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The Best Record Cleaning Solutions: Exit to Vintage Street

A clean record sounds better and prolongs the life of your phono cartridge. My best record cleaning solutions to achieve both and maintain your records.

Shure N97EJ Phono Cartridge on Turntable

When I went to Japan as an ESL teacher in my mid-20s, it marked not only a change of location and culture, but also a change from student to working adult (and I use the term “adult” loosely). With that change from student to worker came the need to buy a professional wardrobe, and as a poor recent graduate on a tight budget, that meant careful planning of items to be purchased pre-departure.

Dress pants, dress shirts, a blue blazer, dress shoes and several ties. All good, right? Unfortunately not. I arrived in the Land of Rising Tech sans belt, socks, tie-pin/bar (discovered I hated flappy ties), and overcoat (Sapporo in April can still be pretty chilly). I had most of the basics but felt incomplete for my first month or so until I got paid and could complete the wardrobe with necessary accessories.

So too for many of us audio lovers in our adventures setting up first systems or adding to existing ones. We plan out the budget, divvy it up by percentages for speakers and amp(s) and source(s), and think we’re done. Then a few weeks (or months) later we find ourselves with multiple components stacked on top of each other on top of a turned over milk carton, speakers that don’t sound right as they’re not placed correctly and records that sound awful after a few plays as we’ve nothing to clean them with.

Record Player
Stacked: If only there were a rack!

This week and next I’m going to take a tour through some of the accessories I’ve picked up (and some that I haven’t – yet) since getting into vintage audio and back into vinyl. Some I’d classify as optional, but most are requirements if you really want to get the most out of your system, whether budget or high end. This week I’m going to focus on clean records and improving the quality of your vinyl playback.

A clean record sounds better. It also does something very important – it extends the life of your cartridge

Anti-Static Record Brush

The simplest record cleaner, great for dry environments, especially in winter. An anti-static brush reduces static and removes dust particles from your record before play. Mine is made by Audio Technica ($19.94 at Amazon), but there are dozens of models out there. If you’re wet cleaning your records every few plays or on a periodic basis, the anti-static brush should be enough to keep your records pop free in between deep cleanings. It won’t clean very dirty records but is a good regular maintenance tool for your vinyl.

Antistatic Brush AT-6011
Antistatic Brush: The affordable AT-6011 does a great job.

Record Cleaning Brush

I remember that in high school my mom used a Discwasher ($22.99 at Amazon) cleaning brush, and this was one of the first accessories I picked up for myself. This is basically a directional velvet-covered pad attached to a nice ergonomic wooden body. Spray some fluid on the leading edge of the velvet pad, wipe and and twist the brush in the direction of the grooves for a few rotations, and you have a nice clean record. It will never deliver the same level of cleaning as a record cleaning machine, but it’s something. 

DiscWasher
DiscWasher: Just like my mom used to have!

Not required every spin, but good every few plays. The old ones (from the ‘70s and ‘80s) had a nifty hollow in the hardwood body that held the little cleaning fluid bottle. In a cost-cutting effort (no doubt), the wood is lighter and cheaper, and the hollow is no more. Still a must-have item.

Record Cleaning Machines 

There are several different solutions for serious cleaning of records, costing into the thousands of dollars. An ultrasonic cleaner (like those from Degritter or CleanerVinyl) or a vacuum cleaner (Okki Nokki and Pro-Ject VC-S are quite well known) will do a superb job but may be an investment too far for someone just getting started. VPI have been manufacturing record cleaning machines for almost 40 years with the entry-level model running almost $700. 

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. was using the top VPI model for its work in regard to the National Archives but we’re talking about a unit that runs over $3,000 and was being used to clean thousands of records. A robust unit for sure but probably not for the average collector. 

Record Doctor VI Vinyl Record Cleaner
Record Doctor VI

Record cleaning machines are very noisy. Our Editor-in-Chief, Ian White uses both a VPI HW-19 and Record Doctor VI (we’re giving one away later this month) in his laundry room at home because it is far away from the rest of the house where it can be heard even with the television on. Both machines also have to be emptied after each batch of records; their respective reservoirs can only hold a limited amount of dirty water and cleaning solution. 

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Vinyl Cleaning Solutions

There is no shortage of record cleaning fluids on the market and just as many opinions in regard to which solution cleans the best and does the least damage to your records. There are various means of applying and rinsing off the (straight or diluted) fluid and then drying the record.

I opted for a simple, manual SpinClean Mk. II ($79.99 at Amazon) record bath. At well under a hundred bucks, the price was right, and I have to say I’ve been impressed with the results. The Spin Clean has a narrow bath section, cleaning pads on each side, and roller guides at each end; fill the bath section with water, put in a capful of cleaning fluid, insert a record between the pads and spin clockwise and counter-clockwise three times each, then remove and dry with the supplied towels. Do enough records in one session and you can dispense with the daily workout.

Spin Clean Vinyl Record Cleaner
Spin Clean: Clean records and a good workout.

I buy a lot of records on Discogs, and the first thing I do when they arrive is give them a thorough cleaning. Early on I wasn’t doing this, and I had records that played at a G+ or VG level jump up a couple of grading points after I did finally give them a good bath and towel-off. This I consider one of my best accessory buys.

Stylus Cleaner

To me there doesn’t seem to be much point to cleaning your records if your cartridge stylus is dirty. Over time, any dirt and gunk you haven’t managed to remove from your records (with whatever cleaning method you’re using) gets carved out and builds up on the stylus. This in turn can result in a) reverse transfer of dirt back to your records from the stylus, and b) impact on vibration of the stylus in the record grooves and thus the sound emitted by your cartridge.

