How To Clean Vinyl Records Safely & Without Damaging Them

How to Clean Vinyl Records

Are you sick and tired of all the dust and gunk building up on your records but don’t want to damage your precious collection with sketchy DIY cleaning hacks?

We can relate.

This is why we’ve put together a guide on how to properly clean vinyl records and avoid any unsafe methods.

Depending on how deeply you need to clean your records, one can use different kinds of apparatus and solutions.

Some options include using a dry brush to wipe away dust, applying a record-cleaning solution or using specific machines to deeply clean dirt from the grooves.

Needless to say, there is a lot more to it than that. Also, beyond the record-specific cleaning methods, there are other at-home DIY methods that may be harmful to your vinyl.

Continue reading to learn more about the safest ways to get your records looking spick and span.

When Should You Clean Your Records?

How do you know when you need to clean your records?

And how often should you clean them?

These are questions that we’ve all asked before and are ones that we need to answer before we dive too deep into how to clean records. Because believe it or not, there is such a thing as cleaning them too much!

The most obvious sign that your record needs a mild clean is if you can visibly see dust accumulated on it.

Dust and Dirt on Record
Dust & Dirt on Record

However, we recommend giving your record a gentle brush before and after each time you play it, regardless of whether or not you can see any visible dust. This will help to remove dust particles as well as reduce static so that dust accumulation is less severe. Remember, prevention is the best cure.

Another way to tell if your record is in need of some maintenance is if you can hear the crackles and popping sounds often associated with a dirty record. When dirt and dust clog the grooves of a record, this interferes with the stylus and results in a distinctive crackling sound.

As a safeguard, we also recommend cleaning any records that are new to your collection, including brand new records; provided they haven’t just been cleaned prior to you purchasing them. This will help you ensure that the record gets a fresh start in its cleaning cycle as a part of your personal collection.

Safe Cleaning Methods

Now that we’re more clear on when you should be cleaning your records, we can get into how to clean them. As a general standard, it’s usually better to take a slow and patient approach. So, gentler cleaning methods used regularly are often safer than using a harsh method when things get really bad.

The goal is to clean the record without ruining the grooves and causing damage to its sound integrity. There are different levels of cleaning, depending on how stubborn the dirt is, from simply brushing off the dust to using specialized machines for deep cleaning.

Manual Cleaning

As briefly mentioned, one of the easiest ways to mildly clean your record is by using a brush or even a soft microfibre cloth. A microfibre cloth is a great budget-friendly option and clings to dust particles fairly well. When using a cloth, be sure to only wipe in the direction of the grooves to catch all the bits of grime.

For people willing to go a little further than an all-purpose cloth, an anti-static record cleaning brush is a fantastic investment.

Anti-Static Record Cleaner Brush
Using an Anti-Static Cleaner Brush

Record brushes are generally better at getting into the grooves to remove the dust, and the bristles have the added benefit of anti-static qualities. It’s the same phenomenon as when the static charge of a balloon attracts your hair and makes you look a little bit crazy, with your hair standing on end.

The static charge that builds up on a record can attract dust, which means that reducing that static charge will help to prevent dust accumulation.

Beyond a quick swipe here and there, sometimes dirt builds up so much that it simply can’t be safely removed in a dry state. When this happens, you may want to look at using liquids to clean your records. And no, we aren’t suggesting that you go swimming with your records! Using any old liquid cleaner or tap water is a terrible idea if you want to preserve your vinyl.

Instead, we recommend using a record-specific cleaning solution and a cleaning pad. This is a nice and straightforward option. Before jumping in, make sure you have wiped or brushed the loose dust off in a dry state, otherwise, you risk pushing the dust further into the groove by creating a makeshift mud with the cleaning solution.

Once you’re sure that most of the loose dust has been removed, simply spray the solution on the record and wait a few seconds for it to work its magic. Then use your cleaning pad with moderate pressure to wipe along the same direction of the grooves.

You don’t want to be wiping perpendicularly, you want to be wiping concentrically with the grooves. Doing this should revive your record into the shining beauty it once was.

With that being said, we do need to add a small caveat to cleaning solutions. Many people report experiencing damage to their records after using cleaning solutions that are high in isopropyl alcohol.

For this reason, we recommend erring on the side of caution and avoiding it altogether. And if you feel like you cannot fully avoid it, then we would suggest limiting the frequency of its use and choosing solutions that have a very low percentage of that particular chemical compound.

If you are wanting to use a damp cloth to wipe your record without using a designated record-cleaning solution, be sure to use distilled water. Regular tap water contains impurities that can damage the grooves of your vinyl record.

