How to clean vinyl records (2022): vacuum cleaners, solution, wipes

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Unless you buy brand new – and often even then – your vinyl records are probably dirty. New discs are static and attract dust; old records sat in boxes in other people’s basements. Take it from someone who has bought, sold, found, cleaned and restored dusty, oily gems: your records probably need a good bath.

Below is everything you need to know to get (and keep) your fresh wax. Interested in more audio tips? Be sure to check out our list of the best turntables and our guide on how to upgrade your home audio system for free or cheap.

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Provisions

Pro-Ject VC-E Cleaner

Photo: Project

If you do a quick search on Amazon, you’ll find a ton of products that claim to clean vinyl records. Typically, they use sprays and some form of wiping device, such as a rag or swab, to clean the surface. However, the grooves in vinyl are so small that fibers from any fabric cannot penetrate inside. Although you can squeeze cleaning fluid into the grooves, it is quite difficult to get it out.

This is where vacuum suction comes in. Fancy record cleaning machines like this one from Pro-Ject ($499) use a platter and vacuum system to physically suck nasty cleaning solution out of the grooves, with a motor that spins the disc in two directions.

If you feel more frugal, you can simply buy one of the these awesome attachments ($30) for a small shop vacuum. Then all you need is cleaning solution ($24)a cheap brush ($5), a blank ($50), and an old record player or spindle to spin the record while you suck the solution out of the grooves. Look for old ones at thrift stores, because all you need is a table that physically spins, not one that plays music.

I’ve had amazing results cleaning my records using this system, turning crusty old records into shiny, clean masterpieces in minutes.

let it roll

Once you’ve set up your vacuum system, it’s essentially a wax-on, wax-off situation. Spread the solution over the disc while rotating it, making sure to fill each groove. Leave for a few seconds, then use the suction nozzle to suck up the liquid while spinning the record, taking care to get the most out of it before letting any residual liquid evaporate.

If a record is particularly dirty, I like to do it twice per side. Make sure you have a clean microfiber towel ($7) or a drying station so that the disc is completely dry before putting it back in its packaging.

Scratches or deformations

You cannot clean scratches or repair warped discs, so store your discs in a clean, upright environment. (Discs stacked differently can warp due to their own weight.) Do not store your records in particularly hot or cold places, or in places where the temperature varies widely, as this can affect the longevity of the vinyl.

When buying used records, it is important to know the difference between a dirty record and a scratched or warped record. I recommend to use a bright flashlight ($16) to inspect all used discs you want to buy for scratches and to make sure they are flat.

How often should I clean?

The correct answer here is whenever your folders are dirty. For most people, a single deep clean of all their drives followed by a clean every 10-20 reads per side is a good start. I clean mine in the spring. I make a stack of those that have been played a lot and newer records that I have never cleaned. (New discs may have oils used to separate them from the press still on the surface, and thus become grimy faster than previously cleaned discs.) From there, it’s Netflix and vacuuming!

I’m not so clean that I wear white gloves when handling my vinyl, but if you have particularly greasy hands this might be a good idea. Always handle your discs as indirectly as possible – grasp them by the edges or by the edge and label rather than touching the playing surfaces.

Before listening to a record, clean the needle (I like those little gummy cleansers ($16)), and make sure you’ve brushed your record so the stylus doesn’t get dust on the surface (the source of many clicks when listening). Properly cared for, your discs should last for decades of playing time. Remember: a blank disc is a happy disc!

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