To fully enjoy vinyl, you must keep your records clean. Dirty records don’t just sound bad, they’re also bad for your turntable, as the increased stress on your stylus will significantly shorten its life. This, in turn, will also lead to increased record wear.
You can read more about complete record care in our previous post, but for today, we’re going to turn our heads specifically to keeping records clean. Fortunately for record collectors, there are plenty of tried and tested methods for keeping your precious collection clean and clear for many years you come.
But before we get started – a quick note on everyday dry cleaning:
Always clean the dust off your records using a carbon fibre brush before commencing to any of the wet-cleaning methods I’m about to list. Failure to do so will risk pushing dust further into the grooves. As best practice, you should always use a carbon fibre brush to clean your records before and after each play-back. This will help reduce build up of dust that can shorten your stylus life and contaminate records.
Record Cleaning Machines
First up, the easiest and most effective method – using a cleaning machine.
Ok, so they’re a little expensive; but the fact remains, record cleaning machines are the most effective way to clean vinyl records. The reason they’re so effective is because unlike manual cleaning, record cleaning machines work by sucking up the applied cleaning solution, which in-turn takes all the dirt and grime away with it. Cleaning machines have the added benefit of saving you a ton of time when bulk cleaning large collections.
The Project VC-S Vinyl cleaner is great, and will clean your records in just two rotations.
If spending $499 on a record cleaning machine is out of the question, there are cheaper manual machines on the market. The Spin Clean is a more laborious, but effective cleaning machine that works great for bulk cleaning your collection on a budget. The device works by brushing both sides of a record at the same time, while effectively giving your records a bath.
Clean Vinyl Records by Hand
Don’t have the budget or space for a record cleaning machine? Fear not, with a little extra effort, you can achieve great sounding records when cleaning by hand.
For this process, you will need the following items:
- Record cleaning solution
- Microfibre cloths
- Record cleaning mat (optional)
There are currently two record cleaning solutions we recommend:
1) The Vinyl Revival record cleaning kit. It’s 100% alcohol-free and does a good job of cleaning. It does, however, require you to perform a two-step cleaning process (clean and rinse), and it’s only available in the UK.
2) GrooveWasher. By far our current favorite, GrooveWasher is a single-step cleaning method that leaves no residue behind, avoiding the need for any secondary rinse. Their G2 Fluid is the result of years of research and testing, guided by the popular 1970s Discwasher. We’ve tested countless cleaning solutions on the market, and on balance, GrooveWasher is the fastest and most convenient manual hand-cleaning solutions available. (GrooveWasher is available worldwide. Shipping is free inside the United States.)
(Sound Matters readers receive 10% off direct orders from GrooveWasher when using the discount code: SOUNDMATTERS10)
Both record cleaning solutions come complete with microfiber cloth(s). It’s a good idea to keep switching them, as repeat usage can risk recontaminating records. The point of using a microfiber cloth is to help penetrate the grooves and remove entrenched dirt and dust, so it pays to keep them clean.
A note on alcohol-based cleaning solutions:
There is much debate in the audio industry as to whether or not it’s safe to use alcohol when cleaning vinyl.
According to vinylfactory.com, “Pure alcohol strips away much of the rubbish and gunge from grooves – which is great – but it also removes the protective coating that rests on the groove walls/floor. Once that essential protective layer is gone, music sounds harsh and brittle.”
On the contrary, reliable sources, such as the Library of Congress in the US will use solutions containing purified alcohol to clean records. This is different from high-percentage alcohol such as standard isopropyl, which is much more likely to cause damage.
The jury might remain open on this topic, but overall, we advise readers to steer clear of any record cleaning solution that contains a large amount of isopropyl alcohol. Both fluid options recommend in this article are safe to use and will not hard your precious records.
Based on GrooveWashers system, here’s the complete cleaning process we recommend:
Step 1: Carefully place the record on the microfiber towel included in your GrooveWasher kit. (If your kit does not include this towel, use a soft clean cloth or record cleaning mat). Place the record label protector disk on the record label. Spray 5 or 6 mist sprays to completely cover the record surface. Wait 10 seconds or more.
Step 2: Set the cleaning pad base into the wood handle.