Damp Microfibre Cloth
Damp Micro-Fibre Cloth

Machine Cleaning

The next step to level up your cleaning process is to consider putting some money towards a record-cleaning machine. A simple upgrade would be to move from manually wiping your records with a record-cleaning solution to buying a record bath.

These are simple contraptions that brush both sides of the record at the same time as it spins and gives it a wash. They’re usually kind on the wallet and make the whole process a bit less painful. However, record baths typically only clean one record at a time so it would still take a long time to clean an entire collection.

Don’t love the idea of wiping your records to clean them? Then you may want to look into vacuum cleaners for records. These neat machines use a vacuum system to suck up the cleaning solution along with all the dirt and grime that’s been stubbornly stuck in the grooves.

If your record is seriously struggling with grime that seems to have a will of its own, you might want to check out ultrasonic cleaning machines. They’re perfect for vinyl records that require a deep clean. In a nutshell, these machines use high-frequency sound waves inside a cleaning bath to agitate the solution and cause the cavitation of molecules.

These cavitation “bubbles” implode and dislodge dirt that is adhering to the record. On a microscopic level, it may sound like an aggressive method of cleaning but it is perfectly safe for vinyl records. What’s more, one can often clean more than one record at a time. It’s a beautiful marriage of efficiency and efficacy.

Debunking DIY Record Cleaning Methods

Let me guess: you’re wondering if the good old wood glue trick is safe? It’s no surprise that many people resort to at-home cleaning methods. Who doesn’t love a good DIY to save some cash?

However, some of these approaches can be damaging to your valuable vinyl collection. This is why it’s important to double-check these methods before you jump into “DIY-Dave” mode straight away.

Here we will examine a few DIY methods and why I believe you should avoid them.

Cleaning Vinyl with Wood Glue

One of the most common at-home cleaning tricks is the method of spreading a layer of wood glue over the record and then peeling it off once it is dry. This is done in the hopes of pulling off all the dirt at the same time as the glue layer.

A number of people indeed have success with this method. However, some people being successful doesn’t speak to the potential risks of using a substance that hasn’t been designed to be used on a vinyl record. For instance, if the glue dries abnormally and you have trouble peeling off the layer, you may have to say a quick farewell to that record.

In addition, leaving behind a residue or flaking bits of glue could damage your needle which leads to a whole other cohort of problems. For these reasons, we would recommend sticking to cleaning solutions that are specially designed for that application.

Cleaning Vinyl with Alcohol

Another popular method is using some form of alcohol to clean the vinyl. As we have already seen, isopropyl alcohol has been largely associated with damaging records over time. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for alcohol in general. We fully understand the temptation of using alcohol as a cleaning agent since it does such an incredible job of stripping away all the dirt.

Nevertheless, it strips away far more than just the dirt. Pure alcohol can remove the record’s protective coating, making the grooves vulnerable to damage and in turn, this can affect your sound quality.

Other forms of alcohol are just as harsh, if not harsher. Some compounds such as ethanol can even be corrosive, especially if undiluted. If you are going to use any form of alcohol, isopropyl alcohol would be the form that is widely accepted as the most gentle. But bear in mind that if used, it should be used in extremely small quantities and the cleaning solution containing the isopropyl alcohol should be generously diluted.

Cleaning Vinyl with other Home Ingredients

Beyond wood glue and forms of alcohol, there are some other ingredients that pop up fairly regularly in DIY cleaning methods. Ingredients like Windex, dish soap and even vinegar. While it may be appealing to use something that you already have lying around the house, none of these ingredients can guarantee the long-term safety of your vinyl records.

So in short, we do not recommend going down that rabbit hole. Why take the risk when proper cleaning solutions have been designed for vinyl records and are reasonably accessible and affordable?

To Summarize

If you’ve been suspecting that your record is in need of a clean, you’ve probably spotted a few dusty spots or some stubborn dirt in the grooves.

You may have even heard the pesky crackling sounds that are a telltale of a vinyl record in dire need of some love and care. Incorporating regular brushes with an anti-static record brush or a soft microfibre cloth is a great way to maintain your records.

This can be further improved with a great cleaning machine, whether that be a record bath or a vacuum-based cleaner. And for the more deep cleans, we recommend keeping an eye out for ultrasonic record cleaners.

All of these record-specific methods are ones that we would recommend over any DIY methods such as using wood glue, alcohol, or any other household ingredients.

When it comes to storing your vinyl records, using cleaning solutions that are specifically designed for vinyl records to manually clean your collection, or using record-cleaning machines are the best ways to safely clean and preserve your valuable collection.

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