Record Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleanliness is absolutely mandatory if the optimum sonic
capability of the vinyl medium is to be realized. A clean
record will not only sound better, but last longer. It has
been shown that repeated playing of soiled records can
cause permanent damage to the vinyl. Preservation of
valuable or irreplaceable records requires careful cleaning. Further, stylus
wear is greatly accelerated by playing dirty records, and
with cartridges costing what they
do these days, playing soiled recordings records can lead to significant
and unneeded expense.
As the stylus navigates its torturous travail through the
undulating grooves that comprise the record surface, incredible
pressure is exerted on the vinyl and the friction produces
a fair amount of heat. This process alone is hard
enough on the relatively soft vinyl that comprises the LP,
add to this equation the dust, dirt and other contaminants
so often found on our records, and we have a recipe for
disaster. The fact is, playing heavily soiled records literally destroys them!
Dust and debris that have accumulated over time are the
cause of irreparable damage to the vinyl when contacted
by the stylus during play. It has been shown that this contact
produces a mini-explosion of sorts, known as a conchoidal
shock-wave. This incident literally "blasts" a
hole into the groove wall, creating permanent, irreparable
damage. This small hole reveals itself during each and
every successive play as a tick or pop, and nothing short
of buying a new record will eliminate it. The only way to
prevent this catastrophic damage is to make certain that
the grooves are scrupulously clean before stylus ever touches
Now that we understand the importance of a pristine record,
let's look at how to effectively clean our own collection.
To begin, it will be useful to classify the methods available
into categories - dry and wet cleaning. Dry methods
employ some type of brush that is designed to sweep the
record surface, thus removing dust. Wet methods use a fluid
of some sort to enhance the process. Dry brushes are best
used as part of a maintenance program to keep records clean,
wet methods are used on an occasional basis to deep-clean
the grooves. As I see it, both methods are important, and
mandatory if you want to preserve a valuable collection or
want the very best performance.
Let us first look at dry brush technology. Years ago, the
WATTS Company in Britain began producing the first effective
range of dry brush designs with products such as the Disc Preener and Dust-Bug. Both
devices employed a simple plush pad to remove dust
from the surface of the record. Then came the ubiquitous
Discwasher, a directional nap dry brush that cam with it's
own cleaning fluid. It's amazing to many how many of these
systems were sold and even more surprising that many are
still in use today.
The next step in dry brush
technology was taken by another British firm, DECCA, which
introduced the first brush to use tiny carbon fibers. Some
one million individual fibers are in each brush, the purpose
of which were to deep-clean the grooves while removing static.
It worked, but it also shed fibers.
Furthering the concept pioneered by DECCA, Audioquest
developed a carbon fiber brush that has become our favorite.
The bristles are firm enough to sweep the bottom of the
grooves, but soft enough to prevent micro-scratches (which
we've seen with our past favorite, the Hunt/EDA). The
Audioquest brush is easy to
use and has a built in foam cleaning pad in the handle that
removes dust from the bristles when the brush is closed.
Use your dry brush before
and after each and every play!
The next step beyond dry brushing the LP is wet cleaning.
Here a specially designed record cleaning solution is
applied and lightly worked into the grooves. The fluid lifts
trapped or stubborn residue and debris from the bottom of
the grooves while solvents dissolve contaminants. Wet
cleaning is by far the most effective way to clean records,
but there is are two critical caveats: fluid quality and
The real key to any wet cleaning system is the ability to
completely remove the dirty liquid. It does little good to
dredge debris from deep in the grooves, to simply deposit
it higher on the groove wall. Enter the vacuum
record cleaning system.
For some years now, the most effective
method of deep-cleaning records
has been the vacuum record cleaning machine
(a popular choice is the
VPI 16.5, pictured). This
process is a combined approach utilizing a liquid cleaning
solution together with a vacuum removal system. Here, one
receives the benefit of the wet cleaning process, without
the fear of residue left behind from incomplete removal.
Machines range in price from a few hundred Dollars to
several thousand. Plan on spending about $500 for a good
Listeners are stunned by the sonic improvement of
cleaning a record on one of these machines. Even brand new
records sound better (due to removal of the mold release
compound) and older records can be brought back to life by
eliminating layers of crud deposited over time.
If you do not have a collection large enough to justify
investing in a vacuum record cleaning machine you can still
enjoy the benefits of wet cleaning by using the manual method.
Though a more
involved and time consuming process, it's well worth the
effort. Again, complete removal
of the used/dirty cleaning solution is absolutely critical,
and this step is more difficult to accomplish without the
aid of vacuum.
I've put together instructions (both in pdf and Power Point)
for those interested in the manual cleaning process. You can
The type of cleaning fluid used is an important factor
in determining the effectiveness of a vacuum record cleaning
machine. Many commercially produced formulations are available,
some are good, some not so good. Most solutions are water
based with varying amounts of alcohol, and a
pinch of surfactant.
Products containing alcohol should be used with great care. Some theorize
that an aggressive solution (those containing
alcohol) can, with repeated use, can damage the LP by leaching
plasticizers that keep the vinyl pliable.
More common today are gentler solutions containing no
alcohol. Our current favorites are the products from Audio
Intelligent. A.I. offers both a simple one step approach as
well as a more involved three step archival system. Their
formulas are enzyme based for very gentle yet effective
I caution against home brew concoctions. Store bought
ingredients simply can't match the purity of commercial
formulations. For example, the water used is the A.I fluids gets an ASTM
4 purity rating, the same as used in kidney dialysis!
every batch of solution is laboratory tested for content and
quality. The cost of even the most expensive commercial
fluids is still insignificant when you consider the value of
your record collection.
While no specific research has been done (to my knowledge)
on just how often a record can be cleaned with a given fluid
before damage occurs, I would suggest a conservative approach
given the rarity of vinyl these days. With fluids
containing alcohol, the general feeling is to
clean your records only as often as is absolutely necessary.
My sense is that with non alcohol based fluids you can
clean the LP as often as you like.
For the best long-term record care, I recommend combining wet vacuum
technology for deep cleaning, and a good dry brush for maintenance.
Use a vacuum record cleaning machine when the record is
new, and then several times throughout the life of the disc
as required (a quality cleaning solution is critical). A good dry brush should be used prior to each
and every play, and again after the record is played. Don't forget your stylus, which should be
thoroughly cleaned before each play as well.
Lyra SPT Stylus Cleaner is an excellent product.
Once you have cleaned your collection, you must address
proper storage techniques. LPs should always be be stored vertically
to prevent warping.
I also strongly recommend that you treat your collection
to both inner and outer sleeves. Internal sleeves should
always be used to replaced the paper sleeves commonly found
on LPs. I prefer rice paper, or poly-lined paper sleeves
that use a rice-paper like liner material. Additionally,
an outer sleeve will not only protect the record jacket,
but reduce the influx of dust. A good selection of both
inner and outer sleeves can be found at