Despite being one of the most formidable formats known to mankind, vinyl records have a propensity for attracting dust and grime. Between late-night listening and Sunday morning sessions, once new and shiny vinyl can start to show some serious wear quicker than expected. Not to mention those rare gems pulled from the crate that haven’t been properly cleaned … maybe ever? Fingerprints, dust, static, scratches — all create unwanted noise on what is supposed to be the audiophile’s format of choice. The cracks and pops, once so endearing, can easily become audibly unbearable. Furthermore, oil from your hands can eat at the surface of vinyl, bringing the value of a record down. Follow these guidelines on how to clean vinyl records and you won’t have to fret about dust or fingerprints.
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Steps to Clean Vinyl Records
- Remove dust and static with a record brush.
- Inspect the record for visible blemishes.
- Spray cleaning solution on problem areas.
- Wipe clean using circular movements.
- Rinse and dry the record.
- Store vinyl records properly to prevent future problems.
1. Remove dust and static with a record brush.
Just like sweeping before mopping a floor, removing dust and static before using a liquid solution will make your life much easier. Use long, gentle brush strokes with a designated tool to make sure you are removing detritus without harming the vinyl surface. There are plenty of brushes out there, but I can personally vouch for Audioquest’s Anti-Static Record Brush, which has served me well over the years.
2. Inspect the record for visible blemishes.
Under a soft, bright light, view the surface for any discolorations, smudges, and fingerprints. These problem areas will need some love and attention. Sometimes, especially when buying batches of used vinyl, the entire record may need a scrub.
3. Spray cleaning solution on problem areas
Once you have identified sections of a vinyl record that require intensive cleaning, directly apply a cleaning solution. Be extremely careful to avoid touching the label with liquid of any kind, as this can cause the epoxy to loosen and the label to discolor.
Cleaning solution recommendations: Many are split on what vinyl record cleaning solution works best and which ones to avoid. There are plenty of options to choose from, including a dedicated solution such as VPI record cleaning fluid, user-made concoctions such as the soapy mixture of deionized water .5% Tergitol 15-S-7 used by the Library Of Congress, or literally just Dawn dish soap (go with the blue kind over green) mixed with water. Here is Discogs’ side-by-side test of many popular homemade and professional cleaning solutions.
4. Wipe clean using circular movements.
Once the cleaning solution is on the surface of the record, apply pressure in circular movements with a clean microfiber or cotton cloth. This will help rub away the blemishes. Be sure to avoid the label at all costs — these can get damaged depending on the cleaning solution you are using.
5. Rinse and dry the record.
Using a controlled spray bottle or ninja precision and a sink, carefully wash away any remaining cleaning solution. Dry the record completely using a clean cloth, different from the one that was used to wipe away the blemishes, before getting ready to store it. At this point in the process, you’ll want to be careful not to leave any new fingerprints. Only handle the vinyl record by the edges or label.
6. Store vinyl records properly.
In general, make sure records have a sleeve and are being properly handled each time they are removed. There are other guidelines that will help you maintain a record collection. Check out our guide for the most comprehensive review of how to store vinyl records.
Final note: For those that need to clean a lot of records, consider buying a record vacuum or vinyl record cleaning machine. They will significantly reduce the time needed to clean each record. Fair warning: These are typically very expensive, though the return of raising the grade of the record might be worth it for those looking to sell many records.
Article originally published in 2018. Last updated in 2021.