If you love playing old, vinyl records (or even newer vinyl records), chances are, you’re no stranger to those familiar yet dreaded sounds of clicking, hissing, and other weird noises spinning records sometimes make.
Though these noises can be related to actual damage to the vinyl record, in most cases, it's simply a bunch of dirt and grime causing the problem. Dust, dirt, and other contaminants can gum up your vinyl record, especially down inside the grooves, making it difficult for your record player’s needle to trace those grooves as smoothly as they are designed to do.
However, if you learn how to clean those vinyl records properly and strive to keep them free of dirt and dust, all the noisy hissing and popping sounds will soon become a thing of the past.
Other pros to using cleaning methods on your records include producing sounds that are less distorted, helping your records last longer (for those of you that like to buy them as investments or collectible items), and increasing their overall value, especially when the whole record (including the inner and outer sleeve) is well-maintained.
Plus, cleaning your vinyl records and keeping them that way also serves to keep your record player/turntable functioning and performing at its best. Less friction and dirt that accumulates means less money spent on replacement parts. So be sure to store vinyl records properly to make this ongoing maintenance task more manageable.
How to Clean Vinyl Records
There are actually a few different ways to go about cleaning a vinyl record. For the casual record-loving connoisseur, using a record cleaning machine might not be the cheapest way, most economical way of cleaning.
A record cleaner machine, like a vacuum-powered vinyl record cleaner or ultrasonic cleaning machine are made just for cleaning vinyl records might be ideal when it comes to how well they clean a record, but these specialized machines cost so much more than some are willing to pay, it makes them prohibitive. Record washers are made for washing vinyl records too, and while they aren’t quite as good as a vacuum cleaner for vinyl records, they still do the job.
Unfortunately, both of these record-cleaning tools can cost you some money. Though you can find more affordable options, if you don't want to shell out your hard-earned cash to keep your records clean and functioning, washing them manually will be the only way to get the job done.
Fortunately, washing and cleaning your vinyl records by hand is still very effective. The best part of vinyl cleaning is that it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get started. One thing to keep in mind though, is investing in a record cleaning machine may be the better option if you have an extensive record collection.
Sure, washing a few records by hand is no big deal. But when you’ve got a collection of 100 or more, manual cleaning gets a lot more time-intensive. Just something to keep in mind as you decide which route to take.
Invest in a Vinyl Record Cleaning Brush
You will definitely need a great record brush to clean your records by hand properly. If you don't even have the budget for that, you can invest in some good, microfiber cleaning cloths, although the record cleaning brush is most ideal.
The nice thing about record brushes is that not only is it easier for the bristles to get deep inside the grooves where trapped dust and dirt love to hide, it also helps to get rid of static electricity, largely because of the type of fiber used to make record cleaning brushes.
Since static electricity is what attracts all that dirt and grime to your records in the first place, it makes sense that eradicating it would be helpful in keeping your vinyl records clean and dust-free. You could have the best, most expensive record player in the world, but if your vinyl is scratched or dirty, it won’t make a lick of difference. Clean vinyl records are absolutely necessary for excellent sound, because those little grooves in your record are where the magic lies. A good, vinyl record brush can help you keep those grooves in tip-top shape, while a cleaning cloth may not fully clean these grooves out.
You can lightly brush the record in a circular manner, following the grooves to remove surface dirt and grime. You should do this first before any other cleaning happens, but you should also consider doing this every time you remove a record out of its sleeve to be played. A light and soft brushing before placing it on the record player to spin can help keep the sound crisp and clean. You can also set the record to spinning and hold the brush gently over the record so the spinning motion gets the bristles down into the grooves.
Once you have used a record brush to help remove all surface dust and dirt, you can wash your record. There are a variety of cleaning solutions available, ranging from mild too much stronger. Many come as sprays, making it easy to apply to dirty records.
You can use a spray bottle to spray the solution directly on problem areas and wipe with a soft cloth, or you can apply the cleaning solution to your record cleaning brush. If you choose to apply a cleaning solution to a brush, the best way to proceed is to use your record player to gently rotate the record, while you allow the damp brush to do its work within the grooves.
Be careful not to use too much pressure when using a record brush, because you don't want to scratch the vinyl. You can alternate spinning the record clockwise and counterclockwise to make sure you get all of the crud out.
When you notice your record brush is getting dry or looks dirty, you’ll need to clean it out and then repeat the whole process. Keep repeating until all of the dust particles, dirt and grime from your record is removed and nothing else appears on your record cleaning brush.
You can also do this using the microfiber rag, but your record may not come as clean as it would using the brush, so that’s something to keep in mind. If you have records that really need a good cleaning, invest in the brush and don’t waste time or money using microfiber cloths and warm water.
How to Clean Vinyl Records the Wrong Way
Obviously, it’s important to use the right tools and cleaning liquids or solutions when cleaning your vinyl collection. Never use any solution that isn’t designed for record cleaning. Some people recommend using things like dish soap and water, or other cleaning agents not designed for vinyl records.
Don’t use soap and water for deep cleaning, because even the water you use can have impurities that can contaminate your records, not to mention the damage it can cause to the label. The only caveat is if you use distilled water. At least with distilled water, you won’t leave any impurities behind, although you can still damage the label on your record if you aren’t super careful. You can use a clean, dry, microfiber cloth to help dry the record once you’ve cleaned it.
Though it should go without saying, chemicals like bleach, Windex, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), lighter fluid, WD40, and even baby lotion are all terrible ideas for record cleaner. Alcohol, in particular, can break down the coating that is on your record, causing damage and defeating the whole purpose of trying to keep your record clean in the first place.
Some recommend using alcohol to help dry the record after you’ve washed it. If you do this, use it as sparingly as possible. In every other instance, only use solutions and tools that are designed for vinyl records. We really can’t say it enough. Only use solutions and tools that are designed for cleaning vinyl records.
Also, make sure your record is completely dry before attempting to play it after you clean it. Playing a record while it’s still wet may seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s really not. It will only serve to embed dirt and grime deeper into the record grooves, muddy up your sound, and totally ruin your records for future use.
Ultimately, preventing your records from getting dirty and full of grime in the first place is the best way to care for them. You can learn how to clean vinyl records and that’s always a helpful skill, but learning how to keep them clean and prevent them from getting dirty in the first place is even better.
Doing this involves learning how to handle your records the right way and learning how to properly store them so they remain safe and clean when not in use. Take the time to invest in the proper care and maintenance of your vinyl records and they will last far into the future. You might even get to pass them on down the line to your great, great-grandchildren.