I’m sure you have a great collection of records that you love listening to, and a great turntable to complement it! However I’m sure you’ve found that after a while even on the greatest turntable and best stylus, the music does not please your ears the way it did at the beginning and you’ve started to wonder why…?!!
As a music enthusiast myself who loves listening to music, it never occurred to me that as much as I looked after my record player I also needed to care for my extensive collection of vinyl records and unfortunately I’ve learnt the hard way!! It was only when I discovered how to look after my records and started investing some time and money, did my music return to its former quality. I tested several methods of cleaning and finally discovered the secrets of being a cleaning guru!!
Therefore today I’m delighted to share with you my seven best tips on how to clean and preserve your precious records.
So tune in your ears and here we go:
Don’t Let Them Get Dirty in The First Place!
There are many types of dirt that records are prone to picking up. The biggest and most obvious one is dust – which is in the atmosphere and cannot be avoided. Other types of dirt records tend to pick up can be human saliva – which land on the records if they get sneezed over, drinks such as beer - again from saliva amongst many others. Records automatically pick up dust due to their static properties and it is therefore highly advisable to restrict your records exposed to the outside environment as much as possible. Dust is part of the creation of our universe and instead of fighting it I’ve learnt to work with it by finding good cleaning solutions (which we’ll discuss further on). I’ve definitely eliminated a large amount of it by returning records back to their sleeves as soon as I’m done playing with them. Dust also tends to vary in different climates and you may experience higher dust levels in dry and hot climates as opposed to the wetter and colder climates, however dust exists everywhere!!
Another crucial way to keep records clean is by handling them carefully. Be careful to handle them only on the edges or on the label and of course if your hands are dirty or wet don’t handle them at all!! Storage plays a huge role in keeping records clean however since there is quite a bit to say on this topic we’ll take it to the next tip.
Storage – Storage – Yes Storage!
Believe it or not, the way you store your records can really impact their quality and performance.
Always make sure to store them upright. Stacking them horizontally can cause them to warp which can eventually ruin them and make them unplayable.
It is highly advisable not to store them in the cardboard paper
they come in since this cardboard has potential to do more bad than good! This is because the paper can actually scratch the records and the paper flakes that they give off end up in the record grooves.
Keep records in good inner anti-static sleeves, they are absolutely great because they are extremely cost efficient. They are transparent so I can see which record is actually inside it. They also do a great job of preserving your record by keeping them dust free.
Investing in a bookcase or storage cases is also very important so that they are securely stored when not being used. I actually enjoy transforming the bookcases into a feature in my home whilst preserving my records at the same time.
Cleanliness = Acoustic Clarity!
Be nuts on cleanliness because in the world of vinyl records cleanliness = acoustic clarity. I’m not crazy – this is fact!! In the past I used to have to wash my records after about 20 plays, however since I’ve become really particular to return records to their plastic sleeve straight after playing, my
records can play beautifully up to approximately 40 plays. How well you look after your records will determine how often you actually need to clean them!
Why Cleaning is So Important
We’ve discussed the biggest causes for records getting dirty however, why is cleaning records actually so important?
Firstly, have you ever experienced a record that has sounded really scratched and thought that the record had no future? Sounds familiar doesn’t it! Very often we think that a record is scratched, however in truth it is probably only dirty and a good clean will restore the sound quality to your records.
If you tend to struggle with static electricity, then washing the record will definitely help eliminate this problem for a good few plays.
My favourite one of course: dusty records kill the stylus on the turntable. I’ve seen this time and time again, because since I’ve been washing my records my stylus has lasted on some occasions as much as six times as long as they used to!!! This was a really big revelation, especially when using expensive styluses and having to replace them too often!!
The grooves in a record are so narrow – they are half a micron – which is just over half a hair’s width! Therefore any tiny particle of dust is large enough to cause disturbance during playing and this will present itself as cracks and pops in the sound.
Before we actually delve into the best cleaning methods it’s really important to clarify some cleaning myths! There are some people out there who advise cleaning records with washing up liquid and drying with a cloth. These methods definitely work on a superficial level, however not on a professional level since they might work the first few times, however long term use actually causes the record to deteriorate:
- Washing up liquid – this accumulates and ends up getting clogged in the grooves of the record, so over time it actually kills and dulls the sound on the record.
- Water – this leaves lime-scale on the records and after a few washes will build up, settle in the grooves and eventually dull the sound on the record. Therefore it is very important to use a specialist cleaning agent that has been created for this specific purpose.
Drying cloths – it is very important to eliminate as much cross contamination and dust as possible; therefore drying cloths which naturally have dust sitting in them, will spread dust from one record to another.
Best Cleaning Methods
Now finally, what are the best methods of cleaning and maintaining your records? There are two types of systems available on the market, one known as a manual cleaning system and the other a record cleaning machine. Let’s discuss the two in more depth:
- A manual cleaning system is great for cleaning records on the surface and slightly beyond. The advantages of these is that they are extremely cost efficient, compactand easy to run. However, they do require the physical work of cleaning record by record which I personally find to be a nice relaxing job. This system works by filling a ‘bath’ of cleaning solution in the plastic container provided. This container hasintegral brushes which clean the records in both a clockwise and
anticlockwise direction. You then either drain or dry the record with a specialised cloth. This is simple to use however one factor that bothered me was the fact that the same solution was being reused on a large number of records. True, most of the dust actually fell to the bottom of the container however there still is a degreeof cross contamination which will not allow the
ultimate clean. If you use drying cloths to dry the records these also pose the problem of cross
contamination. However, when all is said and done these systems are a great value for money and I definitely recommend them.
- Let’s explore the record cleaning machines. These are absolutely great and they do a thorough and fantastic job. They clean the surface of the records and also have the ability to deep clean them by cleaning out the grooves. They are extremely easy to use and require hardly any physical labour. Most of them work in the fashion that you place the record on the system, you
pour some cleaning solution onto it, and the machine does the rest. One huge advantage that this machine has over the basic washer systems is the fact it has a built in vacuum which removes all the dust, as well as drying the record too. The vacuum cleaner is what enables the machine to give the record a really deep clean and also removes the concern of cross contamination. These machines require electric power. The only downside for some people is the fact these machines are pricier, however they are well worth the money based on the fact that they preserve your records.
Last But Not Least - New Records Also Need Cleaning
This was a really big surprise to me, since new always meant clean!! However I was advised by a good friend that it is well worth cleaning your new record before playing them since records are very prone to picking up dust and dirt that is freely available in the record factories. I gave this a try and was amazed at the results!! So take my word, my friend, give it a try as well!!