How NOT to clean vinyl records

Marc HenshallCleaning Vinyl, Record Care29 Comments

Great vinyl records are clean vinyl records, that much is well understood. But with so much advice available on the internet, how can you determine which cleaning methods lead to vinyl nirvana, and which ones lead to frustration and regret?

We’ve covered plenty of tried and tested cleaning methods at Sound Matters, but this article is different. This time, we’ll be exploring the less conventional Wild West of record cleaning, so you don’t have to!

Wood Glue

The wood glue cleaning method is one of the more bizarre, but common approaches used in an attempt to restore old records. As the video demonstrates, the process involves spreading a solid layer of wood glue over the record surface (avoiding the label of course).

When left to dry overnight, the glue dries clear, picking up dirt and dust deep inside the grooves. The theory is, all the grime is removed when peeling back the glue.

This cleaning method makes me cringe. I can understand the logic, as dirt and dust can become deeply entrenched over many years — particularly if the record was played dirty — but the risk of further damage is very high.

The glue can easily fail to peel off in one piece, causing all kinds of problems, and I can’t imagine the residue is any good for your records and stylus. It’s also very time-consuming; why take the risk when record-cleaning solutions are relatively inexpensive?

Household Cleaners (Windex)

Videos showcasing household cleaning products, such as Windex surface cleaner or worse, are all too common.

(For the benefit of our British readers, Windex is essentially a widely available glass and surface cleaner in North America).

To understand why Windex is such a bad idea on vinyl, we need only look at the ingredients:

Water, 2-hexoxyethanol, isopropanolamine, sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate, lauramine oxide, ammonium hydroxide, fragrance, and Liquitint sky blue dye.

…I don’t think I need say much more.

Tap Water

Domestic tap water contains many impurities, such as mineral deposits, which can contaminate and damage records.

In a hard water area, such as where I live, the water can also contain very high amounts of limescale. If you’ve ever seen the deposits left inside your kettle when boiling hard limescale heavy water, you’ll know this can’t be good for vinyl records.

Dish Detergent

Often used hand-in-hand with tap water, dish detergent is another household cleaning product that should never be used to clean records.

Once again, let’s take a look at the ingredients. This example is from a well-known brand in the UK, Morning Fresh:

Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Lactic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Parfum, Limonene, Geraniol, Citral, Linalool, Colorants, Vinegar.

You don’t need a degree in chemistry to see how this can’t end well.

Isopropyl Alcohol

High alcohol content should be avoided when choosing a record cleaning solution. Many record cleaning experts, including GrooveWasher and their predecessors, have warned against fluids with high amounts of isopropyl alcohol – stating that iso alcohol can remove plasticizers from the vinyl and make the groove brittle.

Also, iso alcohol isn’t exactly very effective, often drying too quickly to efficiently remove contaminants, allowing grime to simply re-dry onto the record surface.

Brushing Across the Grooves

Often combined with the methods described above, brushing the wrong way only compounds the issue.

Even when using a well-formulated and safe cleaning solution, it is imperative that you wipe the record clean in the direction of the grooves, not across the grooves.

The Bottom Line

While it might seem tempting to cut corners with cheap household cleaning products, there are plenty of reasons not to. You might get some results, but then again, you might not. Considering the premium cost of buying music on vinyl, is it really worth the risk?

Good record cleaning machines are expensive, granted, but why jump to chemical-laden alternatives when a microfiber cloth and some record cleaning solution can cost as little as $13!? (To get started, read our article on how to clean vinyl records).

Know of a lousy cleaning method that I’ve missed? Let us know in the comments second below.

Author

  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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Tony

Hi there , I’ve used a commercial product promoted as record cleaner but basically looks and dries like wood glue . I guess I left it on too long and it is impossible to get off now . Any ideas on what to maybe spray it with or soak it in to remove it ? I do have an ultra sonic machine but this record needed a bit more .

Ike

My records were in a box that got soaked with home heating oil. Is there any hope to restore them?

George A.

As I explained, and posted below to Robert Terrel’s post; here is what I posted, and here it is posted again.

I have also cleaned my recently purchased records with Dawn dish washing liquid, and only a teaspoon at most of finish (R) JET-DRY Rinse Aid; and a couple of drops of 99%, now there is 90% available alcohol. I now I have 70% alcohol. However, only I added only a couple of drops of Isopropyl Alcohol. In my case I mixed the contents in 16 ounces of distilled water! Now that I have found out that alcohol can actually damage Vinyl, I quit with adding that ingredient.

George A.

As I explained, and posted below to Robert Terrel’s post; here is what I posted, and I am going to post again.

I have also cleaned my recently purchased records with Dawn dish washing liquid, and only a teaspoon at most of finish (R) JET-DRY Rinse Aid; and a couple of drops of 99%, now there is 90% available. I now I have 70% alcohol. However, only I added only a couple of drops of Isopropyl Alcohol. In my case I mixed the contents in 16 ounces of distilled water! Now that I have found out that alcohol can actually damage Vinyl, I quit with adding that ingredient.

COD

With the exception of “used vinyl” I prefer to stay away from various cleaning machines, fluids, etc…

When it was available, I used the Pixel “Roller” ,which was similar to a lint roller, in combination with a carbon fibre brush ~ made it easy to pick up the dust off the record surface.

I’m wondering if anyone has found a “lint roller” with a low enough tack level to not leave residue behind ?

