RECORD CLEANING TIPS
In photography there is some kind of consensus on how a negative or a print should be washed. How long, at what temperature, which chemicals are ok or not etc. When it comes to records, opinions can be contrasting, unproven, and somewhat Gung-ho.
Sooo... If you are new to all this, use common sense and proceed with caution. Look online. Everyone has their preferred method and washing fluids. Trust Record archives, cartridges or turntable manufacturers and long-time collectors who understand records and have handled many.
Audiophiles, DJs, Collectors cross paths but are not always exactly the same crowd and do not obsess about the same things. Ultimate sound quality or safest archiving sometimes call for slightly different tricks (See "Sleeves").
If you have been cleaning records for years and are happy, you may skip all this and use your SPINDLE SPINNER with your preferred brush and solution.
The short version:
- Do not buy filthy records, there is always a better copy somewhere.
- Brush records and stylus before and after each play with a carbon brush.
- Wash records to protect them and your stylus.
- Anything with a strong smell should be avoided (liquids, sleeves, shelves).
- A safe solution is demineralized water + 0.5% Ilfotol.
- Wash with a goat hair brush.
- Rinse with demineralized water and wipe dry.
- Record archives need to breathe. Use acid-free paper sleeves.
- Store records vertically and not tightly packed.
The long version:
Why cleaning? • Dust between the record and the cartridge is an abrasive that will damage both much faster than should be. Cleaning reduces background noise and improves tracking and sound quality.
Before cleaning ••• THE CARBON BRUSH ••• Your best friend. It is better to keep records dust free in the first place than to wash them more than necessary. A wipe with a carbon brush before and after each play goes a long way and lots of collectors who do that diligently seldom need to wet-clean records. For the same reason, platter mats and turntables should be kept clean with the lid on.
A carbon brush might also discharge static. But static works in complex and mysterious ways and results will depend on how the brush is grounded from bristles to you, and how you are grounded. Ultimately dry air is what keeps static into things, humidity from the clouds outside your window will help more than any brush.
However efficient or inefficient these brushes are at getting rid of static does not really matter. They are great at picking up dust, and will pull large amounts of very fine dust even from records that appear clean. Do not touch the bristles with your hands.
There are different subtleties in the way to best use each model, so, trust the manufacturers and read the instructions.
Records • Do not buy filthy records, and certainly not records that smell of mold. Mold is a pest that should not come anywhere near a record shelf or cleaning tools. Stores will clean molded records to sell them to you, but don't do it to yourself. There is always a better copy to be found somewhere (online).
Cartridges • One good reason to wash records is to protect styluses. The importance of this depends a bit on the price of the cartridge. There are decent MM models (Audio Technica pictured below) that cost less than a new LP and their stylus can be replaced for half that. But even the cheapest MCs (Denon pictured above) cost as much as dozens of records and their stylus cannot be replaced.
Whatever its price tag, a cartridge plays thousands of records. If its stylus picks up dirt and muck, it will not track properly and will lose its shape and will damage records. Styluses should be brushed back to front with a specific carbon brush after each play.
Surface noise • Cleaning will reduce background noise a fair bit, a bonus but not the main reason for doing this. Not all surface noise comes from dust but is a combination of groove wear, static, quality of the compound and pressing etc. Trying too hard to shave a decibel's worth of noise might damage the record. Background noise also depends a lot on stylus profiles. A simple conical stylus has a smaller contact area with the groove and picks up less dust noise than a Shibata for example.
Contamination • While cleaning records, shuffling and flipping them in the same bath, or on the same surfaces etc. will contaminate mats, brushes or a bath of cleaning solution with dirt and oil, and pass it onto what you are trying to clean. This is where the SPINDLE SPINNER comes in handy. It is designed so that the grooves never touch any surface and to keep records away from each other.
Goat hair brush • Very good for applying wet solutions. Hairs go well into the grooves. Safe, cheap and easy to rinse and keep clean. Beware of brushes with sharp corners they might scratch records if you drop them.
Pre-rinse records under running water • At lukewarm temperature around 30ºC (In the world of photography everything is done at 20ºC, colder doesn't wash properly). This will remove and break-up a lot of dirt and prepare the ground for the washing solution. The SPINDLE SPINNER makes this very easy.
