Cleaning Records

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 . I wish I could say I had experience with a lot of the other cleaners, but I don’t. I had the  KAB EV-1 which worked great, but the VPI is easier to use. There are many other similar systems out there that operate by the same principle — deep wet cleaning with a cleaning solution, a brush, a rinse stage, and vacuum removal of liquids.

There is another way for the budget minded or those with modest collections: Before I got my machine, 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 wet 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:

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.

Note: 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.

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 prevent the labels from getting any fluid on them (some have inks that will run).

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 the record — 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.

Happy listening!