Despite being one of the most formidable formats known to mankind, vinyl records have a propensity for attracting dust and grime. Between late night sessions, Sunday morning exhibitions and the commute from work to home (and back again), once new and shiny vinyl records can start to show some serious wear quicker than expected. Not to mention those rare gems pulled from the flea market that haven’t been properly cleaned…maybe ever? Fingerprints, dust, static, scratches; all create unwanted noise on what is supposed to be the audiophiles 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. Luckily, a solution is easily had. Follow these guidelines on how to clean vinyl records and you won’t have to fret about dust or fingerprints again.
Steps to Clean Vinyl Records
- Remove all dust and static using a vinyl record brush
- Inspect the record for visible marks and 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
Remove all dust and static using a vinyl 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 Original Record Brush, which has served me well over the years.
Inspect the record for visible marks and 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.
Spray cleaning solution on problem areas
Once you have identified sections of a vinyl record that require intensive cleaning, directly apply a cleaning solution, for which there are many. 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 potentially discolor.
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 and .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. Figure out what works best for you, but no matter what you use remember to avoid contact with the label.
Wipe away blemishes and fingerprints
Once the cleaning solution is on the surface of the record, apply pressure in circular movements with a clean micro-fiber or cotton cloth. This will help rub away the blemishes.
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.
Store vinyl records properly to prevent future issues
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.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. Discogs has a vinyl record cleaning starter kit in the merch shop that will provide everything you need to get started cleaning your collection. If you have any other recommendations, feel free to share them with the community in the comments.
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 though; 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.