How to Clean Vinyl Records

Marc HenshallMarc Henshall
Record Care, Record Cleaning16 Comments

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 focus specifically on how to clean vinyl records. Fortunately for record collectors, there are plenty of tried and tested methods for keeping your precious collection clean and clear for many years to come.

How to clean vinyl records. Our comprehensive guide to the best methods, no matter what your budget.

But before we get started – a quick note on everyday dry cleaning:

Always clean the dust off your records using a carbon fiber 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 a best practice, you should always use a carbon fiber brush to clean your records before and after each playback. This will help reduce the build-up of dust that can shorten your stylus life and contaminate records.

Audio Quest Carbon Record Bush for dry cleaning your vinyl records.
AudioQuest Anti-Static Record Brush

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 that, 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-S2 Vinyl cleaner is great and will clean your records in just two rotations. (The Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine is another similar option).

To see the Pro-Ject record cleaner in action, check out our full-feature review.

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. Check out our full product review, here.

Ultrasonic Cleaning

Ultrasonic cleaning has long been popular in the jewelry industry. This method work by using high-frequency pressure sound waves to agitate a liquid, producing tiny cavitation bubbles. Lots of tiny bubbles produce high forces, helping to gently lift contaminants adhering to the record surface.

Traditionally, Ultrasonic cavitation-based record cleaners are very expensive (take this one from KL Audio – pushing $5000! – for example). In recent years, however, a few companies have set up business creating adapters that allow you to clean multiple vinyl records in a standard ultrasonic cleaning tank, which greatly reduces the cost. Take this example from cleanervinyl.com, for example. With their all-in-one starter kit, you can get into Ultrasonic for a few hundred dollars (rather than thousands) plus the cost of an ultrasonic cleaner – like this widely available tank.

Ultrasonic record cleaning machines are one of the best ways to clean vinyl records.

How to 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:

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 solution 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)

GrooveWasher record cleaning fluid.

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 harm 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 embedded 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 costs – 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 Record Cleaning FAQ:

Is it ok to clean vinyl records with alcohol

The answer depends on who you ask, but in general, the consensus throughout the industry is to proceed with caution. Some evidence appears to support the notion that pure alcohol can damage the record grooves. Specifically, isopropyl alcohol can allegedly remove plasticizers from the vinyl and make the groove brittle.

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.

What can you clean vinyl records with?

If you’re new to vinyl records, you might be unsure of what products you can safely use to clean vinyl. The short answer is that you should always use products and cleaning fluids that are designed specifically for vinyl records. Unless you are a skilled chemist (or really know what you’re doing), it’s best to avoid home-made cleaning fluids. See the products in this article for our recommendations.

How to clean vinyl records with soap and water?

Ok, so this method is best avoided. The mineral deposits and impurities that domestic tapwater leave behind are a potential threat to delicate vinyl grooves. Household cleaning products, such as washing up liquid and Windex, should be avioded as they are not necessarily safe for use on delicate vinyl records. Wherever water is applied (such as when using a record cleaning machine), always opt for distilled water.

  • […] covered plenty of conventional methods for cleaning vinyl records at Sound Matters – from relatively expensive vinyl cleaning machines to humble but effective […]

  • Avatar Brian Minahan says:

    I need help!
    I took out one of my very rare albums after many years of not playing it (like 25 years!). In several places on the disc, the paper liner was stuck to the record. Now it seems like trying to remove a price tag – – as if the paper were adhered with a glue.
    What can I do ????
    Thanks !
    Brian

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Oh no! That does sound bad. It’s difficult to tell what’s going on without seeing, but I can only imagine it’s caused by the conditions in storage. Is it plain paper sleeves that caused the problem or ones with an inside anti-static lining?

      Have you tried any cleaning methods at all so far? Can you supply a picture?

      • Avatar Brian Minahan says:

        Thanks Marc … I will get you a picture sometime later today. Very much appreciate your offer to help.
        Cheers, Brian

  • […] Learn more about how to clean vinyl records, here. […]

  • Avatar Dan says:

    I have a substantial record collection dating back to the 70’s. I have taken very good care of the collection with after market inner and outer sleeves and Disc Washer products. However, all vinyl is not created equal especially from the late 80’s. I have LP’s that look perfect and are as noisy as farm equipment. Just sayin’.

  • […] clean is essential if you want them to sound great for a lifetime and beyond. For this reason, vinyl record cleaning remains one of the most-read topics on Sound […]

  • […] an ideal world, we’d all be able to clean vinyl records with a fancy, purpose-built device, such as a vinyl vacuum system or an ultrasonic cleaning setup. […]

  • […] Ask ten people how to clean vinyl records and you’ll get ten different answers. The steps we’ve outlined are a quick and easy way to get started by hand. Those wishing to clean large amounts of vinyl may want to consider investing in a record cleaning machine, such as a simple record bath, or a more advanced, dedicated record cleaning machine. For more info on the many different methods and machines available, check out our feature article on how to clean vinyl records. […]

  • […] ten people how to clean vinyl records, and you’ll undoubtedly get ten different answers. As the saying goes, “there’s […]

  • […] we like to say a Sound Matters, great vinyl records are clean vinyl records. I’m slightly obsessed with cleaning vinyl, and in many ways, I find the whole process […]

  • […] regards to used vinyl, it’s fairly obvious that you should always clean these records before they grace your turntable; you never know what dust or grime is lurking in the record […]

  • […] the first two episodes: The first is an introduction episode, and the second is a feature on ‘how to clean vinyl records‘ (one of our most popular topics with […]

  • […] the built-up dust and grime will also speed up stylus wear. There are plenty of affordable ways to clean vinyl records, and we’ve covered most of them extensively throughout this website. Do yourself a favor and […]

  • Avatar John King says:

    All the antistatic brushes I have used sofar increase static electricity to the point of a cracling sound just handling the vinyl. Is there one antistatic brush out there that does work?

  • Avatar John King says:

    what are the active ingredients in GrooveWasher apart from demineralized water?