Vinyl care: keep your records singing
“One of the things I love most about vinyl is that warm crackle as the record starts to play.” - me, before I actually owned a turntable.
"I really wish my records would stop clicking and popping." - me, after actually buying a turntable.
As many people will attest, it’s the idea of vinyl that draws them into buying a turntable in the first place. The tactile nature of records, the warm, crackling sound, the feeling of nostalgia for a time they never knew.
But I, like many others, found that after owning a turntable for a while I just wanted my records to sound their best, rather than dusty, dirty relics from a bygone era.
And so I invested in a record cleaning brush. This is a cheap, practical, easy solution for someone who wants to keep their records from turning into musical debris-magnets, but there’s plenty of other options out there that can keep your records sounding good enough to hand down a generation or two.
In this guide we’ll serve you some options for keeping your records squeaky clean, whilst also offering up some tips to make sure you’re not mistreating the LPs you’ve spent your hard-earned on.
First things first, let’s make sure you’re handling your records in a way that isn’t going to damage them in the long term.
Records, as you may already know, contain musical information in some smaller-than-is-reasonable grooves. It's very easy for all sorts of stuff to get caked in there, not least of all the oils from your skin.
When you pick up a record, it's essential that you don't touch any of the areas with these tiny microgrooves. Your best bet is to rest your thumb against the outer rim of the record, whilst supporting the underside of the label with your middle finger.
If your digits don't stretch that far, gently clasping either side of the record with the palms of your hands also suffices. Just do whatever you can to avoid touching those tiny musicals trenches.
Stacking is whack!
This one's rare, but we still see it from time to time and it's a disturbing sight.
It's very important that you keep your records stored vertically on a shelf and not stacked on top of each other. Whilst stacking may work for you space-wise, you're going to cause damage in the long term.
Records weigh a fair bit, and if they're piled on top of each other they'll gradually begin to warp and disfigure. A simple tip, but an important one for long term vinyl health.
Records cost money, and this is going to ruin them. Please don't.
Give them room on the shelf
Another common crime against vinyl!
Having your records shelved upright is important, but it's also vital not to crowd your records in too much.
If there's enough pressure on both sides of the sleeve that you have difficulty removing the LP from the shelf, you could have similar issues to stacking your records with warping of the discs.
Plus... records are heavier than you think. That IKEA furniture you're using to store your thousands of dollars of vinyl might not be as stable as the day you bought it.
Don't let this be you.
A quick brush goes a long way
There's two types of brushes you should look at investing in if you don't already have them.
Firstly, an anti-static record brush. It's not going to give your records a deep clean, but it does a couple of important jobs.
Sweep me off my feet.
First off, it removes surface debris. In terms of how effective this is, think of how timber floors look after you've swept them with a broom. It does enough, though it's not digging deep into the grooves like a vacuum cleaner would on those floorboards. Sufficient, not comprehensive.
Secondly, it discharges some of the static electricity that tends to build up on your records.
If you pick up an album from an op shop or pull one off the shelf that you haven't listened to in a number of months, you'll probably notice that it's filthy! That's because static electricity slowly builds on the record's surface, so a brush helps negate that.
The other type of brush you'll want to consider is one for your cartridge's stylus. Any dust that remains on your records after a quick clean will invariably be picked up the stylus as it track your record's grooves, so it's handy to have one of these to remove dust from your stylus.
A stylus brush. Probably don't brush your teeth with it.
Just like your sensitive records, you should avoid using an exposed finger to clean the stylus. Those very same skin oils aren't good for your stylus either. If your stylus needs some love, we can help.
For a lot of people, this is where their cleaning regimen begins and ends. But if you really want to eke the best performance out of those records, there's more you can do. Read on.
A gooey intermediary
This one's a product that's relatively new in the world of vinyl cleaning, and one that sits as a nice stepping stone between a simple brush and the more advanced methods that lie in the sections that follow.
Gentle patting is the key.
