There’s nothing in the world quite like vinyl. However, once you take your new albums home from the record store, you’ll need to keep them clean so they last for years. Wondering how to clean a vinyl record? Keep reading—we have all the info.
Whether you’re looking for the best way to clean an old vinyl record or an easy way to keep your current collection clean and ready to play, these methods make the process quick and easy. When properly cleaned, the vinyl collection you spent years building and investing in will last an entire lifetime. But you need to be sure that you’re cleaning them the proper way and not potentially causing damage. Let’s jump in and learn how to clean your vinyl without further ado.
You might not think that cleaning your records is a big deal, or you may decide not to care because cleaning can be a hassle, but it is necessary. They are prone to attracting dust, smudges, hair, static, pressing and packaging contaminants, and all kinds of other gunk from everyday use. Not cleaning them can lead to noisy or dulled playback, increased wear and tear, groove damage, and even potential damage to your turntable’s stylus.
Simply put, if you want to enjoy your expensive record collection for years to come, you need to clean them. And if you’re not thrilled by that news, just remember how much better your favorite albums sound on vinyl than from a digital streaming music service.
This is a little complicated and depends mostly on how often you play your records and what steps you take to handle and store them properly. You should use an anti-static carbon fiber brush before and after every use for removing dust and whatnot. But beyond that? Deeper cleanings don’t need to happen often.
Really, the only times you need to clean your records are when you add a new one to your library, when you can spot gunk, or when you hear a noticeable amount of hisses or pops that disrupt your listening experience. There isn’t a set schedule or time frame – it’s up to you and only necessary when you can see or hear that you need to.
You’ll Need a Cleaning Brush
Part of keeping your records clean is knowing how to handle them properly. Compared to cassettes or CDs, vinyl is far less robust and a thousand times more susceptible to damage from a wider variety of sources. So, if you’re going to invest in them, you should learn how to handle them.
When interacting with vinyl, the main thing to remember is to only touch them either at the edges or on the center label. You should never touch the playing surface of the record, as it can push any gunk already on the vinyl further into deep grooves. And to make matters worse, the oils in our skin attract contaminants (like dust) to stick to the surface.
To properly store your vinyl, we recommend two things. First, keep them in anti-static sleeves within the cover; you should also upgrade from basic paper sleeves. Second, you should always store them upright and never stack them vertically, as it can compress and ruin the grooves. We also recommend adding protective outer sleeves to each new vinyl you buy to keep the artwork looking beautiful for years to come as well.
Protect Your Vinyl
If you’re wondering how to clean vinyl records at home or on a budget, don’t fret—it’s easy. That said, it’s worth noting that you should avoid using tap water (especially if it’s hard water), vinegar, household cleaning products, and isopropyl alcohol. These can potentially deposit impurities or cause the leaching of plasticizers, significantly shortening the life of your vinyl.
So what should you actually clean your records with, then, if you’re doing so by hand? Beyond your daily anti-static record brush, you should use a couple of simple microfiber cloths, a container of distilled water, and a cleaning solution specifically designed for vinyl record care. If desired, you can also buy many of these items together in a reputable vinyl cleaning kit.
Once you’ve got your supplies in hand, you’re ready to start cleaning:
First, gently wipe the record you want to clean up with your microfiber cloth. Your goal here is to clean off larger particles using minimal pressure so you don’t push any gunk deeper into the grooves. Use a circular motion here, following the grooves around the record. You can also opt to use your vinyl cleaning brush here instead.
Second, lightly dampen the cloth with distilled water and wipe the playing surface (not the center label), following the grooves. If you’re performing routine maintenance cleaning, this should be sufficient, and you can skip to the fourth step.
If it isn’t, you may want to include this optional step three, in which you take another pass with a good record cleaning solution (remembering to mix it with water, if necessary). For this, use just a little bit on your cloth, following the grooves; then repeat the second step with just distilled water to “rinse off” any remaining solution.
Fourth, grab a new dry microfiber cloth (or use the dry edge on your current one, if available) and dry the record completely. Before you return the vinyl to its packaging, do a final inspection to ensure there aren’t any lingering smudges or particulates. Easy peasy. The process of cleaning records by hand is simple and relatively fast, and you can repeat it until the record is clean.
A Basic Record Cleaning Kit
Looking for a cleaning method that’s a little more extensive or on-par with what a professional vinyl cleaning service might offer? We got you. These record cleaning machines automate more (if not all) of the process and are capable of getting out ultra-stubborn particles set deep in a vinyl’s grooves.
Record washers are hands down the most effective and budget-friendly way to clean vinyl (or even a whole batch of them), and only cost about $40–$150. Though you’ll still have to do a little work here, the machine will take care of the nasty part. You will need to refill the bath every few records to minimize cross-contamination, but the process is still reasonably short overall.
Spin Your Vinyl Clean
A vacuum-based cleaning machine is a worthwhile expenditure. They’re ideal cleaning options for serious collectors but are bigger upfront investments than a record washer or the simple vinyl cleaning kits you can find on Amazon. They range anywhere from roughly $350–$1,000.
These single-purpose machines are specifically designed to get your vinyl squeaky clean by sucking up settled dirt and removing greasy fingerprints caught by the applied cleaning solution. At the same time, record cleaners minimize physical contact with and the pressure applied to each record during the cleaning process.
High-Performance Vacuum Motor Cleaner
Many vinyl collectors agree that ultrasonic cleaning machines are the best method for deep cleaning a vinyl record. With these, the machine vibrates the liquid in its cleansing bath incredibly fast, creating a ton of bubbles—called cavitation. These, in turn, collapse and release pressure and heat, which can loosen the deep-rooted grime on a dirty old record while making minimal (if any) contact with it. They’re powerful, safe, and effective.
Given that and the fact that the best ultrasonic cleaning machines cost anywhere from about $450 up to $2,500, you can be sure they’ll get the job done. If you can swing it, the Degritter is one of the best options on the market.
If you don’t want to spend that much (which is understandable), there are some less spendy machines out there that are still of decent quality. Just be aware that these won’t have the same impactful frequency range and might not do as good a job cleaning overall.
Pulse Tough Particles Out of Grooves
When cleaning your vinyl, just remember that the name of the game is to keep things simple. In most cases, you can make do with basic cleaning components; likewise, fancy equipment and an artillery of cleaning chemicals and tricks are, in most cases, complete overkill. Invest in quality basics, like a good brush and microfiber cloth, and be sure to replace them as needed.
Regular simple cleanings are the best way to ensure all of your vinyl stays in good condition. However, there are a few other things to keep in mind that can also contribute to maintaining good vinyl health. Keeping your turntable’s needle (stylus) clean, storing your vinyl properly (upright and in protective static-free sleeves) are important steps to take.
But you should also be mindful when you handle them (only touch the outer edge and label, never the grooves). Incorrectly storing and handling records is the leading cause of damage.
Essentially, it’s all comes down to just being mindful of your equipment and records and to take your time when handling them and cleaning them. We also recommend teaching any friends and family interested in your vinyl to properly handle and clean them for peace of mind.