Corey Bailey
Audio Engineering
CLEANING YOUR ‘GRAMOPHONE’ RECORD COLLECTION I used the term ‘Gramophone’ because we are only talking about those discs that are played on an analog turntable to extract audio. Without going deep into the science of how it works, let me simply say that even though the overall downward pressure on the stylus is defined in Grams, the resulting pressure on the part of the stylus that is following the groove walls is huge. So, when you hear those ticks and pops caused by dirt and dust, know that they may become permanent because they are being pressed into the relatively soft record surface by a considerable downward force. Therefore, if you value that record at all, it is very important that it is as clean as possible before playing. I like to think that I have tried them all when it comes to record cleaning solutions but the truth is, I have only tried and concocted those which I have been able to find. In the end, I have defaulted to commercially available cleaners and use my own system which is a variant of proven methods. Part of the reason for my use of commercial products is that I used to offer transfer services and it’s important that the client is as informed as they want to be. The other part is that I have gotten a bit lazy in my old age. My recommendation is that you do some due diligence and develop your own cleaning method. There are links at the end of this article that will help with the process. You also need to know what type of records you have and what they are made of. One thing that I can say is to avoid any cleaning solution that has alcohol in it. Alcohol can (and will) permanently damage some record compositions. The same goes for any chemical that is used to dissolve any kind of paint product or vinyl. There are plenty of solutions, both commercial and Do-It-Yourself, that do work so you can easily avoid any chemicals that may cause harm. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best record cleaning machines (RCM’s) and what I have taken away from those opportunities is that vacuuming up the cleaning and rinse solutions along with all of the dirt and grime works better than anything else that I have tried. The only problem with some of the very best RCM’s is that they are very expensive and that’s difficult for most people. If you are a ‘Do-It-Yourselfer’ like myself, there are many more possibilities. Originally, I devised a system that employs a wet-or-dry shop vac using the crevice tool with porous foam taped over the suction end and velvet over the foam. This method is very noisy but effective. I learned right away that the smallest wet-or-dry vacuum available would have plenty of suction and be somewhat quieter too. I used the cleaning formula recommended by the Library of Congress and for brushes, I used fine bristle artist paint brushes, trimmed as needed. For a cleaning platform, I hacked an old (useless) turntable that I bought at a thrift store for 2 bucks. The only remaining problem was the fact that I could only vacuum up a swath equal to the width of the crevice tool which became a PITA on large diameter records. I finally went on a mission to find, or build, a better vacuum wand. This is when I came across Canfab 3D. Canfab 3D specializes in 3D printing. However, the owner, Nick, is also a fan of vinyl LP’s and, as such, built some record cleaning products including a RCM. All of which are available on a separate website: I first tried a vacuum wand that he offered and it was very close to serving my needs but needed some improvement. By the time I got around to contacting Nick at Canfab 3D, he had already made the improvements that I was about to suggest. I bought the ‘new improved’ wand and it has become part of my cleaning routine for those records that will withstand the vacuuming process. Ultimately, I bought one of Nick’s RCM’s and was pleasantly surprised at how well it works. The unit is very cleverly designed, affordable and will adapt to the most popular sizes of records. The unit uses your existing wet or dry vac so you’ll have to get used to the noise. Things that are 3D printed have a texture that we mortals are not used to but it is certainly not objectionable. Ultimately, I went back to using the improved version of the wand that I originally bought (No longer available, I believe) instead of the RCM because I dealt with so many different size records. Sometimes I use the turntable that came with the RCM and sometimes I will use my old ‘hacked’ thrift store purchase. Although it took about six months, Duane Goodman of Lagniappe Chemicals (AKA: The Disc Doctor) finally convinced me to try a set of his cleaning brushes. I never looked back. As soon as I could afford it, I purchased brushes for cleaning every type of record. Having fallen in love with the Disc Doctor’s cleaning brushes, I tried his cleaning solutions and they are what I use today. They work as well or better than anything I have tried over the years. The system that I use is best described as a modified version of the method proposed by The Disc Doctor which, is pretty much, standard procedure. Before any cleaning is undertaken, you need to know what type of record you have and perform a close visual inspection of both sides, noting any anomalies that may be present. Can either side be cleaned using a wet process? Will it withstand vacuuming if that is part of the cleaning process? For the purposes of this discussion, we are going to use a micro-groove vinyl LP as the example. I use a turntable but you can simply place the record on a clean bath towel or a micro fiber cloth as long as the towel is larger than the record being cleaned. If the surface of the record is very dusty or dirty, I will brush the surface with a fine bristled paint brush. I do this while holding the bare vacuum nozzle a couple of inches away in the direction of the brushing. This will suck up most of the dust and dirt. Then, I will blow off the surface with a can of compressed air, using the vacuum nozzle as previously mentioned. An alternative method, for those not using a vacuum, is to stand the record on it’s edge on some paper towels and simply brush it with a fine bristled paint brush. If you are concerned about breathing airborne contaminants, you can setup a fan so that it creates a gentle breeze across the work area. Use a breathing mask, if you like. Place the side that you just cleaned on a clean towel (Not the same side of the towel that you first used) and do the same to the other side of the record. If the surface of the record is still visibly dusty or dirty, you can pre-clean it using distilled water. Although I use a product known as Triton X-100, adding a couple of drops (2 to 4 drops per half gallon) of liquid dish soap will act as a surfactant which will allow the water to get down into the grooves by reducing the surface tension of the water. BTW, if you see any suds at all after adding the dish soap, you’ve added too much but you won’t damage the surface of the record. If you are using a fine bristled brush for cleaning, add the water by depositing it in a couple of lines around the record and spread it out with a the brush. Avoid getting the label wet. Wipe any excess moisture off the label ASAP. You can use any soft cloth or tissue paper for this. If you are using a record brush designed for record cleaning, follow the instructions that came with the brush. Clean about 1/4th or 1/3rd of the surface at a time using a scrubbing motion in the direction of the grooves. Brushes made for record cleaning will tend to follow the grooves. You can remove the water with the dry surface of a clean towel, a micro-fiber cloth or a wet/dry vacuum, if you have an appropriate tool that won’t damage the surface of the record. Next, apply the record cleaning solution of your choice and repeat the process described above. For the rinse, do the same thing. You can use the dish soap/distilled water as a rinse if you haven’t added too much dish soap. Otherwise, use plain distilled water for the rinse. Some will use Deionized water which is a type of ultra pure water but I don’t think it has any special surfactant qualities and is harder to obtain than distilled water. When digitizing a record, I only clean and play one side at a time and I will play the disc immediately after cleaning. For those people that don’t use a vacuum, wiping the record with a carbon fiber brush just before playing will remove any lint from the cloth used in the cleaning process. There you have it. Modify this procedure to fit your own needs if you like. As I said earlier: “My recommendation is that you do some due diligence and develop your own cleaning method” Some useful links (listed alphabetically); Record Cleaning Solutions & other supplies Record Cleaning Machines & other supplies (MOTH RCM) Return to TOP of page © Corey Bailey Audio Engineering
Home Home About Me About Me Glossaries Glossaries Links Links Contact Me Contact Me