Vinyl records are more popular than ever. Their distinctive sound, and immersive, tactile listening experience has solidified the format as the ultimate way to own music.
When properly looked after, your vinyl record collection will last a lifetime and beyond, and a huge part of this is keeping your vinyl clean. Most importantly of all, clean vinyl records sound amazing, and while some people find comfort and nostalgia in a little surface, we want to keep this to a minimum for the best listening experience.
Follow our ultimate guide on how to clean vinyl records, and you’ll be back to spinning glorious tunes before you know it.
PART 1 – How to Clean Vinyl Records by Hand
The easiest and cheapest way to clean vinyl records is undoubtedly by hand. With years of experience and research, this is the best way we know of to manually clean a record by hand.
Step 1 – Clean Off Loose Dust with a Carbon Fiber Record Brush
The first step in any vinyl cleaning process should always be a dry clean using a carbon fiber record brush. We like the Audio Quest brush shown below as it smaller fibers in greater quantity than a standard brush, plus improved conductivity to help neutralize static.
To use the brush correctly:
- Place your record on the turntable and set it spinning.
- Gently hold the brush over the record so the carbon fibers just tickle the surface.
- Don’t squash the brush, as this will stop each fiber from entering the groove properly.
- Tilt the brush so the back fibers pick up anything not picked up by the front.
- Allow the record to spin a couple more times, and then left then gently lift the brush from the record surface.
- Use the handle to clean the brush and then repeat the entire process again if required.
Step 2: Clean the Record with Record Cleaning Solution
With as much loose dust and particles removed as possible, we can safely progress to wet-cleaning the record. Failing to dry clean before this step will only risk pushing the loose dust into the groove to become sludge, which is difficult to remove.
For this step, you will need a record cleaning solution and a few other bit of kit:
GrooveWasher is by far our current favorite record cleaning fluid. Their G2 Fluid is a single-step cleaning method that leaves no residue behind, avoiding the need for any secondary rinse. The company performed 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).
Step by Step Guide: How to Clean Vinyl Records with GrooveWasher’s Record Cleaning Fluid:
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.
PART 2 – Step Up Your Game with a Record Cleaning Machine
You can significantly speed up the process and potentially improve the result by investing in a record cleaning machine. These primarily come in few different varieties:
Vinyl Record Baths
Record baths, such as the Spin Clean Record Washer are a very cost-effective way to clean a lot of records in one sitting. Cleaning by hand can be very effective, but it would take you a long time to clean a large collection or a batch of records from your latest record store shopping binge! 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.
Vacuum-Based Record Cleaning Machines
Next up the record cleaning hierarchy is essentially a purpose-designed vacuum cleaner for your vinyl. A machine like this will require a little up-front investment, but I can assure you it is entirely worth it for the amount of time you’ll save and the effectiveness of this cleaning method.
The fact remains, record cleaning machines are the most effective way to clean vinyl records. They’re so effective 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.
The Project VC-S2 Vinyl cleaner or it’s smaller cousin (The VC-E) is great and will clean your records in just two rotations. (The Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine is another similar option).
Personally, I own the smaller Pro-Ject VC-E, as it’s far more compact that the full-sized VC-S2. Having reviewed both units, I find the performance to be the same – the only real difference is the tank size.
Check out our full review of the Pro-Ject Vacuum Record Cleaner, here.
PART 3 – Further Pro-Tips For Better Cleaning Results
The processes I’ve described above are the safest way to clean your vinyl records.
Tip 1: Clean Your Microfiber Cloth or Replace it Regularly
When cleaning vinyl by hand, it’s important to keep your microfiber cloth clean to avoid spreading dirt from one record to another. You can use distilled water and a little dish detergent to gently clean microfiber cloths or a microfiber cleaning pad, such as the GrooveWasher option mentioned in this article. Thoroughly rinse the pad or cloth, followed by squeezing it to remove moisture. Allow to air-dry overnight. Avoid putting microfiber cloths in the washing machine if you can, as this may pick up unwanted lint, which could contaminate—or even damage—your records.
Tip 2: Avoid Using Tap Water, Dish Soap or other Household Cleaners Such as Windex.
Tap water 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 dish soap and household cleaners, it’s safer to use a purpose-made record cleaning fluid than other cleaners, which may contain damaging ingredients.
Tip 3: Avoid “Alternative” Cleaning Methods, Such as Wood Glue
The wood glue vinyl cleaning method is popular among some collectors, and while it’s ultimately each to their own when it comes to record cleaning methods, it’s not an approach we advocate at Sound Matters.
The process involves spreading 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 grime is removed when peeling back the glue.
I wouldn’t like to take the risk on a rare or expensive record; what if the 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?
Tip 4: Avoid Cleaning Fluids with High Amounts of Isopropyl Alcohol
There is much debate in the audio industry as to whether or not it’s safe to use alcohol when cleaning vinyl.
Firstly, you should NEVER use isopropyl alcohol on shellac records as it will dissolve the surface. But also on modern PVC vinyl, it is thought by many to cause the leaching of plasticizers, making them brittle and subject to excess wear.
Many record cleaners contain some isopropyl alcohol as part of the mix, but as a rule, we recommend steering clear of any fluid that contains a high amount of alcohol. If you can smell alcohol in your record cleaner, chances are, it’s using far too much. Our motto is: why use a sledge hammer to kill a fly.