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
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
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 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
© Corey Bailey
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