Genealogy: Care and cleaning of 78s

Genealogy: Care and cleaning of 78sBy Barry J. Ewell

The following are details of how to take care of the 78s which I  have used to take care of 100’s of my own 78s.


  1. Place the record between two sheets of plate glass (or any completely flat surface of moderate weight).
  2. DO NOT place any additional weight or add heat, or place them in the sun, etc.
  3. Placing additional weight on the record will cause the peaks between the grooves to flatten out somewhat, causing distortion during playback; heat can cause the shellac to soften considerably, which causes all kinds of problems.
  4. Remember “less is more” school on dewarping; unless a record is unplayable, I don’t worry about it.


  1. Prevent incipient cracks from spreading by fusing the edge of the recording where the crack starts with a match.
  2. Scotch taping the edge with several tight layers also helps.
  3. Playback of cracked records can be aided by slightly elevating the part of the crack the needle travels over first with a piece of paper placed along the rim of the record.
  4. Move the paper(s) along the edge until an optimal sound is achieved.

Cleaning of 78s

  1. Shellac records:
    1. Fill a large bowl with barely warm water, adding a mild detergent such as Ivory. Leave the faucet running—slowly.
    2. Wet a wash cloth and the record’s playing surface with this solution, very gently wiping the surface with the cloth in the direction of the grooves.
    3. Let the solution run along the grooves in an effort to loosen dirt and grime, washing away any iron filings.
    4. Rinse the record under the slow running warm-water tap, and then gently pat the record dry with a dry towel.
    5. Let the record stand overnight to dry completely. Note: Mold spots (or worse) will occur if records are placed in your collection with any remaining trace of dampness.
    6. Do not let the label come in direct contact with water or the solution. Some people swear that a mixture of 25% Windex and 75% water will remove even more grime and oil.
    7. Another commonly used product is Kodak’s Photo-Flo solution diluted with distilled water.
    8. Apply it with a towel, an old LP “thousand bristle” brush, or a soft velvet applicator (after the Ivory treatment) and rinse again.
    9. Photo-Flo is intended to prevent water spots from forming on film as it dries. It is not intended to be a cleaner; however, its detergent-like properties for breaking down the surface tension of water do make it effective as a mild cleaner in some cases and may help the record dry in a safer manner without rinsing(as rinsing can leave behind whatever contaminants the water may contain).
  2. Edison Diamond Disc records:  As the record jacket suggests, do not use water, they should ONLY be cleaned with an isopropyl alcohol solution applied to a soft cloth.
  3. Acetate records:  These can be degreased with an organic solvent with minimal effects on the acetate or nitrate surfaces. Unfortunately, cellulose acetate and nitrate can be dissolved by the wrong organic solvent. Mineral spirits would degrease and might be safe, except that they may leave their own residue. If there is any separation of acetate from the base, water is dangerous; maybe other solvents, which can get between the layers by capillary action, can further separate them. Lighter fluid has been used effectively. the following procedure has been mentioned by others:  1) Apply mineral oil to entire surface with a soft cloth, 2) Squirt on some Photo-Flow and Ivory soap, 3) Lather, 4) Rinse, and 5) Dry with a Monks machine or use a soft cloth and allow record to air dry.

A few NEVERs

  1. Never play your 78s wet!
  2. Never use water on Edison Diamond Discs, Acetates, Hit of the Week, or any other odd-material records.
  3. Many record cleaning solutions intended for LPs contain alcohol and will destroy shellac 78s. Discwasher D4 fluid is safe, however.


  1. Keep the label dry!
  2. Never wet a label unless it is so soiled that other methods won’t remove the dirt.
  3. Many labels will “bubble” if dampened, particularly Victor, Emerson, Paramount, and other glossy types.
  4. For some collectors, this can degrade the record’s value.
  5. Try cleaning dusty labels with a dry sable brush. Dirtier labels can be cleaned by buffing gently with a soft towel or piece of corduroy.
  6. A kneaded artist’s eraser (available at any art supply store) is also a safe way to remove dirt or stains without dampening.
  7. If you must use water, apply it very sparingly with a slightly moistened towel and dry immediately.

Playback tips

  1. Even with a new needle and a properly rebuilt, compliant reproducer, a certain amount of damage is unavoidable.
  2. Always discourage people from playing truly rare records on vintage equipment; we owe it to posterity to be good custodians of these treasures!
  3. Make sure your tonearm is properly weighted and tracking is easy.
  4. As the record jacket says, “Permanent needles do permanent damage!”
  5. Change your needles every time if you have steel, bamboo, or tungs-tone needles, etc.
  6. Even diamond needles need replacing more often than people think (and sapphire much more often).
  7. Different manufacturers during different time-periods used different sized grooves; use the one that fits. Speaking of which, truncated elliptical styli play the mostly-undisturbed sound recorded on a higher spot on the groove wall, which is where the sound was recorded on a mono, lateral record. They also tend not to skate on the bottom of the groove where no sound (except hiss) resides. The opposite is true for vertical-cut records.

Disc slips

  1. Try double-stick tape, the kind with an adhesive on both sides.
  2. Look for one that is re-usable in hopes that it sticks well but can be easily removed without damaging the record.
  3. Try Scotch Removable Poster tape or even DAP “Fun-Tak Reusable Adhesive” (which is a putty-like substance), easy to remove, but sticks well enough for the purpose of flattening out a flexible phonograph record. Need a more rigid surface to stick the record to? Consider sticking it to a rigid record, although there are drawbacks to this as you might imagine.