Ultrasonic Cleaning for Vinyl Records

Marc HenshallRecord Care7 Comments

We’ve covered plenty of conventional methods for cleaning vinyl records at Sound Matters – from relatively expensive vinyl cleaning machines to humble but effective manual cleaning solutions. But there’s one method we haven’t yet touched on that’s rapidly gaining popularity in the vinyl community, and that’s ultrasonic cleaning.

What is Ultrasonic Cleaning?

In a nutshell, Ultrasonic cleaning is a process whereby high-frequency sound waves create cavitation bubbles in a liquid bath of water or cleaning agent. The cavitation bubbles produce high forces that help clean items in a powerful, but minimally abrasive manner while also penetrating cracks and recesses. Removable contaminants include dust, dirt, oil, grease, fungus, and more.

Ultrasonic cleaning is perfect for vinyl because a) it requires zero contact with the record (the cavitations do the heavy lifting), and b) Ultrasonic gets deep into the grooves; many other cleaning methods are much less effective at cleaning those hard to reach deep groove cavities…

…And even when we do manage to clean deep in the grooves (say with a specially designed cleaning pad or using a vacuum-based system), these processes still require much contact with the vinyl surface. In an ideal world, the only things coming in contact with our record playing surface would be the album sleeve and the stylus. Essentially, the less anything else touches it the better.

For an introduction to Ultrasonic, check the video below:

Ultrasonic Cleaning for Vinyl Records

The large industrial tank featured in the video above is too large for practical and affordable vinyl cleaning at home. To make Ultrasonic cleaning practical, the process needs to be downscaled and adapted to accommodate records.

If you’re not short of a buck or two, you could go out and get yourself a purpose built Ultrasonic vinyl cleaning machine – like this one from KL Audio… But if you haven’t got the best part of $5000 laying around (I know I don’t), you could try the following system recently bought to my attention instead.

CleanerVinyl Ultrasonic Attachments

CleanerVinyl is a startup with some clever attachment and rotation systems that work with relatively affordable compact Ultrasonic cleaners.

Their current flagship products include CleanerVinyl One and the CleanerVinyl Pro. Both systems are essentially a smart motorized attachment designed to sit neatly on the Ultrasonic while gently rotating your vinyl records. As the name suggest, CleanerVinyl One allows you to rotate a single record, which is fine for occasional use, but you’ll want to consider the Pro for any serious volume. (CleanerVinyl Pro cleans up to 12 records in one sitting. For even greater throughput, the company have also recently introduced the CleanerVinyl Max, which cleans up to 24 records at once).

The Ultrasonic system itself is sold separately. Both the One & Pro are recommended for use with the PS-30A Ultrasonic Cleaner – available in the US from Amazon. A similar system is available in the UK.

The CleanerVinyl products are available at CleanerVinyl.com

At the time of writing, the CleanerVinyl One + the Ultrasonic PS-30A gets you into Ultrasonic for as little as $324.99.

Note: This is not the same as other bath based cleaning systems (such as the well-known Spin Clean). The spin clean is essentially just a record bath with cleaning pads; there’s no fancy cavitation and the process requires direct contact with your records, which always increases the risk of damage.

Have you tried Ultrasonic? Let me know how it worked for you in the comments below.

  • Avatar roger wheeler says:

    A much better product at a cheaper price that I just purchased is the VInyl Stack record spinner for an ultrasonic cleaner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ukvU3I_AWI&feature=youtu.be

  • Avatar Stephen Fleschler says:

    I like the Kirmuss Audio cleaner because it uses a lower frequency (35Khz), lower temperature (95 degrees), common fluid (distilled water and a touch of alcohol), proper spacing for cleaning (Cleaner Vinyl Pro stack doesn’t permit cavitation bubbles to enter deep between records), does shellac 78s and 45s as well as 2 LPs at a time and cavitation to occur beneath and away from the records (not blasted at the surface like one $4500 machine). It’s $800

    • Avatar Andrew says:

      I just can’t justify giving the man (Charles Kirmuss) any money.

      First, he makes a lot of really bold claims with little to no evidence (even though he claims to provide it, I have yet to see him provide any of it, even when I personally emailed him, all I got was ridiculous pandering).
      Second, he’s a hypocrite. He claims that you should only use a RCF if you know the ingredients. He lists ingredients of his RCF, only the substance he lists doesn’t exist, when pressed on it, he say it’s a “proprietary surfactant” which isn’t exactly disclosing what that is.
      Third, he apparently doesn’t respect his own customers enough to write a coherent manual that isn’t rife with spelling and grammatical errors. They’re also just really poorly laid out and hard to read in general.
      Fourth, he can’t get out of his own way long enough to let his solution sell. He goes on forums, etc, and argues with potential customers.

      As far as the 35Khz goes, I’ve yet to see anywhere that demonstrates that it’s any safer on a record than 40Khz. In fact, there’s some that will argue that 35Khz is too abrasive, and that’s likely why you see vinyl dust in the bottom of his tanks… That’s probably not dust from the factory, it’s where it’s more than likely removing small particles from the vinyl grooves themselves.

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  • Avatar Andrew says:

    That solution cannot work nearly as well as a purpose built machine, and there are several free 3D printing plans available that you could do for cheaper, provided you have a 3D printer or access to one.

    There are also several flaws with this solution:

    First and foremost, and this is really a flaw with almost all RCMs to begin with, it’s much safer to not rotate the record while the machine is running. Moving the part inside isn’t super safe. It’d be better to have some way to control the device so that it turns on for something like 30 seconds, stops, rotates like 5-10 degrees, then does that again. Much more effective too.

    Second, with the stacks, there is clearly not enough room between the records. It can’t fully form the waves between those. At 40Khz you need something like 40mm of space (~1.5″) between each record to get a fully formed wave that will cavitate the record. Otherwise you’re mostly just spinning the record in water that vibrates at a very high frequency, which will be better than nothing, but only kind of barely.

    Third, the drying solution is kind of laughable, it looks flimsy and there’s no way a single 120mm PC fan is going to sufficiently dry the records in any sane amount of time. Also, unless he’s got some ionization going on there (through like a charged air filter), just blowing air across the vinyl is going to generate a TON of static. Not an issue if the liquid is still in the tank as I assume it would be, just not sure how exactly it dries the records if so. Also that is assuming the water isn’t properly de-ionized or multi-step purified (more than just distilled or RO, has to be pre-filtered, post-filtered, and “polished” to be actually non-conductive enough to matter), which I guess is probably a safe assumption if you’re buying one of these, as you clearly wont have done your homework on the tech and how it works. I guess if you have a really clean room you’re running this in with no dust or you’re using a zero stat after and brushing it, it’s not too terrible, but otherwise, this could actually leave your record dirtier than it was to begin with.

    But if you take out the fact that it’s motorized, with how clean you’d be getting your records on the stacks… this is actually not even as effective as something like the spin clean would be, so you’re really not gaining much over the spin clean other than a more efficient way to rinse your records, as that’s really all this would be doing.

  • […] The only drawback? Price. A purpose-built ultrasonic record cleaner can set you back thousands. As an affordable alternative, there are companies that manufacture record adaptors for use with commercially available ultrasonic cleaning tanks. You can read more about those here. […]

  • […] you’ve got the funds and inclination, ultrasonic cleaning could be the most effective method of deep-cleaning vinyl record grooves. Many, in fact, single […]