I have tried the “In The Groove” roller and it degraded and left junk behind on the LP’s.

Thanks and happy listening

Leon Onle

Marc, I have been using an Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine for years to clean my valuable vinyl. 15 years in fact.
It wasn’t cheap, but neither is my record collection.
I won’t use any cheap, volatile, damaging methods on such a precious medium of memories.
I use the best quality, alcohol free, record cleaning solution, together with distilled water, that doesn’t leave any harsh contaminates behind in the glorious grooves.
Yes, those contaminates found in dish detergent, household cleaner, tap water and, God forbid, wood glue! Why don’t they just use fine sandpaper while they’re at it or a wire brush!
Some of the, uncalled for, aggressive comments show there are some volatile types who don’t care too much about preserving their records and will use anything to save a few bucks at the expense of permanently harming their vinyl collection.
True vinyl enthusiasts know how to treat their collections and for those that don’t, well they end up with at least an inferior sounding music experience or at worst a totally ruined piece of waste vinyl.
Now cue all the aggressive, retaliatory, immature attacks!
Marc, thanks for all your efforts in promoting the good vinyl experience!

George A.

I agree, Marc. It is better to invest in a correct, productive cleaning method, or machine than to risk damage to any record. Even if there is vinyl that may not seem very valuable, why not have access to listening to that music again? A very significant, and informative article, explanation on cleaning vinyl.

Zane

I have and continue to use Record Revirginizer with fantastic results. It is a premium polymer blend. Restores old and new noisy records. I use groovewasher spray application first test the record and if needed apply the RRV blend.

David Adamson

Groovewasher first, Humminguru for used and dirtier albums, FYI, Humminguru used to say not to use a wetting agent, but they now sell one. I will use the Groovewasher wetting agent as I trust Groovewasher.

Robert Terrell

I have had very good luck using Dawn liquid detergent and tap water, and a paper towel to gently wash the groves. My best luck has been with an ultrasonic bath and distilled water with a few drops of liquid fabric softner, followed by a rinse in more distilled water, followed by air drying.The ultrasonic machine I use is one I bought on ebay. It had been used in a doctors office. It probably doesnt have the power it had when new, but I put a piece of aluminum foil in it and run a cycle through, and it will still punch holes in the foil after 10-15 minutes. For that reason, I keep the discs in for less than 20 minutes. I can imagine it stripping the grooves out completely. The machine was relatively cheap, compared to buying a new one. I have never achieved ther results the video showed, but I feel it gets the record as clean as possible. I might try the wood glue on an OLD record some day, and see how it does.

George A.

I have also cleaned my recently purchased records with Dawn dish washing liquid, and only a teaspoon at most of finish (R) JET-DRY Rinse Aid; and a couple of drops of 99%, now there is 90% available. I now I have 70% alcohol. However, only I added only a couple of drops of Isopropyl Alcohol. In my case I mixed the contents in 16 ounces of distilled water! Now that I have found out that alcohol can actually damage Vinyl, I quit with adding that ingredient.

Last edited 1 year ago by George A.
Bill Smartt

I was skeptical about the wood glue process, but I have to say I’ve used it in certain circumstances with older vinyl that is particularly noisy, and have had great results. I don’t use it on all my records, but when regular cleaning doesn’t improve the sound, the clarity of the wood glue process is simply astounding.

Brian at Sunday Records

I offer ultrasonic cleaning in my shop for $3 per record, and that includes a new rice paper inner sleeve. It is a great value for the results if you have classic records. Maybe you can find a local record shop that offers a similar service.

David Adamson

I guess if it was an album, that I would otherwise toss,I might risk it, but I feel if ultrasound doesn’t work then wood glue won’t either

john fraser

It”s ultrasonic cleaning or nothing who said optimum vinyl play back was going to be cheap. Remember the wiggles in the grooves are only a few microns once they are damaged or worn out no amount of cleaning can fix that. Youtube; Wally analog there you will find a short 9 minute video explaining the miniscule size of those grooves.It is a wonder they do not wear out after a few plays

Aitch

I agree with The Hedgehog: worthless article. The author seems afraid of the names of chemicals, without giving any reason why they shouldn’t be in a formulation other than his own ignorance of their function.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those compounds aren’t in proprietary record cleaning formulas, but aren’t listed because there’s no regulation starting they must be. Boundless (which I use), for example, won’t state exactly what’s in their solution, other than propylene glycol and the broad categories of other ingredients, and no alcohol.

B L

the comments were not nasty, get over it ????????????

Ron Jeremy

worthless article. “you only have to look at the ingredients to know…” WTF ? You have NO idea what those ingredients are other than that they have long names. If you did you would have waxed poetic about the molecular structures and how they would / could interact with the molecules of the vinyl. crap

LOL!!! Using Windex or dish soap is FINE! No one leaves it on the record! It is rinsed off in its entirety! I use tap water to rinse…. Then I rinse off the remaining tap water with distilled water! Leaves no trace of chemicals or water deposits. DONE!

B L

I was washing records in the sink before you were born. as long as rinse, they are finish, I use 100 proof vodka with lab grade water in a vpi hw 17 nowadays

John Bull

Is there a specific reason you wouldn’t use such products (e.g. they usually contain x or y which will have such-and-such effect on the vinyl) or just that the manufacturer of the washing-up liquid or glass cleaner did not have LPs in mind as the intended use of its product and so, not having access to a full ingredients list, you are essentially using a product not stated to be suited for this purpose?