With vinyl making a comeback into the music industry, music listeners are getting great use out of their vinyl collection. However, with this great use comes accumulation of dirt and dust that records get when exposed outside of their casing. Therefore, it’s important to upkeep your vinyl and turntable to avoid having to replace a record player cartridge or the entire record player itself.
No music will play from a turntable that doesn’t have a needle, or what’s commonly referred to a stylus (typically a diamond or sapphire). And, as any turntable owner or vinyl enthusiast knows, these old pieces of hardware—and even the new ones—need some TLC. In other words, they need upkeep. Which means that record stylus isn’t going to clean itself.
If you’re wondering how to clean a record player needle, then you’ve come to the right place.
How To Clean a Record Player Needle
Most people know that vinyl records need to be cleaned. If dirt, dust particles, or gunk finds a home in those grooves, the listening experience is interpreted or inhibited. And most people think that’s the only thing which needs cleaning. But you’re smarter than that.
In which case, you should know that there is no standard way of cleaning a stylus. Of course, there are certainly incorrect ways of doing so, but the best method of cleaning is typically dependent on the opinion of the turntable owner. Needless to say, you might end up with one of these opinions yourself.
Below are a few commonly recommended methods of cleaning your stylus.
#1 The Magic Eraser
If you’re unsure what this is, it’s a tiny little sponge scrubber that people often use to clean splotches from white walls or dirt from certain surfaces. It’s known for its wondrous cleaning powers and has many different applications. So much so that cleaning a record player’s needle is one of them.
- Purchase a Mr. Clean magic eraser (Mr. Clean is a brand name) from a grocery or hardware store
- Cut the pad into smaller pieces. Aim for the size of a Tic Tac container.
- Take the tonearm and position it upwards, then allow it to drop, effectively bringing the stylus into contact with the eraser pad. Repeat this “stabbing” motion consistently and you should begin to see a bit of dirt or grime stain the pad. If you want, gently squeeze the pad against the stylus for a better result.
- Note: a stylus can be delicate, be extremely light in your hold and apply minimal pressure
We mention this method first because it’s effective, cost-efficient, and you can do it yourself without much work.
#2 The Stylus Brush
The original way of cleaning a record player need, a stylus brush is a product often sold by cartridge manufacturers. The brush is specific to the stylus and can come in many different variations. Certain manufacturers will sell them with a tagalong cleaning product, and these are a product of much controversy; some say the cleaning fluid works wonders, others say it’s a cancer.
Of course, we have no way of knowing what machine you’re working with, so let’s err on the side of caution and stick with the just the brush:
- Buy a stylus brush. But which one? Research your specific turntable (better yet, identify the type of cartridge it’s sporting) and discern whether or not there’s a recommended stylus brush. Online forums, turntable companies, and audiophiles can generally point you in the right direction. Once you’ve identified what to buy, get your wallet out.
- Once you have the stylus brush, hold your tonearm in place and move the brush along the stylus in the same direction that a record spins. Do so slowly and with patience, as you don’t want to damage the stylus by applying too much pressure.
- Repeat this process multiple times until you either notice a difference or can hear one once a record is playing.
A stylus brush meant to clean your specific stylus is probably your best bet. Unfortunately, few cartridges have a “dedicated stylus brush.”
#3 A Cleaning Solution
Again, whether or not these can damage the cartridge or do more harm than good remains to be a question without an answer. With that being said, there are specific stylus cleaners that vinyl collectors vouch for. And, of course, you should do your due diligence before purchasing a random record cleaner and using it on your stylus.
The main concern is that the cleaner is going to break apart the bonded glue that holds the diamond tip in place, compromising the structural build entirely. With that being said:
- Repeat this process until a difference is noticed, either in sound or by simply inspecting the stylus. With that in mind, be careful not to drown the cartridge in cleaner as it could begin to leak into places it shouldn’t. Keep the amount of liquid used to a drizzle and ensure the touch you use is light.
