Genealogy: Cleaning vinyl records

Genealogy: Cleaning vinyl recordsBy Barry J. Ewell

It might sound simple but keeping your records clean is the easy, inexpensive method of preserving your vinyl. There are three commonly used methods for cleaning this type of record.

Vinyl records: Using commercially available cleaning solution

  1. A quality disc cleaning solution is inexpensive and really helps to protect vinyl discs. The best way to clean records is by buying a commercially available record cleaning solution such as Last or Discwasher D4 (Discwasher IV is what the Library of Congress recommends), which usually comes with an applicator brush.
  2. To begin, lay the record on a clean flat surface such as on a soft towel on a table or place the record on the turntable platter. Note:  If you decide to clean your records while they are on the turntable make sure to secure the tonearm so it doesn’t accidentally swing across the record as you are cleaning it, and do not apply too much pressure on the platter as you can damage the bearings. Also pay attention to not get any record cleaning fluid on the platter or turntable finish.
  3. Follow the directions on the bottle, but generally, you apply the liquid to the applicator brush and not on the record itself.
  4. Take the brush and place it on top of the record and turn the platter counter clockwise a few times to work the dirt loose.
  5. Look at the brush, you should see some dirt or lint on it, so carefully remove it and go another round cleaning the record until no more dirt or crud appears on the brush.
  6. Since alcohol is the primary ingredient of most record cleaning solutions, the record should dry fairly quickly, but let it air dry before flipping it over to clean the other side or placing it back in its sleeve.
  7. Before you flip the record over though, make sure the surface or platter is clean since the dirty, unclean side was just there.

Cleaning vinyl records with vacuum-type systems
The process is simple; liquid record cleaning machine (RCM) fluid is placed on the record and a hand-held brush is used to scrub the grooves, working the fluid into the deepest recesses, bringing contaminants into the solution. The key to the process, however, is the vacuum, which removes all traces of fluid, leaving no residue and a scrupulously clean surface.

The vacuum record cleaning machine is, without a doubt, the most effective method of deep-cleaning LPs, and VPI is clearly the leader in both price and performance. If you can justify the expense (which should depend on how many records you own), a vacuum cleaning system is a good investment.   Examples of vacuum cleaning systems are the nitty-gritty or the VPI which really get to the bottom of the groove.  It works exactly like a record player:

  1. You place the record on the platter and clamp it down just like any VPI turntable.
  2. Then you squeeze some cleaning fluid from a bottle onto the rotating record/platter, and then apply a brush.
  3. You just hold down on the brush, the record rotates beneath it.
  4. Now you swing over a spring-loaded vacuum “Tonearm” assembly which spans the record and then flip on the vacuum switch.
  5. The suction actually lowers the mechanism to the record, and again, the record rotates underneath it.
  6. All water and debris is swept up though a slot running the length of this arm.

Exercise the utmost care when cleaning an LP. LPs are actually quite resilient, but even the smallest scratch can produce popping or hissing noises, and once you’ve damaged the vinyl it can be difficult or impossible to repair. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, ask the staff at your local record store or do some research online.

Vinyl records: Using your own solution

  1. A generally accepted recipe for cleaning your vinyl is as follows:
    1. 3 parts distilled water (triple distilled, de-ionized).
    2. 1 part Isopropyl alcohol, 70% commonly available but 91% lab-grade preferred.
    3. A few drops of photographic wetting agent, if possible, Triton X-100, Triton X-110 or Triton X-115 or Monolan 2000; do not use Kodak Photo-Flo which is ”reputed” to leave a residue (though used by some). Recommended is 12 drops per gallon or 2-3 drops per liter, though some use up to 8 drops per liter. If you add too much, the fluid gets sudsy on the record.
  2. Follow the process as outlined with Cleaning of 78s, Edison Diamond Disc records, and Shellac records.