How to Clean Vinyl Records without Damaging Them

Is it possible to thoroughly clean vinyl records at home? Can you apply the record cleaner? How to clean old vinyl records preserving their contents and looks? These questions arise with vinyl beginners and seasoned turntable owners, as well. Vinyls look sturdy, but the quality of sound played depends highly on the contact of the stylus with the groove. The cleaner the groove, the richer the sound. However, even the records that have been stored in covers, gather dust and oils on them over time. That’s why cleaning LPs and other records regularly is important.

Another concern of vinyl lovers is preserving the grooves’ shape and not widening them with the aggressive rubbing or application of solvents. Using our instructions, you can clean your old and new records carefully and thoroughly. Find out about the safe methods and appliances for record cleaning!

How to Clean Vinyl with Record Cleaning Machines

Using record cleaning machines, or RCM, is probably the best way to clean vinyl thoroughly. The machine minimizes the user’s interference and thus, the impact of oils on your hands on the record. It also cleans during a long period applying the same power to the whole surface of the vinyl.

The RCM will also come in handy if your collection of vinyls counts more than 50 items. Many units offered on the market let clean a pack of LP records (2, 5, 10) simultaneously. Anyway, even with cleaning just one item, you’ll spend less effort and get a high result.

The RCMs differ by many other factors as well including positioning (platter or side handle), vinyl record type (LPs, 45s, 78s, or universal), brush material, etc. The most important (and influencing the price) is the type of technology used. By this parameter, the machines for record cleaning are divided as follows:

  • Manual. These units can be fully power-free representing a stand with a bowl beneath, and a brush, like the Vinyl Styl Deep Groove Record Washer System. Otherwise, they can feature a powered mechanism and require the user’s attention for some procedures (e.g. spinning or directing the arm with the brush, lowering and lifting the record album into the bowl with the cleaning liquid, or applying the liquid to the record). They’re usually the cheapest options for cleaning your records at home, ensuring a solid result. Still, using them for a collection of 100 and more might be quite tiresome.
  • Vacuum. The RCMs of this type are usually automatic or semi-automatic. They combine wet cleaning with subsequent vacuuming of the vinyl. This dries the record and removes the buildups sitting deep in the grooves. These machines are usually priced much higher than manual units. There are also middle-class offers, with fewer options, like the Pro-Ject – VC-E.
  • Ultrasonic. The RCM of this type has the ultrasonic radiator sending the waves onto the LP. Combined with the cleaning solution or pure water, these waves thrash the dirt buildups and make them fall apart. Machines like the WEWU represent a middle-cost solution for an RCM and can be highly efficient on the not heavily contaminated records. The ways to use them on vinyls are listed below.

Ways to Clean a Record with Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine

  • Using a fully automatic ultrasonic unit. All you have to do is insert one or several LPs and make sure the records’ labels are covered with the protective pads. Turn on the machine to start the vinyl record cleaning until it beeps. Then, remove the vinyls carefully (don’t touch them with bare hands) and put them into the record albums / disk stack.
  • Using an ultrasonic basin. You’ll need to perform all the procedures listed above and fully control the process. You’ll need to add the cleaning solution in the required proportion and spin the records once in a minute so that the whole surface is cleaned evenly. Upon cleaning, you’ll have to dry them either using the vacuum or letting them dry by themselves.

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How to Clean a Vinyl Record by Hand

You can also clean your LPs by hand, at a minimum expense. Besides, hand cleaning of vinyl records is usually less time-consuming. It’s probably the best way to clean vinyl records if a record is clean, and you want just to prepare it for playback.

During the preparation stage, make sure you have all tools and enough time and space to do the cleaning. The basic kit consists of the following items:

  • A felt mat or a special platter with a soft surface to place the record on it.
  • Label covers (for wet cleaning).
  • A microfiber cloth for removing the dust and drying the wet record. A cotton or polycotton cloth isn’t the optimal choice, as it doesn’t drag the lightweight dust particles out of the surface.
  • A special brush for cleaning vinyls deeper into the grooves. The distance between the bristles, their number, and rigidity are crucial for successful and caring cleaning of the records.
  • A bowl and a holding arm (for wet cleaning). A wooden stick with a smooth surface can serve as a holding arm.
  • A cleaning solution. You can choose one among a wide range of liquids offered; however, beware of the aggressive solutions that can harm your vinyls.
  • A new album cover (for old records). If a cover looks clean but is more than a year old, replace it with a new one. The covers also gather dust and grease and might contaminate the clean disk.

As you have everything ready, you can proceed to cleaning:

  1. Brush away the upper layer of dust with a special brush or microfiber cloth. Move the brush in the direction opposite to the record rotation. It’s better to start brushing at the label, gradually moving on to the edge.
  2. If you’re cleaning old records or ones with obvious contamination (spots of water, wine, grease, fingerprints, etc.), apply a small amount of the cleaning solution, and use the brush. Press it a bit against the record surface in order to remove the contaminant.
  3. If your LP records don’t sound better upon brushing, and feature clicks and pops that are well audible, wash them in water or a cleaning solution. Fill the bowl with the water / solution and put the disk into the liquid for a half. Wait for a minute, then apply the brush to the part of the disk submerged into the liquid. Rotate the record, and do the same for a second half of the record. Depending on the liquid used, you might need to rinse it with clean water. For particularly dirty records, try putting the record for 15-20 minutes into the cleaning solution prior to washing. Upon that, repeat the washing procedure.
  4. Dry the record. There are two ways of hand drying the vinyls. You can simply put the wand with the record on it onto some objects (e.g. books) so that the record wouldn’t touch any surface and could dry out. Another way is using the vacuum cleaner. You’ll need a soft cloth (like flannel or fleece), which should be wrapped around the vacuum’s pipe end. Make a hole in the middle so that the vacuum could pump air. Turn on the vacuum and go thoroughly over the disk surface, until the latter is completely dried. This method lets you take off the wet buildups of grime and deep dust piles.
  5. Put the LP into the album cover. Try not to touch its surface with the bare hands.

Questions that Arise when Cleaning Vinyl Records

How to Clean Vinyl Records with Alcohol

While alcohol, in general, is widely used for cleaning purposes, applying it to LPs is restricted to a certain extent. If you’re using the alcohol on vinyl disks, always dissolve it in water or another substance making no more than 50%-solution (for routine cleaning of the new / clean records, a 30%-solution is enough). Spray the solution onto the microfiber cloth or soak it mildly in the alcohol. Then rub the disk surface gently applying a bit more pressure to the spots and prints. Do not spray the alcohol solution directly to the record.

How to Clean 45 RPM Records

The 45 RPM records are cleaned in the same way as any other vinyls. However, these vinyls are smaller in diameter and might have a larger hole (the ones produced in the XXth century). For manual cleaning, you might need to use an adaptor to fix the vinyls firmly on the platter / holding arm. The 45 vinyl disks might not fit some of the record cleaning machines due to their lesser size. Still, the modern ultrasonic and vacuum machines feature adapters and specific appliances to clean the 45s as well.