Modern technology has introduced the world to countless jaw-dropping innovations that rapidly improve our everyday lives and create relics of things we were just using ten minutes ago. But when it comes to playing music, the cutting edge still hasn’t found a way to match the gorgeous sound quality of a classic vinyl record player. More than 50 years after their heyday, retro record players are enjoying a renaissance as the life of any party or family gathering.
While vinyl record players can attract a lot of attention from house guests, they also attract dust and dirt particles due to the vibrations and static electricity created by the record’s rotation. And neglecting to clean this gunk will result in your record player having no other purpose than collecting dust in your garage. So, what are the most effective cleaning methods for a record player? Read on for our step-by-step guide.
Where Does the Dust Accumulate? And How Does It Affect Your Record Player?
Because dust particles are tiny, you might not be able to see them when they gather in your record player. But you’ll definitely be able to hear the problems they cause. Even the most minuscule accumulation of dust particles can result in sound distortion that makes your listening experience one that demands earplugs.
An essential part of cleaning your record player is knowing where exactly dust can hide away from plain sight. Here is an overview on the parts of the record player most prone to accumulating dust, and how ignoring it can turn your record player into a wreck-erd player:
- Turntable – In today’s vernacular, the terms “record player” and “turntable” are used interchangeably. But the turntable is specifically the circular area where the vinyl rests. When dust gathers on the surface of the turntable, it can easily slide into the grooves of a rotating vinyl. At best, this leads to maddening slips and pauses. And at worst, you run the risk of permanently scratching or even cracking your records.
- Stylus – The stylus is the record player needle that slides back and forth along the grooves of the vinyl while it’s in rotation. When enough dust accumulates that it becomes stronger than the vinyl itself, it can cause the needle to bend out of place.
- Tonearm and Cartridge – The tonearm is the mechanical arm that arches over the vinyl and holds the stylus in place with a piece of metal called the cantilever, the flexibility of which enables the stylus to trace a record’s grooves. This cantilever stems from the cartridge, which relies on its built-in magnetic coils to absorb the vibrations of the tonearm. It then translates these vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the speakers for the final sound you hear. Dust that sneaks within the tonearm can hinder its movement. And the dust that settles inside the cartridge interferes with the magnetic coils’ absorption of the vibrations. Both situations result in the record player producing cringeworthy sound, not to mention potentially irreparable damage.
Because dust accumulates on all four of these key components with every vinyl you play, it’s crucial to clean your entire record player after every use.
Step One: Gather the Necessary Cleaning Materials
Now that you understand why it’s important to regularly clean your record player, it’s time to gather the materials that will help you keep it in mint condition.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Stylus brush (available at most record stores)
- Anti-static dusting cloth
- Additional lint-free dry cloth
- Rubbing alcohol
You may also need:
- Compressed air can for particularly pesky dust collections
- Furniture polish for any of your record player’s wooden components
- Ionized or distilled water for deep cleaning
Step Two: Clean the Stylus
Apply your stylus brush to the stylus by wiping it front to back or vice versa 5-10 times. While you do so, make sure to hold the tone arm firmly so that the stylus stays in place and doesn’t make contact with the turntable.
A stylus brush is highly recommended since it’s specifically designed for record players. But if you don’t have a stylus brush handy, a soft paintbrush can also do the trick. In either event, dampen the bristles of your brush in rubbing alcohol for a more thorough cleaning.
While cleaning your stylus, be sure to avoid the following:
- Wiping Side to Side – Much like shaving, it’s important for your cleaning motion to be top to bottom as opposed to side to side. Styli are fragile, so wiping side to side could bend them.
- Using Your Fingers – This is an important no-no for two reasons. You risk not only bending the stylus, but also ruining the surface of it. How? Because we often touch our own faces with our hands, our fingertips collect the oils that our facial skin naturally produces. So, if you use your fingers to wipe off your stylus, you mar the surface of your stylus with oil that’s a nightmare to clean.
- Blowing On It – If you blow on your stylus, you could accidentally spit on it, another way to damage the surface. Use a can of compressed air for stubborn stylus dust.
Step Three: Wipe the Record Player Surface and Turntable
Next, use your anti-static microfiber cloth to dust your record player's surface. If you see fingerprints or other such stains on the surface, you may want to consider applying rubbing alcohol or even ionized or distilled water to the cloth.
Then, apply your microfiber cloth to the turntable. Start at the center, then work your way outwards using a circular wiping motion, as if replicating the ripples of a stone dropped in a pond. Once again, rubbing alcohol is your friend if you feel like your turntable needs a deep cleaning.
Step Four: Get Rid of the Moisture
The use of rubbing alcohol is going to leave moisture on the surface. And that must go. Get rid of the residue using your dry lint-free cloth.
Maintenance Do’s and Don’ts
Cleaning after each use is a fundamental aspect of maintaining a retro record player, but it only begins to scratch the surface (or more appropriately, avoids scratching it). Unless you want to stand guard by your record player 24/7, you can’t stop your record player from collecting dust while you’re away from it. You can, however, take precautionary measures to discourage the accumulation of dust and other damaging gunk.
Here are some things you should do:
- Use the Dust Cover – Many record players will come with a dust cover that folds over the components. Keep that dust cover down when you’re not using your record player and, if the player allows, even when you are. It’s an invaluable line of defense against debris. Leaving it folded up is like keeping the sunroof on your car open. If your record player doesn’t come equipped with a dust cover, don’t worry! Keeping that trusty ole’ anti-static cloth draped over it can block dust nearly as effectively.
- Clean Your Vinyl Records Before and After Each Use – Vinyl records are just as prone to accumulating dust as the players themselves. Thus, it’s equally important to dust off records properly before and after each use. Get a hold of a vinyl brush, which you’ll be able to find at most record stores. Like cleaning your turntable, start in the center and then brush outwards in a circular motion. Once again, you can dampen an anti-static cloth with rubbing alcohol for deeper cleaning. Or, if money is no object and you really want to play it safe, invest in a vinyl vacuum.
- Store Your Albums Properly – To protect your records from gathering dust and dirt particles while you keep them on the shelf, use both an inner and outer record sleeve. And to prevent them from warping, keep them stored vertically and away from sunlight. In the likely event that you own multiple records, make sure they’re not squeezed together too tightly.
And here are some things to avoid:
- Store your record player where it’s exposed to sunlight, hot temperatures or water
- Store it near heavy objects that are vulnerable to falling on it
- Remove the tonearm from the player while you clean the interior
- Use homemade cleaning solutions
- Use a damp cloth on any wires, ports, and jacks for (hopefully) obvious reasons
Dust often gathers in hidden places. Your record player is no exception—it’s just a case of whether you can notice it or not. Regardless, it’s there after every use and needs to be cleaned before the next one. If you don’t maintain the proper upkeep, you’ll be left with a record player that produces poor sound. And that defeats the entire purpose of owning one in the first place, doesn’t it?
Follow the above steps to ensure that, even as your record player ages, the sound emanating from it remains as good as new.
1) “How to Clean a Record Player” by editorial staff at HowToCleanStuff.net
2) “The Right Way on How to Clean a Record Player” by editorial staff at FireInsideMusic.com