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If you’re noticing a lot of pops, clicks and skips from your vinyl records, it’s probably time to clean your collection. Though not all damage is caused from dust (proper storage and a good needle are big factors too), a thorough cleaning can really make a huge difference in the way your records ultimately sound.
So much of the crackling and crunching we associate with records is from dust and gunk on the surface, and you’ll be amazed at the before and after difference. Even just touching your discs can cause damage, since the natural oils from our hands and fingers pick up dust which can mess up the record’s grooves.
How to Clean Your Vinyl LPs
For this article, we’ve provided some basic steps on how to clean your vinyl records, as well as our favorite products to help remove grime and keep your collection sounding great for years to come. Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for the best way to clean your LPs.
Start Dry: Step one is to knock out all of that dry dust before getting any liquids involved, and a carbon fiber or velvet brush is a good place to begin. If you use a liquid cleaning spray while there’s still dust on the surface, it’ll push the dust further into the grooves and harden up, leaving you with a bigger mess than you began with.
Be aware though that the act of brushing can actually attract dust through static buildup – you may be brushing it off one side only for it cling right back to the other, or all over your turntable if you clean while your record is spinning. That’s why an anti-static brush is important. You can also gently place your record down on a lint-free cloth, gather the dust into a straight line with the carbon fiber brush, and sweep it off the edge of the table so it can’t cling right back on. After that, break out the softer, velvet brush to pick up any of the residual dust left over.
Liquid Cleaning: There are a few different ways to go about this, both 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 (as a side note, it’s important to always used distilled, as tap water can contain impurities that are harmful to vinyl). The solution itself doesn’t do much of the cleaning, but when paired with a brush or cloth, really helps dislodge the dirt and dust built up over time, reducing surface tension and allowing it to get deep into the invisible grooves. You can even do a secondary clean afterwards, with just distilled water, to remove any residual residue from the cleaner.
Finishing: When you’re done with the liquid cleaning, it’s time to dry off — never put your records away when they’re still wet. Some kits include designated soft cloths specifically-designed for wiping down LPs, 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 a simple and affordable solution to let your discs air dry too.
Storage: After cleaning, keeping your record collection stored properly is part of the maintenance process that shouldn’t be overlooked. Never stack them vertically, as this puts immense and uneven pressure on the discs, causing them to warp and crack. Even when storing them horizontally, make sure they’re not packed in super-tight – leave some breathing room between them. Also go for a good inner liner: the included paper ones can often be dust magnets, but a polyethylene anti-static sleeve can keep dust away.
Maintenance: A common question is that if the brush cleans records, what cleans the brush? A simple unused toothbrush is a solution to brush your vinyl brush after each clean, shaking out the dust and having it ready for next time.
Also always be sure to hold your records by the edges and/or the center label — never the playable surface. Don’t forget about the needle too, as it scoops up all the dust and dirt from the grooves; fortunately, a small soft-tip toothbrush can easily knock it loose. Unfortunately, if your record’s got scratches that are too deep or warping that’s too steep, these cleaning solutions aren’t able to help. But for routine care and keeping your vinyls in top shape, here are our recommendations for the best products to buy to clean your records.
1. Spin-Clean Record Washer Kit
This was by far the fullest, deepest and all-around best home cleaning device we tried. No need to be a vinyl aficionado or master collector — even newbies can clean their entire collection with this kit.
Two rollers go inside, with three slots to hold and securely spin all sizes of records, from 12-inch to 10-inch and 7-inch. Two brushes slide right into the center slots, and a set line tells you exactly how much distilled water to add so the brushes are submerged, and you can drop the washing fluid right onto them.
From there, rotate your record three times clockwise and counter-clockwise to make sure all the grooves are getting cleaned. Don’t worry about damaging the label either, as the brushes don’t touch it, and the fluid is non-damaging to it anyway.
When you’re done. remove the record and dry it with the included soft drying cloths (it’s recommended to wash them first for extra softness). The difference is noticeably instant, both to ears and eyes, and even smells nice, and seeing all the crud that came off your records is pretty satisfying too.
A bottle of Spin Clean’s washer fluid is included, and is enough for cleaning around 700 records – enough for even the most dedicated collectors.
When not in use, the lid keeps the basin free from dust and debris creeping in, and you can even leave the water/solution in there for up to a week to use for next time (just be sure to remove and rinse the brushes first).
2. Boundless Audio Record Cleaner Brush
This is a great first step in cleaning your records before doing anything deeper, since it removes the top layer of dust and dirt and reduces the risk of pushing it further down. The brush cleans off the surface of the disc as it spins on the turntable, gently sweeping away debris with its premium quality carbon fiber bristles. It also cuts down on static charges while cleaning, and aesthetically looks great next to your setup.
3. Big Fudge Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit
If you’re worried about scratching up your records while cleaning, this kit is easy on your discs, providing an ultra-smooth and soft sweep to remove dust, dirt and even fingerprints.
The velvet brush is dreamily soft, anti-static, and can clean particles off your needle as well (there’s a mini-brush included too). 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 Seventies, and it’s only gotten better since then.
This brush is extremely gentle on your records, doing a superb job of cleaning without leaving any nasty residue behind.
It’s instantly anti-static on contact, totally safe for vinyl records, and removes nastiness like oils, mold, and film. The walnut finish is a nice touch and the brush won’t look out of place on your shelf or next to your record collection.
The included “cleaning fluid” won’t leave annoying streaks and is safe to use on all discs. A little spritz goes a long way.