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Your stylus works hard. Really hard. It’s tracing the grooves, encountering dust and micro-debris each time you play a record.
While stylus wear and the need to replace your stylus over time is inevitable, there are a few things you can do to help prolong the life of your stylus, protect your records from needless degradation, and maintain high quality quality sound from your set-up. It deserves a little TLC.
The most important thing to prevent accelerated stylus wear is to ensure your turntable is set up properly, especially the tracking force of your tone arm. Regularly cleaning the stylus, as well as ensuring your records are in a good condition and relatively dust-free will also go a long way to ensuring the longevity of both.
How often should you clean your stylus
Depending on how often you’re spinning records, the recommended amount is about once a week. Some dedicated record fans claim to clean their stylus after every side. If you’re not already, it’s worth getting into the habit of brushing each record side before playing.
There are plenty of good products out there for cleaning your stylus. Here are a few of the most reputable ones:
- Stylus Brush
A tried and true method and most often recommended by the cartridge manufacturer. Simply hold the tone arm steady and move the brush across the stylus a few times in the same direction that a record spins. Turntable Lab offers a carbon fiber stylus brush for under $10.
If you’re going to use a cleaning fluid, it’s best to use a product that’s been developed specifically for stylus cleaning, like this one available at Turntable Lab. Avoid using household cleaners at all costs.
- Mr Clean Magic Eraser
Several hifi and audio forums (including Discogs’ forum) are awash with rave reviews of Mr Clean Magic Eraser as a DIY stylus cleaning method. You can buy this in most hardware stores and often even supermarkets. Cut off a small square and gently lower the tone arm / stylus onto the eraser until the stylus stops leaving residue behind.
Official word from manufacturers is notably absent on this subject, so proceed with caution. If you’re going to try it out, only use it dry, and if it comes with a blue side, avoid as this is treated with cleaning agents.
- Onzow Zerodust stylus cleaner
Onzow claim this ultra soft plastic is softer and boasts 15 times the elasticity of baby’s skin (how did they measure this?), making it 100% safe for your stylus. Not cheap, but effective and pretty much foolproof. All you have to do is lower the tone arm (and needle) onto the zerodust cleaner once or twice to remove dust from the stylus tip.
- Nostatic arm
Not technically a stylus cleaner, it will prevent dust even getting a look in at your stylus. It’s like a street-sweeper for your records, with the fiber brush removing dust from the path of your stylus.
What to avoid when cleaning your stylus:
- Touching the stylus directly with your fingers. No matter how gentle, or how clean you think your hands are, the oils on your fingers will attract more dust and dirt. In the worse cases, you could even damage the stylus or disrupt the alignment.
- Standard household cleaning products. These can dissolve the glue securing your stylus to the cantilever, and if it gets up into the cartridge, can do some serious damage to the inner parts.
- Q-tip and isopropyl alcohol. This is recommended in a few places, and it might work okay, but iso evaporates very quickly, usually quicker than you can brush away the contaminants. If you’re going to use a cleaning fluid it’s better to go with something that’s been developed specifically for the task at hand.
Taking care of your stylus will help prolong its lifespan, protect your records, and ensure you’re getting the best possible playback.