What's the best way to keep my vinyl records clean?
Clean records is probably the best and most cost-effective 'upgrade' you can make to your music system. The holy trinity of clean records is:
1 Avoid touching the playing surface and store them well in a static-free sleeve.
2 Clean them with a quality record cleaner and ideally with a record cleaning machine (RCM).
3 Play them on a good quality turntable on regular basis.
This isn't strictly about keeping records clean but if you also keep the stylus clean you'll extract the very best from your hi-fi system.
'Why are my vinyl record still sounding dirty after cleaning?'
Occasionally after cleaning new pops or crackles may appear or the stylus could clog with what looks like a white paste. The cause of the pops is a white like material which is mainly (90-99%) rehydrated skin that has not been removed from the playing surface during the cleaning process. It’s the dirt that is lodged deep within the grooves that has been dislodged by the cleaner but not removed from the record playing surface. The vinyl surface will be perfectly fine and unaffected, it will just need a deeper, more thorough clean. The stylus can be easily unclogged using our Stylus Clear which is provided in most of our kits.
You may not have experienced (or heard) this before because other cleaning fluids don’t work as effectively to remove deep-seated material. The cleaning fluid needs dispersion characteristics that reduce its surface tension in order to penetrate the deeper reaches of the groove and remove the electric charge between it and the vinyl and soften it sufficiently for removal. Vinyl Clear fluid does which is why it’s so effective at and labelled 'Deep Track Cleansing". That’s one of the reasons why Abbey Road Studios use it.
Obviously, the deeper seated the dust the more likely it is to be harder to remove as it will have more surface area in contact with the surface of the vinyl groove. On occasion this deep seated dust will be rehydrated by the fluid and dislodged but not removed by the microfibre cloth. In effect it has changed it's position within the vinyl groove, effectively placing it on a point of contact of the stylus. Most people don't realise that the stylus (depending on it's profile, the vinyl pressing and the turntable used) only makes contact with a small percentage of the vinyl groove. That's why some dust can sit in a vinyl groove and not be noticed during play and why changing the stylus (or the sylus profile) can reveal previously unheard pops or clicks. It's also why different styli sound different on the same vinyl. It's not uncommon for some of this 'white paste' to be picked up by the stylus during playing, especially if the record is played soon after cleaning.
'What to do with stubborn or really dirty records?’'
If you've followed our record cleaning advice and your vinyl still has pops or crackles then there are a few options.
1. The more vinyl is cleaned and immediately played, the cleaner it gets. So multiple clean/play cycles works.
2. You can (and we do) get quite aggressive with the use of the microfibre cloth as it’s not possible to damage the record.
3. Soak the problem areas of the vinyl with fluid, and leave for a minute or so before cleaning.
4. If that doesn’t work then it’s possible that a different cleaning method, perhaps a Record Cleaning Machine (RCM), might give a different result. At Vinyl Clear we have a number of RCM’s, in our experience sometimes they give a different result, sometimes they don’t.
5. When we have a problem vinyl or are looking for a high end ‘back to pressing’ restoration, what can provide an improvement is to use multiple cleaning methods, multiple times.
But if after that there’s still no improvement, it’s likely the vinyl is as good as it can get.
White 'sludge' on the stylus on the first play after cleaning
Rehydrated dust that hasn't been removed from the playing surface after cleaning could result in some of it sticking to the stylus. This will only happen if you play the vinyl immediately after cleaning. There are two solutions to this 1; it can be removed with the stylus cleaner or 2; leave the rehydrated dust to dry overnight. Either way, clean the vinyl again, but be more aggressive with the microfibre cloth, neither it or the Vinyl Clear fluid can damage the vinyl record playing surface!
Vinyl Clear tends to remove between 90-95% of debris during a cleaning cycle. Every time a record is cleaned more debris (and the harder to remove debris) is removed from the vinyl record grooves. Not surprisingly, no cleaning process is 100% efficient (even the best £3,000 ultrasound cleaner is rated at 98%) and Vinyl Clear is no different.
Finally, the more the vinyl is played the more it will be free of dust. Often one or two clean and play cycles will remove even the most stubborn dust. If the pops and crackles are still there after that then and you don't think it's because of past structural damage to the groove then time to consider either a spin, vacuum or ultrasound cleaner.
"On the internet there are warnings against using alcohol to clean records and even distilled water. Does your product contain either?"
