DIY Record cleaning solution


Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 13461
Registered: May-04

I've posted this here several items in the past, those posts can be found in the archives. But here goes again ...

There are several excellent cleaning solutions to be found on the aftermarket and they should be considered for extremely valuable discs or extremely grimey discs. However, for everyday cleaning I use a simple homebrew formula that can be put together for a few dollars.

I begin with store bought distilled water - only distilled water not drinking, spring or any other sort of water that would include added impurites. Distilled water can be purchased for about $0.80 a gallon. Start here and listen after a few discs have been cleaned, you can certainly buy higher purity water and reclean your distilled water discs if need be but you reach a point of diminishing returns rather quickly IMO and unless you are at the MF level of components I doubt you'll notice any problems with distilled water, it has been the standby for decades.

To one cup of distilled water I add two drops of All "Free - Clear" laundry detergent (no fragrances, no phosphates, no coloring agents). The detergent acts only as a surfactant which serves to break the water's surface tension. This allows the the water to flow smoothly into the record groove - you'll see how to notice the correct amount of surfactant a bit later - but actually the detergent does no cleaning itself so do not get into the thought process that if a little bit is good, then a lot more is better. You simply need to break the surface tension of the water. That's all you need to do. The cleaning action is done by the water, which also holds the removed dirt is supension unitl it can be vaccumed away and, if necessary, the action of a soft cleaning brush or cloth. The resulting combination of one cup water and two drops of detergent should result in very little sudsing when applied to the disc surface. If you get more than a few suds, you've added too much detergent and you'll have more trouble rinsing this solution from the bottom of the groove. Remember, the surfactant is there only to allow the surface tension of the water to be relaxed. Once again there are high end surfactants available at higher cost but let your ears be your guide as to how much you hear vs. how much you pay.

That is my basic cleaning solution.

If I have very dirty records that this solution will not clean to my satisfaction - typically used LP's with finger smudges or mould - I'll add no more than 1 ounce of alchohol to my then 7 ounces of distilled water, IMO the less alchohol you can get away with the better you are. Here I will spring for the more costly and slightly more pure Everclear over the cheaper isopropyl from the drugstore. A bottle of Everclear should run less than $20 and clean hundreds of LP's.

I then warm this solution in the microwave to get it quite warm to the touch, not steaming but quite warm. The solution is placed in a spray bottle and another spray bottle is filled with just distilled water to be used as a rinse.

I lay out two thick bath towels folded into pads large enough to support the LP. Placing side one of the disc face up on the first towel, I liberally spray the warm cleaning solution over its surface keeping as much as possible off the label area. This isn't just a thin line of solution you swipe around the disc but a thorough bathing of the groove in cleaning solution. When the mixture is right you'll see the solution flows into the groove and covers the surface of the disc rather than puddling up as you'll find happens with the water only rinse.

I have two main cleaning brushes/towels. For everday cleaning I use a microfiber towel that has been dampened with distilled water, this serves me well on basically new or already clean discs. A few strokes in the direction of the groove and then back in the opposite direction and then side one is flipped over and the process is repeated on the second side. The next level of cleaning comes from a VPI brush* which is reserved for the most difficult to clean discs. If you use a brush, make certain you rinse it in a separate container after each disc side so you don't transfer crud form one disc to the next. If you're using the microfiber towel, just constantly turn the towel as you clean and eventually run the towel under some tap water to rinse it and then re-wet the towel with distilled water before wringing it out and cleaning the next disc.

At this point the disc is ready to be run on the vacuum machine. You'll find your own method for the machine but I did place a few felt pads on the top corners of my machine to protect the disc should it slip out of my hands while I'm working with the machine. I do a bi-directional rotation of the disc on my cleaning machine ending with the machine being shut off and the disc being slowly rotated to an end point and lifted up as the machine's vacuum dissipates to zero. The LP is now ready to go back into a clean sleeve.

If you'd care to be a bit more thorough in your cleaning, now is the time for a rinse before the disc goes back into a sleeve. Place the LP on your second bath towel and spray with the clear distilled water, thoroughly wetting the surface as you did with the cleaner. Take a second dampened microfiber towel and give a light brush to spread the rinse water - without a surfactant to break the water tension you'll notice the rinse water tends to puddle up. Flip the disc to rinse the other side and then transfer to the vacuum machine for drying.

After a few LP's you'll need to turn the towels to find a fresh surface and, if you're cleaning dozens of LP's in one night, you'll probably want a few extra towels on hand to transfer out when the originals get soaked and dirty. The same goes for the microfiber towels you use for cleaning.

Mix only enough solution to stay warm while you work and keep the mixture warm if need be by returning it to the microwave. IMO it's the warmth of the solution that does the most good here over and above the basic solution itself. There are steam cleaners on the market for LP cleaning and you might want to experiment with this method but you'll have to be careful not to lift the label with that method. I think you'll find the warm water cleaner to be satisfactory in almost all cases.

For those of you who remember the original Keith Monks machine the solution used there was a simple combination of distilled water and isopropyl alchohol. The mixture was, I believe, 70/30. I have numerous discs that were cleaned with this machine that are still in excellent shape today. I do, however, have a few recent audiophile pressings that were left with a very slight whitish haze when cleaned with an alchohol mix as described above. You decide, if you can obtain good results without the alchohol, the alchohol is for the most part used as a drying agent and not much more. With the quality of the current crop of vacuum machines I don't feel alchohol has a real place in your cleaning regimen.

Many manufacturers of cleaning solutions have a trial size you can purchase. It's well worth your time to experiment but I think you'll find good results without spending too many dollars.

* A substitute for the VPI brush is a soft, 4" nylon bristle paint brush from the hardware store. Some people cut these down to shorten and stiffen the bristles ever so slightly. IMO the VPI brush is well worth the money, lasts almost forever for the average user and does a superior job to any other brush I've tried which includes quite a few.

And remember, if your cartridge is not built with a bonded stylus, to use a good stylus cleaner after a night's worth of listening.

If you follow my method as outlined above, after you've finished your night's cleaning and when you toss the towels into the washing machine use only a few drops of the detergent to run through the wash cycle. As with the disc cleaning all you need to do is break the surface tension and let the agitation of the water do the rest. Obviously, you don't want to use any sort of fabric softener on these towels.


Silver Member
Username: Soundgame

Richmond Hill Toronto, Ontario Canada

Post Number: 715
Registered: Jun-08
Thanks for going through this once again Jan. I've adopted some of the prinicples and process you have outlined here but from this description, I still have some more tweaks to my process to make.
I've been using a distilled water / isopropyl alochol combination with the two drops of dishwashing soap but can't say I've tried the brands you've recommended. Also, your suggestion on the bruch i.e. paint brush is something I think I'll try, until I can get my hands on a VPI brush.



New member
Username: Gbb

Post Number: 4
Registered: Mar-09
I'm curious Jan, as someone new to this and lacking an RCM, is there any point in doing the manual cleaning without the vacuuming step, or will that just move the crud around but not remove it?


Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 13515
Registered: May-04

If you are dilligent abut the task, any cleaning is good for a LP. Check the Disc Doctor's pages on non-vacuum system record cleaning. The idea is virtually the same except you either allow the discs to drip dry in your dish strainer or you wipe them dry with soft, lint free clothes such as cloth diapers or micfrofiber towels. The disadvantage to this method would be the relatively few discs you can clean at any one time. While a vacuum system is generally regarded as the best option there is another alternative that has received rather good reviews;



New member
Username: Dhand

Post Number: 1
Registered: Apr-09
I just wanted to post a quick "thank you" for the info in this post. Following these directions has helped this Newbie greatly!!

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