Step 3: Lightly apply the leading edge of the pad to the record and wipe the record in concentric arcs (with the grooves, not across). Wipe the entire record at least 3 times with moderate pressure.
Step 4: Rotate the pad to gently dry and groom the surface. If visual inspection shows a problem area, spray it again with the G2 fluid, wait a few seconds, and use the pad to gently scrub the area, but only in the direction of the grooves. Seriously dirty records may require 2 or 3 cleanings.
Step 5: Allow the record to air dry before playing.
To hear some real results using GrooveWasher, listen to the embeded audio examples below (taken from our full GrooveWasher review). This fairly dirty record starts to clear up really well by the second and third cleaning.
The Bottom Line
The processes I’ve described above are the safest way to clean your vinyl records. However, the internet hoppers among us might have heard of a few other, less conventional methods recommended by all kinds of sources, from YouTubers to major websites. With this in mind, here are some cleaning methods you should avoid:
Tap Water and Dish Soap
This method should be avoided at all cost – particularly if you live in a hard water area. The reason is, regular tap water contains impurities, such as mineral deposits, which can contaminate and damage records. As for the dish soap, this can leave residue on the record – just don’t go there.
The Wood Glue Method
I’ll be honest, I’ve actually tried this one out of curiosity, and while I did notice some improvement, I would never attempt the process again.
For those who don’t know, the wood glue cleaning method refers to a process whereby you spread a solid layer of wood glue over the record surface (avoiding the label). When left to dry overnight, the glue dries clear – picking up dirt and dust deep inside the grooves. The idea is, all the grim is removed when peeling back the glue.
I wouldn’t like to take the risk on a rare or expensive record – what if your glue doesn’t peel off in one piece!? Not to mention the risk of residue contaminating your records and stylus. It’s also very time-consuming, and at one side per night, it would take you a long time to complete your entire collection. Why take the risk when record cleaning solutions are relatively inexpensive?
Vinyl Cleaning Products
If you have a lot of records to maintain, aside from a vinyl cleaning kit, you’ll also need to purchase a carbon fiber brush. Using this type of brush is the safest way to remove dust from your records. The bristles work to disperse any type of static charge that can cause dust and debris to stick to the records. When used, the brush should gently glide across the record’s surface and should never be used to scrub the record, instead, always gently brush within the grooves.
Most record cleaning kits will come with a carbon fiber brush and some type of cleaning spray. These sprays are designed to gently dissolve dirt and dust, and shouldn’t leave residue behind.
You can find one of these kits online for a price that ranges from twenty to fifty dollars.
These kits can be a better choice than soap and water because you know the spray has been designed specifically for vinyl cleaning, whereas many types of dish soap are scented or can contain harmful chemicals.
So, if you’re a beginner, it might be a better option to just play it safe and purchase an all in one vinyl cleaning kit.
Why do records get so dirty & dusty?
Records get dusty and dirty because of static electricity, which builds up on the record surface, attracting dust and other dirty into the grooves. Static electricity can stay on a record even if you are not playing it. If you feel resistance when pulling a record out of its sleeve, it has too much static and needs cleaning to avoid future dust buildup. Once a record is covered with dust you will need to think about cleaning it in order to maintain the best playback sound, and to avoid damaging your record player’s needle.
Electrohome Turntable Platter Mat
Many publications and brands will suggest that you need a cleaning mat for your records, but they’re actually somewhat hard to come by and a bit unnecessary. You can get the same benefits from a standard turntable platter mat. The purpose of this device – in regards to cleaning – is to give you a surface on which you can brush your records without causing them harm. As turntable platter mats are specifically designed for setting records upon, they’re also great candidates for cleaning mats. One suggestion: if you’re going to use one of these to set your records onto in order to clean them, do it away from your turntable and playing area, so as to avoid cross-contamination. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with that same dust right back on your albums.
MagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
In an ideal world, you’re going to want to use a record cleaning brush. If you don’t have one, cant afford one, or need a quick solution in a pinch, microfiber cloths can work just fine, as they are incredibly delicate and excellent for cleaning off dust – hence why many glasses brands include one for wiping off your lenses. Again, we do not suggest these as a long-term solution – because they’re not the most effective when it comes to getting between all the grooves, but they’re not the worst thing in the world for your vinyl, either.
