How To Clean Your Vinyl Records On A Budget
"The nicest part is getting the record out, putting it on, showing the kids where the stylus goes, dropping the needle into the groove and watching it play. It’s the whole ceremony of it; it’s still a beautiful thing..." - Clint Boon
DJ and Inspiral Carpets' organ player Clint vividly describes the tactile experience of playing vinyl, but when the sound starts to snap, crackle and pop, that 'ceremony' can be rudely interrupted. With great sound comes great responsibility: cleaning your vinyl is essential to preserve your records for generations to come. Take a look through some of our trusty tips and tools for cleaning and caring for your vinyl collection that won't break the bank.
There are no shortage of products on the market designed for the express purpose of cleaning vinyl, ranging from entry-level vinyl 'rinsers' such as the Disco Antistat to professional vacuums like the trusty British Moth RCM and even high-end ultrasonic cleaners like the Kladio KD-CLN-LP200. Across the board, you could be looking at anywhere between forty quid and four thousand pounds to wash your wax!
The solutions we're recommending in this blog will suit the beginner collector and those wishing to up their cleaning game with minimal financial outlay. All the products detailed can be found at audio and hi-fi stores online and from popular e-commerce sites for under a tenner. And our first suggestion costs nothing at all.
Store Your Records Properly
Prevention is better than a cure or so the old adage goes. While regularly cleaning your vinyl records will help preserve them for posterity, another key step to keeping them in rude health is to store them safely and sensibly. That means arranging records on their sides like books, not in a pile, as the pressure from the records at the top of the stack can damage and warp those at the bottom.
The printed inner sleeves of charity-shop finds may look cool but inside that 60s Telstar catalogue may well be an altogether less desirable time-capsule; decades of dust, grit and grime invisible to the naked eye that can scratch your records and accumulate on your needle. Invest in a stack of quality polythene Inner Record Sleeves and put aside the dusty old paper wallets - preferably in a safe place in case you ever want to sell your discs with the original baggies.
The first and most basic of our essentials is an item that should sit on the mantle of everyone's hi-fi set-up. The trusty Microfiber Cloth is the most affordable and accessible option out there, to be found online, in record stores or in your local supermarket.
Even in the case of a record freshly out of its shrinkwrap, it's worth addressing the surface to banish any detritus accumulated from the pressing plant or gathered in transit. Lightly wipe your record in a gentle motion along the grooves of the record in a circle around the surface. This will help budge any unwanted exterior dust from the vinyl before that precious first play.
Anti-Static Vinyl Brush
Investing in an Anti-static Vinyl Brush is an economic answer to your dingy vinyl woes. The anti-static quality of the carbon fibre reduces the electrostatic discharge that attracts dust and the thousands of bristles are able to enter the grooves and remove dirt.
To use an Anti-Static Vinyl Brush, place your record on the turntable and allow it to spin. The brushes are designed to cover the whole radius of a 12" side so one simply needs to hold the brush over the record and graze the surface to allow the gadget to do its job. Be absolutely sure not to press down too hard when using the brush, as this could damage the vinyl and even the turntable.
For your more deeply dishevelled discs, you might need a bit more cleaning power than a superficial dusting can provide. Investing in a good Alcohol-Free Cleaning Solution will help to remove deeper-rooted dirt from the edges and grooves of your discs. We would advise alcohol-free formulas, as solutions containing alcohol can strip the protective coating on the vinyl, leaving it irreparably damaged.
Simply inspect your record in a well-lit area (your phone torch makes a great spotlight), looking for any problem areas and apply the cleaning solution to the soiled sections before gently wiping with your microfiber cloth or brush, taking the grease and dirt away with the strokes. Be careful to avoid spraying the label with any solution, as this could cause the paper to discolour or loosen.
Velvet Vinyl Cleaning Brush
Another economic and hugely popular solution on the market is the Velvet Vinyl Cleaning Brush. These handly little gizmos often come equipped with mini-brushes that can be deployed to tackle any particularly stubborn spots or wipe away the dust on your needle.
As with the anti-static vinyl brushes, using the record player's own centrifugal motion to do half of the work is the key. Hold the velvet brush gently on the record, letting the disc rotate three or four times, then lift the brush at an angle with a slight scooping motion to make light work of the accumulated debris. Having one of these beside your deck and giving every disc that sits on your spindle a once-over at the start of each album soon becomes second-nature.
Washing Up Liquid And The Kitchen Sink
While the efficacy of washing up liquid as a vinyl-cleaning agent is still hotly-debated on collectors' message boards, as (quite literally) a kitchen sink solution to cleaning records, this one has been around as long rock n roll itself. And though perhaps we wouldn't venture to put our most prized collectors masterpiece in the same place as our pots and pans, we can't deny that we've bathed a few second-hand specials in the sink ourselves.
Using washing-up liquid and lukewarm running water, simply build a lather on a soft sponge and run the sponge around the surface of the record, following the grooves of the record and never cutting across them - the golden rule of all these cleaning techniques. From there, rinse well with lukewarm running water, taking good care to avoid submerging the label. This YouTube video is a perfect primer.
Once the record is completely rinsed off, dab excess moisture with a fresh kitchen towel and always leave to air dry thoroughly. While custom record racks are available, a new kitchen drying rack and gentle handling of the disc are just as effective. Make sure you wait until the record is completely dry before playing, as any liquid hitting a needle will heat rapidly, evaporating on contact and scorching your equipment and discs.
A few caveats before you commandeer the sink for the afternoon: for hard water areas, distilled water may well be preferable to tap water - as anyone with a kettle in a hard water area can tell you, limescale is not a myth. Some collectors warn of the dangers of residue left by washing-up liquid and recommendations and warnings about specific brands can be found with a cursory Google Search (good old Fairy Liquid always does the job for us...). And for those who are fastidious about water damage to their labels, Vinyl Cleaning Clamps are available for this very purpose, the most expensive item to conclude our list of budget essentials, weighing in at around £15 on most sites.