If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
If you’re noticing a lot of pops, clicks, and skips on your vinyl records, it’s probably time to clean up your collection. While not all damage is caused by dust (proper storage and a good needle are also important factors), a thorough cleaning can really make a huge difference in how your records ultimately sound.
Much of the crackle and crackle we associate with records comes from dust and grime on the surface, and you’ll be amazed at the difference before and after. Just touching your records can cause damage, as the natural oils in our hands and fingers pick up dust that can mar the record’s grooves.
How to clean your vinyl records
For this article, we’ve provided some basic steps on how to clean your vinyl records, along with our favorite products to help remove dirt and keep your collection looking good for years to come. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the best way to clean your vinyl records.
Start dry: The first step is to remove all that dry dust before using any liquids, and a carbon fiber or velor brush is a good place to start. If you use a liquid cleaning spray while there is still dust on the surface, it will push the dust further into the grooves and harden, leaving you with a bigger mess than you started with.
Be aware, however, that brushing your teeth can actually attract dust from static buildup – you can brush it off just one side as it clings directly to the other, or all over your turntable if you’re cleaning while your record is spinning. This is why a antistatic the brush is important. You can also gently place your record on a lint-free cloth, gather the dust in a straight line with the carbon fiber brush, and brush it off the edge of the table so it can’t stick to it. After that, take out the softer velvet brush to pick up the remaining residual dust.
Liquid cleaning: There are several ways to do this, by hand with a cloth or inside a cleaning device. A liquid cleaner, often called a surfactant or wetting agent, is exactly what it sounds like – a concentrated cleaning solution that you apply directly to the disc when diluted with distilled water (by the way, it’s important to always use distilled, as tap water may contain impurities harmful to vinyl). The solution itself doesn’t do much cleaning, but when paired with a brush or cloth it really helps loosen dirt and dust that has built up over time, reducing surface tension and allowing it to penetrate deep into invisible grooves. You can even do a secondary cleaning afterwards, with just distilled water, to remove any residual cleaner residue.
Finishing: When you’re done with the liquid cleaning, it’s time to dry off – never store your records while they’re still damp. Some kits include soft cloths made specifically for wiping vinyl, but if you don’t have one, a clean microfiber cloth will do. If you’d rather not risk damaging the surface with a cloth, using a dish drainer can be an easy and affordable way to let your records air dry as well.
Storage: After cleaning, keeping your record collection properly is part of the maintenance process that shouldn’t be overlooked. Never stack them vertically, as this puts immense, uneven pressure on the discs, causing them to warp and crack. Even when storing them horizontally, make sure they’re not too tight – leave some space between them. Opt for a good inner liner, too: the included paper ones can often be dust magnets, but an anti-static polyethylene sleeve can keep dust away.
Maintenance: A common question is if the brush cleans records, what cleans the brush? A simple unused toothbrush is a solution to brushing your vinyl brush after every cleaning, shaking off the dust and preparing it for the next time.
Also be sure to always hold your records by the edges and/or center label – never the playable surface. Don’t forget the needle either, as it picks up all the dust and dirt from the grooves; fortunately, a small, soft-tipped toothbrush can easily knock it out. Unfortunately, if your disc has scratches that are too deep or warped too much, these cleaning solutions can’t help. But for routine care and keeping your vinyl in pristine condition, here are our recommendations on the best products to buy to clean your records.
1. Spin-Clean record washer kit
It was by far the best, deepest, and most comprehensive home cleaning device we’ve tried. No need to be a vinyl lover or a master collector – even beginners can clean up their entire collection with this kit.
Two rollers go inside, with three slots to securely hold and spin all sizes of records, from 12 inch to 10 inch and 7 inch. Two brushes slide right into the center slots, and an adjustment line tells you exactly how much distilled water you need to add so the brushes are submerged and you can put washing liquid directly on them.
From there, rotate your disc three times clockwise and counterclockwise to make sure all the grooves are cleaned. Don’t worry about damaging the label either, as the brushes won’t touch it and the liquid won’t damage it in any way.
Once you have finished. remove the disc and dry it with the soft drying cloths included (it is recommended to wash them first for more softness). The difference is visibly instantaneous, both to the ears and the eyes, and even smells great, and seeing all the dirt that’s come out of your records is very satisfying too.
A bottle of Spin Clean windshield washer fluid is included and is enough to clean approximately 700 discs – enough for even the most dedicated collector.
When not in use, the lid protects the basin from dust and debris getting in, and you can even leave the water/solution in there for up to a week for next time (make sure simply remove and rinse the brushes first).
2. Limitless Audio Recording Cleaner Brush
This is a great first step in cleaning your records before doing anything deeper, as it removes the top layer of dust and dirt and reduces the risk of pushing it further down. The brush cleans the record surface as it spins on the turntable, gently sweeping away debris with its premium carbon fiber bristles. It also reduces static charges when cleaning and is aesthetically perfect next to your setup.
3. Big Fudge Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit
If you’re worried about scratching your records while cleaning, this kit is easy on your records, providing an ultra smooth, gentle sweep to remove dust, dirt, and even fingerprints.
The velor brush is incredibly soft, anti-static and can also clean particles from your needle (a mini brush is also included). A good cleaning solution comes with this kit, as does a handy travel pouch, making this a great vinyl cleaning kit for DJs or people taking their turntables on the go.
4. GrooveWasher Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit
Groovewasher was the go-to cleaning kit in the 70s, and it’s only gotten better since.
This brush is extremely gentle on your records, doing a great job of cleaning without leaving any nasty residue.
It is instantly anti-static on contact, completely safe for vinyl records and removes dirt such as oils, mold and film. The walnut finish is a nice touch and the brush won’t be out of place on your shelf or next to your record collection.
The included “cleaning fluid” leaves no annoying streaks and is safe to use on all discs. A little spritz goes a long way.