AudioQuest LP Record Cleaning Brush
If you really care about your records enough to keep buying and listening to them, then you’re going to want to invest in a record cleaning brush, like this one from AudioQuest. The bristles on this brush are actually made from carbon fiber, which (while very cool) actually serves a dual purpose. First, the bristles are great at getting in-between the grooves of your vinyl records, cleaning out even the most deep-set grime. But the other benefit is that the bristles are also conductive – meaning they will remove static charges from your record, making them less likely to collect dust from the air around. And using it is as simple as gently drawing the brush around each side of the record a couple times.
Spin-Clean Record Cleaning Kit
The casual album collector is probably going to be fine with the two methods above as their most in-depth vinyl cleaning processes. But if you’re more serious about keeping your records in tip-top shape, then you’re going to want something a little more comprehensive, like the Spin-Clean Record Cleaning Kit. It comes with a sturdy base that will hold your records vertically (more effective than laying them down when it comes to cleaning and maintenance), brushes to clean the grooves, washing fluid specially formulated for vinyl cleaning, and drying cloths to clean up the fluid after you’re done. Yes, this process is more expensive, but it’s also a whole lot more effective – especially when it comes to deep-seated dirt and grime.
Pro-Ject Stylus Brush
For the most part, dust on a stylus can be easily removed simply by taking a cleaning brush – like the Pro-Ject Stylus Brush – to it. Simple and straightforward, the brush has a small handle attached to a small cleaning surface. All you have to do is gently brush your turntable’s stylus and that should do the trick,
How to Clean Vinyl Records at Home
So, today I’ll share exactly how to clean vinyl records at home with my step-by-step guide.
With this method I wash 8 sides – 4 records – before changing out for fresh water.
You’ll need the following…
- Distilled water. I use only distilled water for cleaning my records. It’s had all the minerals removed. So there’s no chance of anything interfering with the vinyl. And it leaves no residue. Please! Whatever you do, don’t use tap water.
- Dish soap. This is a controversial ingredient is record cleaning solutions. Some folks swear by it. Where other folks say it’s bad for records. I’ve used dish soap very successfully with no issues or damage to my records.
- A soft paint brush. Here you need to take care to pick the softest brush you can find. I use an artists paint brush, made especially for water color paint. There are hundreds of brushes to choose from on Amazon, so pick one you feel comfortable with.
- 2 tubs. One for your cleaning solution and one for rinsing.
- A synthetic chamois. The chamois is used for drying the record. I don’t use the natural leather kind because it sheds lint. The synthetic one doesn’t. And it’s baby soft so it won’t damage your records.
- 2 bath towels. The towels are only there for laying your records down on during the cleaning process.
- 5 micro fiber cloths. High quality micro fiber cloths are lint free and soft enough not to scratch your records. High quality micro fiber cloths are available on Amazon. They come very cheap and usually in packs of 6 or more.
- A drying rack. After a thorough drying off with the chamois I stack my records on a drying rack. Choose a drying rack that’s got plenty of space for your records. I like this one by Interdesign on Amazon.
- An old turntable. This is an optional piece of equipment. But it makes drying the records so much quicker and easier. You can pick up an el-cheapo at the thrift store. As long as the platter spins, you’re good to go.
- Good lighting. Lighting is very important in the cleaning process. You want to see any obvious marks before washing your records so you know where some extra work is needed. Also, after washing and drying you want enough light to make sure you’ve cleaned those pesky marks off.
Cleaning Vinyl Records at Home: Step-by-Step
My cleaning setup is structured like a conveyor belt so one step follows the next in a logical order.
Here’s a picture of my washing station. The turntable and the drying rack are set away from the washing station to avoid wetting a record that’s already dried.
The Cleaning Solution
If you do some research online you’ll quickly notice there are hundreds of cleaning solution mixes out there.
Some folks add isopropyl alcohol along with dish soap and distilled water. The alcohol is mainly used as a drying agent.
And the dish soap is a suffocant. It breaks down the surface tension of the water. Which helps the water work its way into the grooves.
The soap is not meant to do any of the cleaning. So if you’re seeing a lot of foam in your cleaning solution, you’re using too much soap.
My mix is 16 oz or 500 ml of distilled water. And only a few drops of dish soap.
