apparently, this method calls for record owners to spread a thin layer of wood glue over the surface of an especially dirty vinyl album and allow it to dry and harden overnight. Then, the next day, you can peel off the glue and it will take any and all dirt and grime with it. However, as mentioned before, records are delicate. This process could result in you snapping them into pieces if you aren’t careful and/or very lucky. It might work, but we aren’t willing to find out, as we care deeply about all our records and don’t think the payoff is worth the stress.
50 Albums Every Man Should Own
While musical tastes vary from person to person, there are a few mainstays that everyone should listen to at least once. And you can find them all here on our list of the 50 albums every man should own.