If you are looking for more sound from your vinyl, skip the upgrades to your turntable — it might be the record itself that’s limiting you. When it comes to records, the music lives in the grooves and if you want the best sound, those groves must be free of dirt and build-up. A dirty record can produce surface noise or, worse, even pop or snap when played.
You can certainly find a variety of vinyl record-cleaning solutions on Google and YouTube. However, solutions such as dishwasher liquid and WD-40 aren’t just ineffective — they can be potentially damaging.
Here are some safer ways to keep your vinyl records looking, and sounding great.
How do you know when to clean your vinyl? You’d think the answer would be as obvious as “whenever it looks dirty.” However, it’s not just the records sitting in your collection that need a little TLC. It’s also useful for new records, in order to remove the film created by chemicals used to preserve the vinyl in the shipping and distribution process, including mold-fighters.
Here are four ways to maintain the sonic quality of your records:
Basic record cleaning can start with a cleaning brush and fluid manually applied to an LP, followed by drying with a micro-fiber cloth. This will typically remove basic surface dust.
Use a spin clean unit to remove additional dirt or unwanted markings, such as fingerprints. This simple and cost-effective unit allows you to run your record through a series of brushes after running through a cleaning solution.
Semi-automatic record cleaning machines, like the Okki Nokki, are designed for a more thorough cleaning. Place your record in this machine and flip the switch to begin rotation. Apply cleaning fluid and skim the brush evenly on the vinyl surface. After a few rotations, remove the cleaning solution by turning on the vacuum motor. The upgraded units allow you to rotate the record in both directions so that you can dislodge more dust.
It is possible to clean your records with a touch of a single button. For a fully-automated cleaning, we recommend the Clearaudio Double Matrix cleaner with sonic option. On a machine like this, both sides of an LP are cleaned simultaneously. Sonic pulses and brushes work in tandem with the cleaning solution to gently remove dust and grime. A vacuum is used to remove all of the debris from cleaning, and then the entire process is repeated.
Record Playback Care
These options are great at minimizing additional wear on your LPs:
In some environments, an anti-static gun is a real necessity. The Zerostat is a prime example, as it neutralizes static build-up on the record’s surface.
Before and after each play, we recommend using a carbon fiber brush to clean your vinyl. Let the record spin and apply the brush to the surface, then gently sweep the visible dust off the edge. This is not a deep-cleaning method, but should be a standard practice every listening session. Newer brushes, including AudioQuest’s Anti-Static Record Brush, use anti-static bristles to simplify maintenance.
A needle cleaner is one of the most effective cleaning devices for playback. We try to avoid liquid cleaners, as they can have negative long-term effects on your cartridge. Instead, we recommend a gel-pad cleaner like DS Audio ST-50, in which the needle can be lowered. This material removes any build-up of dust the cartridge picked up during playback, and prevents it from being passed onto to the next record.
Although these methods will improve audio clarity, remember to also handle your records with care and store them properly. Unfortunately, once a record is damaged, there’s no way to reverse it.