I recommend using a dish soap that’s biodegradable. And one that has as little chemicals as possible. These are usually fragrance free too. You can get this kind of dish soap on Amazon for a few bucks. And it’ll last you a long time.
I like to heat the water just a tiny bit. Just take care that it’s not too hot. But if you’re uncomfortable, you can use it at room temperature too.
The Washing Process
Lay a record out on a pad made up of a folded towel covered with a micro fiber cloth.
Then take the wet paintbrush and distribute the washing solution over the records.
Don’t use sweeping motions – you’re not painting. If you do, you’re likely to scratch the records.
So take care to direct the brush around the record keeping the bristles as flat as possible.
This will gently ‘scrub’ the record into the grooves where all the old gunk is.
Make sure the brush is soaked at all times. If it dries up you could risk leaving little scratches on the record.
Try not to get water on the label. But if you do get a few drops on it, it’s not a train smash.
I’ve found that they handle some drops pretty well without any blistering.
Once the record is covered with the cleaning solution. Let it sit for a minute or two.
Then give it a few more ‘scrubs’ with the wet brush.
Rinsing Your Records
This is the most important step in my opinion.
If you don’t rinse your records properly you’ll just spread the dirt around during the drying process.
And you don’t want any soap residue left behind either.
My rule is, you can never rinse too much. So rinse, rinse and rinse again.
I place my records upright in a tub filled with clean distilled water. And I use a small glass – a shooter glass works well to rinse it off.
Again take care to avoid getting water on the label. But a few drops are not the end of the world.
Once I’ve thoroughly rinsed the bottom and sides of the record, I pick it up at 12 and 6 o’clock and spin it around. Then it goes back into the tub and I rinse the sides and the bottom.
I’ll do it a couple more times just to be sure it’s rinsed properly.
Drying Your Records
After a good thorough rinsing, place your record on the second folded towel covered with a micro fiber cloth.
Using the chamois gently dry your record in a circular motion. Take care not to cut across the grooves.
If you do you could end up with tiny fragments of chamois in the grooves. Which means you’ll be washing that record all over again.
After a quick dry with the chamois, I transfer the record to a turntable I keep just for cleaning.
I run it at 45 rpm and simply holding the chamois so it’s just touching the record until it’s completely dry.
If you don’t have a spare TT you can do this by hand. But it adds more work to a process that’s already labor intensive.
If you’re drying by hand just take care not to cut across the grooves like I mentioned before.
I highly recommend getting an el-cheapo turntable to make this process easier.
Then transfer your record to a drying rack. I leave them there for a minimum of 30 minutes before putting them back in their sleeves.
Here’s a picture of my drying rack station…
The drying rack is used ONLY for the record cleaning process and nothing else.
I also place the remaining micro fiber cloths over the rack before stacking my records.
This is mainly to prevent any unwanted scratches and scuffs from the rack.
What to do BEFORE You Play a Record
First, make sure your hands are clean. Okay, your hands will never be 100% clean since you have oils and other natural residue on your hands.
But don’t play vinyls while you’re cooking. Unless you don’t mind sauces, herbs, meat juices and the odd piece of cheese on your records.
But seriously, keep your hands as clean as possible when handling records.
Second, get yourself a firm velvet brush. I use mine as step one to clean a record before playing it. I’m using the one from Crosley on Amazon. I like the velvet side. But their anti-static brush that comes with this one is crap.Place your velvet brush onto the record while it’s spinning for about 3 revolutions to pick up any dust particles.
Next, you need a good anti-static brush. Like I said the anti-static side of the Crosley brush is junk. So I use the one from Vinyl Styl. And I’m super happy with its performance.
Follow the instructions in this video by Vinyl Styl and repeat if necessary.
As a side note, you shouldn’t put any pressure on the anti-static brush. Just let the spinning record and the brush do the work. You’ll get more done with less pressure.
I have a real problem with static in winter months. Our winters are dry with no rain or humidity in the air. So my goal at some point it to invest in an anti-static gun like this Milty Zerostat gun on Amazon.
The last step before you put needle to vinyl is to give your stylus a quick clean. I use a soft fine artists brush for this. But I’ve been known to use some Blu-Tack from time to time.
Just take care to only use the brush on the underside of the stylus from back to front. Never on the top and definitely not from side to side.