Vinyl Clean would have to be the best value cleaning product we've come across. It costs little more than a brush, and everyone we talk to about this play-doh-esque putty is blown away at how thorough it can be.
Whilst a brush does a good job of sweeping away surface dust, Vinyl Clean is slightly sticky and actually picks up bits of grit and grime from inside the grooves.
Just make sure you're using this stuff correctly. You should be aiming to pat the record and remove detritus, so ensure your platter isn't spinning when you're using it. This is money well spent.
Spin me right round, baby
This method requires a bit of elbow grease, but yields some very satisfying results.
The Pro-Ject Spin Clean is a manual record washing machine. Essentially, you're filling a reservoir with fresh (ideally distilled) water, and then running your record through a pair of brushes that have been treated with a cleaning solution.
This is a much more effective way of cleaning your records, and it'll only set you back the price equivalent of three new albums. We think that's a truly sage investment.
The Spin Clean. Get that wax fresh.
The Rolls Royce
If you're someone who's moved beyond the level of budding enthusiast and really wants to ensure that your records receive the best possible care (or you just want to splash out on something shiny) then we'd suggest checking out Pro-Ject's two brand new models of vacuum-powered units.
The VC-E and VC-S2 are truly a step up from the other methods we've mentioned so far. They use a combination of cleaning fluid and a high-powered vacuum to ensure every last bit of grit and grime is exhumed from your collection.
Operation is simple, just clamp the record on, splash on some fluid, give it a brush, then let the vacuum do its work. Here's a quick demo:
The VC-E is a bit cheaper than the S2. What are you getting if you fork out for the VC-S2? A larger tank for the cleaning fluid once it's used, a quieter operating volume for the vacuum, and you avoid overhang of the record when you're cleaning it.
Modest upgrades, but if you can afford the jump then go for it!
Which solution is right for my situation?
Ok, so there's plenty of useful info here, but to help you make a decision on which product to buy, here's a few real world scenarios that'll give you an indication of what might be the most suitable option for you.
Connor, 24, has just bought his first turntable system and has inherited a few records from his parents, and bought a few brand new LPs from a local record store. He's loving his new hobby.
He's noticed a few pops and clicks on some of the older records, as well as the new albums after they've been in and out of their sleeves a few times. Connor decides to invest in a record cleaning brush and a stylus brush to keep the dust at bay. It's a simple, cost-effective solution that suits his needs at these early stages of his journey.
Sarah, 31, has been collecting for about eighteen months now. She's amassed a decent library of around one hundred records, with an equal share of new and used.
Her record brush was doing a decent job of keeping things fresh for a while, but she's picked up some older LPs along the way that she just can't seem get truly clean, and the pops and clicks are getting under her skin.
Sarah weighs up her options, and considers the fact that her collection is now worth a few thousand dollars, and thinks it's time to show her vinyl a little more love. She buys a Spin Clean, and she's thrilled with the results.
She's not using it every time she listens, but it gets a good workout whenever she comes home with a good haul of used vinyl, and she finds it particularly useful for any LPs she leaves out whenever her cat's inside the house.
The Devout Collector
Sarah, now 35, has built a library that would make a newbie blush. She considers her collection a serious investment that she'll one day pass on to her kids. Sarah has upgraded her speakers, phono stage, and turntable in the past few years and now has a dedicated listening space for her gear.
Sarah has even started cataloguing, buying and selling on Discogs and wants a cleaning machine that she can use and be totally sure that anything she purchases or sells will be in brand new condition.
Sarah's been eyeing off a Pro-Ject VC-S2 for a little while now, and decides it's time to push the button on one. It arrives, and she's thrilled. The premium aluminium finish looks the part next to her silver Rotel A12, and she's blown away by just how much grit and dust it manages to remove from LPs that have been played hundreds of times previous.
So now you know, a record brush will do fine in the short term but once you start to build a collection it's worth a bit of investment in keeping it clean. Your options are many, but we think it's an important aspect of building a library. Keep clean, peeps.