Back in the 1940's when records were made from Shellac (beetle shell) the use of alcohol would have been an issue because prolonged exposure to high concentrations of alcohol would soften Shellac. This is probably where this idea originated. But that was over 80 years ago! Since records were made from PVC in the 1950's, alcohol has been used as a drying agent in many vinyl record cleaning formulas and there is no reliable evidence that records are damaged by it. The majority of the scientific evidence supports this view.
The IPA debate is quite complex as there are many different types of alcohol such as Isopropyl, Methanol, Ethanol that are used a part of vinyl cleaning products and many different formula and concentrations. It’s a topic that’s debated at length in the forums.
Vinyl Clear contains a small percentage of isopropanol alcohol as a drying agent. It also contains pure type 1 deionised, (not distilled) water. Distilled water is often not as pure as the deionised water that we manufacture using our own state of the art equipment. We have supplied many thousands of kits, worldwide for over 10 years and have never had any feedback that the product is anything other than a great cleaner.
Lenco Turntables, QVC, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Guardian offer Vinylclear to their readers, having compared it to other the products in the marketplace. The home of vinyl, Abbey Road Studios sell record cleaning kits made by us, so we don't think it is a coincidence that most of the internet noise on the subject of using isopropanol is created by suppliers of vinyl cleaning products that do not contain it.
"Should I wet or dry clean my vinyl records?"
Using a dry brush is ideal for ‘pre use’ cleaning as it’s quick and easy but it won’t remove deep down dust in the way that a wet clean does. That said, every time you wet clean a vinyl record it is possible that your stylus will become dirty. And will happen because all of the re-hydrated dust will not be removed from the grooves. Then you play the vinyl and the still sticky dust attaches to the styli, in a way that it wouldn't prior to cleaning.
This is especially true of audiophile low-compliance rigs which typically use specialist needle profiles such as HE and SAS as the stylus sits deeper in the record groove. This is why our high-quality record cleaning kits include a bottle of stylus cleaner. You should find that the problem reduces after each cleaning cycle. Depending on how dirty the record was, the volume of dust collecting on the stylus should reduce by 50-75% after each playing. Not only will you see the difference the cleaning has made to the record you will also notice a marked difference in the audio quality, with less clicks and pops.
So the best way to restore your vinyl records to that ‘as new’ condition is to wet clean them and then play them. Repeat this cycle and you will notice the difference in audio quality. You may be lucky first time, but if not you just have to patient knowing each cycle the record is getting cleaner and cleaner and your stylus less and less dirty.
Should I use a liquid cleaner on my stylus?
The diamond stylus is attached to the cantilever with an adhesive. There's a debate around use of liquid stylus cleaners because they could reduce the efficacy of the adhesive. That said most styli manufacturers also offer a liquid cleaner. To be honest there are audiophiles that would not use a liquid cleaner or a stylus brush on their stili for fear of microscopic damage to it. And if we used a MC cartridge costing £3,500 plus then we'd probably be a little more paranoid about it and consider using a specialist 'no contact' air gun to gently blow away dirt and debris.
But for the vast majority of music lovers Stylus Clear is an easy low-cost solution to a dirty stylus. Certainly there are chemicals that could soften the stylus adhesive but for obvious reasons, none are used in our cleaning fluid. Stylus Clear is a soft and gentle cleaner that respects the delicate nature of the stylus. It has been approved by Lenco and Abbey Road Studios for that purpose. Over 100,000 music lovers use it and there has never been a suggestion from them that it does anything but restore their stylus to optimum condition.
What about Gel Cleaners?
Stylus Gel cleaning has become very popular over the last few years. We even manufactured one, but we withdrew it from the market in 2020. Why? The issue for us was the potential damage to the stylus cantilever, cheaper styli are made using an aluminium cantilever. The <> profile of an aluminium cantilever is strong and robust, which is why it's so popular, the downside to this is that it doesn't have the best sonic properties, that's why higher quality styli are made with more exotic materials. Boron, Ruby and Saphire are all used in an attempt to capture everything the vinyl has to offer, and they do it very well, but they can be very fragile.
Our tests indicated that using a stylus gel on these cantilevers incresed the probability of the cantilever snapping when removed from the sticky gel. That's why we don't sell, use or recommend using a gel cleaner.
And what about Other Cleaning methods?
We have an overview of the other types of wet cleaning on our record cleaning machine RCM page.