Whether a vinyl record is vintage or new, there is a special sound quality that comes from the turntable needle slipping into those grooves. But if you hear lots of clicks, crackling, or hisses, it may mean that the record is dirty and needs cleaning. Cleaning vinyl records is pretty simple if you simply take your time and use the right supplies and tools.
There are record-cleaning machines that take all of the work out of the task; however, they are pricey. So, unless you have an extensive and very valuable vinyl collection, you can easily clean your vinyl records with less expensive tools and products.
Products That Shouldn't Be Used on Vinyl Records
There are almost as many "don'ts" as there are correct ways to clean vinyl. Using the wrong cleaning products can permanently damage the vinyl. Do not use the following on your records:
Isopropyl alcohol: While alcohol will cut through the grease and grime on a vinyl record, it also removes the protective coating on the grooves and floor of the record.
Household cleaning products: Window sprays, dishwashing liquids, and all-purpose cleaners are too harsh for vinyl and can leave a film on the record.
Tap water: Even water from great municipal systems contains minerals that can leave deposits on the vinyl.
Compressed air: While "canned" compressed air will blow off some surface dust, it also leaves some condensation on the vinyl. It also does nothing to remove the oily residue from hands and air pollution that is stuck in the grooves of the record.
How Often to Clean Vinyl Records
For the best sound quality, vinyl records should be dry cleaned with a carbon or velvet brush before each time they are played. Even brand new records fresh from the sleeve have dust that should be removed. Deeper wet cleaning should be done if there are fingerprints or visible dust on the record or if you hear an unusual amount of crackling and hissing while the vinyl is playing.
Equipment / Tools
- Soft microfiber cloths
- Carbon fiber vinyl record brush
- Velvet vinyl cleaning brush
- Record cleaning mat
- Spin record wash
- Commercial vinyl record cleaning solution
How to Dry Clean Vinyl Records
Dry Clean the Record
Dry cleaning a record takes only a few minutes and removes the microscopic dust that is caught in the grooves of the vinyl. Place the record on the turntable and turn it on so the record is spinning. Place an anti-static carbon fiber brush or velvet cleaning brush on the record surface at a 90-degree angle. Allow the record to spin a few times and then move the brush toward the center of the record. When the brushes tough the spindle, you have cleaned the entire surface of the record.
If you are concerned about spreading dust into the components of the turntable, use a record cleaning mat and steadily move the brush around the record in concentric circles.
Take a few seconds to observe the record for signs of warping after dry cleaning (while it's spinning). Also, check for visible smudges and fingerprints that indicate a need for a deeper wet cleaning.
How to Deep Clean Vinyl Records
Wet Clean the Record
When a record is extremely dirty or it has visible fingerprints and smudges, a vinyl cleaning solution is necessary to remove the residue.
Place the record on a vinyl cleaning mat using the center spindle to secure the record. Do not wet clean a record on a turntable because you might damage the components.
Remove Surface Dust
Begin the wet cleaning process by dry cleaning the record with a carbon-fiber or velvet vinyl brush to remove dust.
Spray on Vinyl Cleaner
Spray on an alcohol-free commercial cleaning solution using a light touch. Do not spray near the center paper label. To clean near the label, spritz some of the cleaner on a microfiber towel and wipe the area carefully.
Wipe Away Grime
Wipe away the grime with a dry microfiber towel in a counter-clockwise motion following the grooves of the record. Use a gentle touch but be sure that the towel is making contact with the floor of the record.
Dry the Vinyl
Use a fresh, dry microfiber cloth to dry the record. Work in the same counter-clockwise motion following the grooves.
Use a Spin Record Washer
Tips to Keep Your Vinyl Records Clean Longer
- Never touch the playing surface with your hands. Use your fingertips along the outer edges when handling a record.
- Limit the time a record is out of the protective sleeve. Do not leave records exposed to dust.
- Use a cover on the turntable and dust the stylus often.
- Upgrade to archival quality inner sleeves. These sleeves are anti-static and will help prevent the vinyl from attracting dust.
- Dry clean a record before each playing and regularly do a wet cleaning to prevent excessive build-up of grime.