Washing solution • Do not use dish washing liquid it is far too agressive and will damage records irreversibly. Beware of alcohol as no one knows: 1-what amount? 2-does what exactly? 3-to what record anyway? because all vinyl pucks manufacturers' recipes and additives are different. XYZ% of alcohol may be ok on one compound but not on another. Chemicals like alcohol also damage cartridges' glues and rubber suspensions.
Other than that, there are so many opinions, brands and home mixes, that you have to decide for yourself. Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, better buy one of the many ready-made solutions or concentrates from a known brand, preferably one with very little or no alcohol such as (But not limited to):
Demineralized water + 2% L'Art du Son works very well and is widely accepted as a safe mixture, not only for records but also for you and the environment (It smells of perfume though. That smell shouldn't be there).
Demineralized water + 0.5% ILFORD Ilfotol or other similar photo wetting agent. These reduce the surface tension of water and make it clean better all the way down the grooves. Cheap (1L will make 200L!), safe on all plastics, anti-bacterial and anti-static.
Rinse with demineralized water • No matter how harmless and inoffensive your solution is, it is better to remove what is left before letting the record dry.
Drying • Do not let a completely wet record air-dry. It would take too long and attract dust. Wipe with a clean sponge and/or a microfiber cloth. Then let it dry for 30 minutes or so. Do not blow dry, you'd be throwing dust at it and excessive dryness of the air will trap static.
Record cleaning machines • This is a whole separate conversation. But again, caution here... Look for long-term reviews online. Keep an eye on multiple records soaking in the same bath, going through the same brushes and pads, fast spinning rollers, soapy solutions, blow-drying, etc. Half-soaked spinning records will pick up the oily substances left by other records that float at the surface of the bath. If you use a machine, a prewash with the SPINDLE SPINNER is still a good way to reduce the contamination of its bath, brushes and entrails.
Sleeves • One thing that everyone agrees on is that a 'new car smell' is not good. Stay away from sleeves that smell, they ooze chemicals. The next most important thing is that a sleeve should be clean. Other than that there is no consensus. "Anti-static" Polyethylene sleeves are popular. They reduce friction and cause less static. It feels nice, but vinyl itself oozes fumes and Polyethylene does not let it breathe.
I, personally, IMHO, FWIW etc. do not like the idea of a collection packed in polyethylene. Acid-free paper sleeves (Especially those with label cut-out and open round corners as pictured above) breathe and let fumes and condensation dissipate. Paper does build a bit more static when getting the record in and out but that is a very small problem to have, especially for records that get played only every couple of years. Static gets discharged with a grounded carbon brush as described before. The idea that paper sleeves scratch records is borderline ridiculous.
The Audiophile in you might prefer polyethylene, the archivist might lean toward acid-free paper. Truth be told, there are billions of records living perfectly happy lives in either polyethylene or paper sleeves.
Storage • Here, there is a consensus. Yay! Records should be stored vertically so that they don't get crushed, and not be packed tight so that there is a bit of air circulation and sleeves don't stick or rub.
Digitizing • Do it right, do it once. Ripping tracks is a lot of work, it is a good time to clean records – Likewise, after cleaning records is a good time to digitize a couple of precious tracks.
Only 24/192 sampling rates will preserve the 'air' that vinyl has in the very high frequencies, they get truncated with 16/44 and destroyed with MP3.
24/192 converters (E.g. Focusrite 2i2, MOTU M2, ZOOM UAC/TAC etc.) can be found used for the price of a couple of records yet will produce transparent rips of archival quality. These interfaces run AD/DA conversions on a single clock so you can listen to your recordings in real time to avoid surprises later. When monitoring use headphones to not introduce vibrations from the speakers into your turntable. They are bus-powered and will tag along when you visit your friend who has all the William Onyeabor originals.
A popular software is Audacity, it is free. Most USB interfaces come with a bundled software: RME's TotalMix, MOTU's Performer lite (above), Ableton's Live etc. If you plan to rip a lot of records, it is worth considering a dedicated vinyl ripping software like Channel D Pure Vinyl (below) that makes recording, track editing, and cataloging a lot faster.
Save files as AIFF, (or FLAC if you want to save space, a DAC sees no difference and receives exactly the same data). Once you have a 24/192 AIFF or FLAC archive you can always save copies in smaller formats and off you go with your vinyl tracks on a phone or ipad (here with TRAKTOR).
Note: Like Ishmael's whales classification, this page shall remain perpetual work in progress, forever unfinished. If some of these tips strike you as ill-informed or half-witted please send a well-argued and courteous message via the contact page. Lo and behold amendments will be made.