A cleaning kit can do wonders for a stylus. Apparently, it can also damage it. Be sure to do your research before utilizing this method. If you’re worried, revert back to our first recommendation.
#4 Record Degreaser
Some vinyl collectors recommend using record degreaser to dissolve any gunk, dirt, or grime that might be loitering on the surface of the stylus. While this method is never thought to damage the stylus, some audiophiles do question its effectiveness. The idea is this:
- Find a degreaser you like. If you’ve cleaned a record before then you’re probably familiar with this product. Purchase a degreaser that’s often used for multipurpose solutions, preferably one that’s advocated as a great stylus cleaning alternative.
- Grab a cotton bud and dip it slightly into the degreaser. Once it’s soaked in, gently hold the tonearm and “dab” the cotton ball against the stylus. It’s wise not to allow any vertical or horizontal motion to occur, rather, keep the cotton ball in its place and allow the cleaning product to work.
While this method is not as popular as the ones we mentioned previously, many vinyl collectors have found success with it.
What If Nothing Changes?
If you’re trying to clean your stylus to no avail, then there’s a possibility that the cartridge is damaged. If sound starts to become a bit fuzzy or you can’t seem to clean your stylus, these signs could be indications that the cartridge has failed.
Pro tip: people often default to repair shops here, when in actuality many manufacturers will welcome a sent-back cartridge and return it to the owner with a brand new stylus installed. Be sure to check if this is an option, as it will save you time, money, and likely is the best fix available.
Start with the stylus. If nothing changes, look into the cartridge.
How Often Should I Clean The Stylus?
Some experts recommend that you clean the stylus weekly; others, monthly. And some after every time you play a record. The reality is that it’s all a matter of use, wear, and the condition of your vinyl.
A clean vinyl isn’t going to wear on a stylus the way a dirty, dusty, or damaged one would. Additionally, if you’re listening to one record a week, then your stylus isn’t seeing much play. No matter what state your record is in—chances are it’s going to have more life than the turntable which plays four records daily.
The point is that there are various factors which go into the appropriate cleaning cycle for a stylus. It’s up to you to evaluate how often you’re using your machine, what condition your records are in, and the health of the stylus.
Note: try cleaning your stylus weekly for a month and see if you can notice a significant difference in sound quality.
What Are the Main Warning Signs of a Dirty Stylus?
First, a warning sign shouldn’t be the reason you decide to clean your stylus. A primary goal of cleaning a stylus is to ensure these very “warning signs” never surface. And, of course, a clean stylus means a longer lifespan for your records themselves. Still, there are a couple of significant signs that mean you should immediately clean your stylus.
Noticeable playback problems—accurate and fluid sound comes from clean grooves and, you guessed it, a clean stylus. If you’re dealing with playback issues (skipping, poor sound quality, cutting out, a “fuzzy” sound), then it can mean it’s time to clean your stylus. What further supports this indicator is if the playback issues are occurring across the board, over various different records.
Consistent damage—if your records continuously accrue dirt, gunk, or dust, then it could be because they’re grabbing it from the stylus. Be sure to keep an eye on not only the health of your turntable but your records as well.
A Final Word
A clean stylus is a healthier record player. It’s also better on your record collection, and it optimizes the listening experience. Go one step further by purchasing the best record play speakers, enhancing your record player speaker setup, and investing in the top classic vinyl records—then you’ll really have optimal sound and listening experience. The methods listed above are but a few ways you can clean your stylus. There’s really no “right” way, but there are certainly wrong ones. Be sure to research your specific cartridge before making a decision.
Good job being proactive.
High-end Audio. “The Magic Eraser” – The Stylus Cleaner. Dough Beacon. Retrieved from:
Forum VinlyMePlease. Stylus Cleaning: Fluids Vs. Brushes Vs. Magic Erases. The comprehensive thoughts of vinyl enthusiasts cleaning their stylus. Retrieved from:
PS-Audio. The Needle and the Damage Done. Jay Jay French. Retrieved from: