How NOT to clean vinyl records

Marc HenshallRecord Maintenance1 Comment

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’s 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.

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