Giving Your Vinyl Records A Quick Clean And Reducing Background Noise
This is the second method we have used to clean vinyl records and it works well for lighter dust and dirt, the WD40 also lubricates the tracks, reduces friction, wear and background noise.
What You Need
- WD40 specialist anti friction Dry PTFE Lubricant – Buy Here
- Microfiber Dusting Cloth – Buy Here
How To Clean The Records
Squirt four small amounts equally spaced on the on the center of the tracks and clean in a circular motion with a soft microfiber cloth. You will notice the cloth will collect dirt so change to a new part of the cloth every few turns. Keep polishing until all trace of liquid has disappeared and the record is shiny black, the record will feel very slippery.
If the record is in reasonable condition background noises will be reduced. On the first play more dirt will pop out of the grooves after which it will stay clean for while with less static. This trick even reduces record wear as the WD40 reduces friction between the stylus and the record track.
Share This Guide
This post is based on Cleaning Vinyl Records by mattdp and has been modified and used under the Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-SA.
How to Clean a Vinyl Record
- A surfactant is a solvent used to clean the surface of the record. There are surfactants made specifically for cleaning records, and you should pick some up if you are serious about cleaning your records. If you can’t get it, you can make your own by mixing a weak solution of rubbing alcohol with water. Or you can use a weak mixture of soap and water. The problem with the soap and water is that it should be rinsed off afterwards. Also, make sure to use distilled water.
- To actually remove the dirt, you will use a brush or microfiber cloth with the surfactant. The record cleaning industry has a couple of different brushes that work well for cleaning a record. It is best to use one of the recommended velvet or carbon fiber brushes or a microfiber cloth to clean vinyl.
- The brush works by plowing the dirt off the record. So put the record on the turntable and drop a couple drops of record cleaner on the record. Turn on the turntable and place the brush on the record. Once the record has rotated a couple times, slowly pull the brush away from the center until it is completely off the record. The dirt will keep going towards the edge until the brush is off. Once the brush is off, you will notice some dirt stuck to it. Use a stiff brush to remove that and continue until you believe you have removed all of the dirt. This method works well for relative light cleaning.
- For much dirtier situations, you will have to try something a little more intensive. Occasionally you will find an old record with a serious stain or goo stuck to it. These records are usually super cheap, like 50 cents. So, if you can get the stuff off, you will have made a great find. If not, well, at least you are only out 50 cents. You are banking on this stuff being water soluble. If it’s not, you may as well give up. Use room temperature distilled water and soap to try and dissolve the stain/goo.
- If you are successful in removing the junk, rinse the record with distilled water and air dry. Once the record is dry, it may be a good idea to give it a once over with a cleaner and brush. Or, if you have it, a record preservative.
- It is very apparent to me that the record cleaning machine is by far the best way to clean a record. It is without a doubt the preferred method by record enthusiasts. The machine works so well because it uses suction to remove the dirt. There are several different models available, and they range in price form a couple hundred to a thousand bucks. Most people recommend buying the basic model and getting it used, if you can. If you are really into records and or sell them, this machine is what you want.
Tips for Keeping Your Vinyl Clean
- Replace dirty sleeves with new ones.
- Store records in plastic dust jackets.
- Store records in a closed cabinet.
- Keep your record player clean.
- Keep your turntable covered.
- Keep your stylus clean and replace it when necessary.
- Don’t touch the record with your fingers.
- Keep your slip mats clean.
- Clean your new records frequently to keep them from getting dirty.
Vinyl Cleaning Products
Record cleaner is a solvent that acts a surfactant to clean the dirt from the record. Some are labeled for use with vacuum-assisted cleaning; this refers to the machines I spoke of earlier.
Microfiber cloths are made up of woven fibers that are super small. These small fibers make the cloths great for cleaning delicate surfaces, like glasses, lenses, and records. You can get a 12 pack of Zwipes Microfiber Cloths for about $10 at Amazon.
Carbon fiber or velvet brush—every record owner should have one. It is a maintenance tool. Use it often to keep records from getting dirty.
- Vinyl Records
- Alias: Phonograph Records
- Difficulty: Beginner
- Requirements: surfactant, distilled water, rubbing alcohol, soap, brush or microfiber cloth, record cleaning machine
- A surfactant is a solvent used to clean the surface of the record.
