I get asked fairly frequently about cleaning records. A thorough wet cleaning will remove ground in dust and debris as well as artifacts from the pressing process. This can make a HUGE and dramatic difference in your playback experience. Any time I hear excessive pops and tics on a record, I wet clean it on my machine.
My cleaner is a VPI HW16.5 . It’s a great system if you can afford it, but it’s not cheap! Before I got mine, I had a very effective and inexpensive method for cleaning that worked almost as well. Using this method, you can hear how much of a difference an effective cleaning can have on a dirty record. You may eventually decide it’s worth it to buy a machine for convenience’s sake, but the following method will work wonders in the meantime.
Easy, effective and cheap record cleaning:
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A small Shur-Line paint pad, model #01520C. If you have trouble finding them, I have a few spare ones.
- Some “pure” gentle detergent without perfumes: Woolite, Palmolive Ultra Pure and Clear, Ultra Dishmate Free and Clear, etc. I used non-lemon Octagon Crystal White, but it’s sadly NLA.
- Soft paper towels, preferably without ink or designs
- A dish rack for draining, preferably a plastic or plastic-coated one
- A clean, soft towel as a working surface (optional)
- Distilled water (optional)
Get 8 – 12 oz of lukewarm water (tap is usually okay, distilled is better — more on this below) and mix in two or three drops of detergent. Mix it well.
Dip the pad in the mix to saturate it, then scrub the pad around on the record surface, moving in the direction of the grooves. The pad is soft, so you shouldn’t be afraid to scrub it thoroughly. Try to avoid getting fluid on the label. And don’t touch the playing surface with your hands. Always hold the record using the outer edge and the label. Try to prevent the labels from getting any fluid on them (some have inks that will run).
You may find it difficult to do this operation holding the record in your hand if you have small hands. If so, it may be easier laying the record on a soft, clean towel (or paper towels). If you use towels, swap out for a dry one when your towel starts to get damp.
Rinse the playing surface of the record (not the label!) thoroughly under room temp tap water (see below) until there’s no evidence of soap bubbles.
Shake off the excess water (or put a pencil through the center hole and spin it — warning, you may get wet!) and then blot dry whatever is left gently with a soft paper towel.
- A note about the rinse stage: Many people will say that tap water is bad for record surfaces because of the chemicals added in municipal systems or the minerals present in well water and/or water softeners. If you have concerns about these, use distilled water for your rinse stage (a squeeze bottle might be handy for this). My take is that if you spin and blot the rinse water thoroughly, the chemicals and/or minerals don’t get a chance to build up on the record surface. But that may depend on the quality of your tap water. The records I cleaned under tap water sound fine to me. But these days I use distilled water for the rinse stage with my machine.
Let the record air dry in a clean dish rack. Wait at least 10 mins before playing.
Rinse your brush before starting on the next record (esp if the records are visibly dirty*).
*For records that are really coated-with-grime dirty, soak a paper towel in your soap/water solution and rub the surface of the record well before starting with the brush cleaning.
You can clean a LOT of records with that much solution. You’re more likely to get tired of washing than you are to run out of the detergent mixture. When you’re done with your cleaning session, toss the leftover solution.