- To actually remove the dirt, you will use a brush or microfiber cloth with the surfactant.
- The brush works by plowing the dirt off the record.
- For much dirtier situations, you will have to try something a little more intensive.
- If you are successful in removing the junk, rinse the record with distilled water and air dry.
- It is very apparent to me that the record cleaning machine is by far the best way to clean a record.
Record Cleaning Tips
I’ll close this post with some quick tips on taking good care of your vinyl collection:
- Try to clean your records with a carbon fiber brush before and after you play them, every single time
- Always use distilled and de-ionized water to clean your records
- Never use rubbing alcohol to clean a record, since it removes the shine
- Never clean your records before first removing surface debris
- Make sure the cartridge and stylus are clean and in good shape, so they don’t damage your records
- Only use the carbon fiber brush to gently brush over the surface, not to deep-clean the grooves
- If you can afford it, a quality vinyl record vacuum cleaner is by far the best way to clean a record
- New records are not usually clean, so make sure to clean them before you play them
- If you use a cloth instead of a carbon fiber brush, make sure it is lint-free
- Store records vertically and in plastic sleeves; never stack them on top of each other
- Never touch the surface of a record
- Only buy quality record players; a lot of the cheap ones will actually damage records
Handling And Storing Your Records
When touching a record, you must be extra careful given the fact that your fingers can damage the vinyl.
Also, another factor that can damage the vinyl is the dust in the air. That’s why you must take it outside its sleeve and put it directly on your precious turntable. After you are finished with it, gently return it inside. As for storage, use the following as a general guide:
You must keep the records in plastic anti-static sleeves to protect them from dust and dirt. Of course, the outer jacket is mandatory too. Buy some spare plastic sleeves and change them, from time to time, given the fact that they quickly accumulate dirt on their own.
2. Store them properly
The vinyl must always be kept in dry and cold storages without any sunlight. Light and heat can damage the record thoroughly so be careful. Also, it isn’t suggested to change the place where it is stored given the fact that humidity and temperature differences can warp the vinyl. Remember to store them vertically because if you put them flat, they can be damaged.
Other Tips To Know
- Firstly, don’t use alcohol while cleaning the record’s surface. You can use distilled water and lint-free cloth to clean everything. There are unique napkins that clean musical instruments and they are perfect for removing debris. They are made of microfibers that are gentle enough to clean thoroughly.
- If you love the vinyls you have, and you don’t have much time, then a cleaning machine is for you. Look them up in your nearby department store.
- Another tip is to remove shrink-wrap because it’s temperature sensitive. Keep the surrounding area clean, don’t touch the vinyl, and keep storage facilities dust-free.
- Your air conditioning system must have a unique filter to stop any dust from entering the sleeves. Never store your records without inner sleeves and paper or cardboard isn’t recommended. To increase the protection, you can use soft polyethylene inner sleeves because the one that stores the vinyl initially is made of PVC.
- Avoid storage boxes made of metal because they retain a static charge. Also, don’t stack them too tightly because they need space to breathe.
If you follow our tips for preserving vinyl, your records should last forever! If you have any questions or unique situations that you would like advice on, drop a comment below and we will be happy to help!
1099 – Blindpassasjer
Genre: Post Rock
Release date: 11. May 2018
Norwegian post rock melancholics 1099 are one of Norway's finest bands in their genre. Having played together for almost 15 years, this band has a lot of great melodies to share. The double album features 12 instrumental tracks all recorded, mixed and mastered in Autumnsongs Recording Studio by Rhys Marsh.
Stadtverk – Ein Lætt Paranoia
Genre: Blues Rock
Release date: 30. April 2018
Trondheim-based blues-rockers Stadtverk are the first band to release a record on our new sub-label Rotor Records. Ein Lætt Paranoia is a great piece of rock music with lyrics in Norwegian. The album comes in a limited edition on red vinyl including a lyrics booklet and a standard edition on black vinyl.
Short Skirts – Flower Junkies
Genre: Garage Rock / Surf Punk
Release date: 13. April 2018
The album features seven tracks that ranges from hard-driven guitar power-punk-pop to loose danceable boogie via exotic surf-ballads.