As I mentioned previously, a dirty cartridge doesn’t last very long and with re-tip prices getting rather expensive, it takes only a few seconds to carefully clean your stylus. The simplest stylus cleaning solution is a stylus brush (these cost next to nothing), but overzealous or faulty use of the brush could result in damage to the stylus. If you do opt for a brush always brush parallel to the stylus from back to front. Never the other way, and never sideways.

The Basics Won’t Break the Bank

For the vinyl lover, I’d classify all four of these accessories as essential. Having a clean front end to your vinyl system (the records and your stylus) will extend the life of both records and stylus and maximise the quality of sound transmitted to the rest of your system. A basic collection of anti-static, cleaning and stylus brushes will set you back around $50. My set of four comes in at a bit under $200. Whatever solution you settle for, a small investment now will reap rewards in the long run.

Record Cleaned and Ready to Play
Clean as A Whistle: An early pressing of Miles Davis’ Birth of The Cool sounds amazing after a bath!

Next week we’ll look at a few more accessories that, though perhaps less essential, can have a big impact on enjoyment of your audio journey. If you have any accessory suggestions, leave a comment, or message me on Instagram at @audioloveyyc.

More Vinyl Playback Articles: 5 Best Vinyl Accessories to Upgrade Your Record Listening

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. rl1856

    November 1, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    The Spin Clean will get you to the point of diminishing returns in money spent vs cleaning quality. The addition of vacuumn drying, either from a Nitty Gritty machine (available used for not much more than a full SC setup), or an adaptor for a small shop vac will remove all liquid residue from an LP surface, and dry the LP at the same time. This will definitely improve cleaning results beyond just a Spin Clean bath. The final component is an Ultra Sonic Bath. Turn key solutions can be purchased, but the price starts at 4 figures. OTOH, a diy US assembly can be put together for less than $400. This can be expensive for some, but inexpensive for others, and should be considered in the context of how much you are or will spend in collecting used LPs. My process is Spin Clean, rinse, US bath, rinse, Vac dry. This results in LPs that are as clean as possible with a significant reduction in background noise etc. The addition of a US bath results in an audible improvement.

    • Ian White

      November 1, 2021 at 9:40 pm

      I have one but I think your process is way too involved for the average person. I also have a Record Doctor VI (or IV) and it works just fine with cleaning fluids and a rinse.

      We want to educate people on why it’s important to clean records — not make them want to sell them.

      Ian White

      • rl1856

        November 2, 2021 at 1:00 am

        Ha- I understand where you are coming from. Spin Clean + Record Doctor or similar will get you to abt 90% of what is achievable. 90% of the way is enough for most people and will transform most garage sale finds.

  2. David Crandon

    January 1, 2022 at 4:58 pm

    Something that I’ve used since the 1970’s is Last.

    https://thelastfactory.com/product/last-record-preservative-2-oz/

    https://www.stereophile.com/content/last-record-preservation-treatment

    It is a record preservative…not a lubricant. They also make a stylus preservative as well. Don’t recall reading any reviews of the stylus preservative, but the LP preservative was always reviewed very well. Both by the mainstream magazines and the esoteric golden ear mags.

  3. Mike Cornell

    February 11, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    I’m having issues with my SpinClean. I follow all the steps and in addition, get some extra dry time in a dish rack and yet my records are coming out noisier. Lots of little ticks and pops noticeable between tracks and in very quiet passages of music…even with brand new records I’ve cleaned.

    • Ian White

      February 11, 2022 at 3:37 pm

      Mike,

      I’ve not had that particular issue but I only use the SpinClean on certain records. Mostly $1 finds.

      I use the RecordDoctor VI for all used and new vinyl myself. I had a VPI HW-16.5 for a few years but the noise was insane.

      I have a SpinClean and I do change the roller/brushes rather frequently.

      Ian

  4. Mike Cornell

    February 11, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    Thanks, Ian. I’ll have another go with the SpinClean, maybe on some less favourite records. I had been using micro-fibre cloths to dry but they seem to have left a lot of lint (someone suggested washing them before using) but went back to the SpinClean cloths last time and still noticed the tick & pop issue. I was looking into the Record Doctor as it seemed to be quite reasonably priced. However, what is 329.99USD on Amazon.com is 784.99CAD on Amazon.ca which is ridiculous. At the straight exchange rate, it should be about $420CAD so even $499 would be ok. $784.99CAD makes no sense but will try to find another outlet for it here in Canada.

    • Eric Pye

      March 26, 2022 at 6:57 pm

      Yeah, Amazon prices in Canada almost never match the US site in any way. Hate that. My Spin Clean cloths all get washed before I use them, and results have been pretty good. I do find I get more pops in winter here in Calgary due to dry, static conditions and more dust in the air from our heating system. Putting a humidifier in the listening room has helped a bit.

  5. Sonicblue

    February 13, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    The ZeroDust review references silicon. Did you mean silicone? What a difference an E makes.

    Apparently it is neither. The polymer leaves a stubborn residue on your stylus as reported by Michael Fremer.

    • Ian White

      February 13, 2022 at 8:41 pm

      Thank you for reminding me about that. I was going to delete that entire section after speaking with a few retailers to get their
      take on it.

      It’s now deleted and my sample is in the trash.

      Best,
      Ian White

  6. Stephen P Fleschler

    February 17, 2022 at 5:09 am

    I use a Magic Eraser to clean my stylus for use on every record side. My Benz Ruby3 lasted waaay beyond normal (loss of dynamics told me it was time to replace, no distortion noticed even at 2300 hours/15 years with an always clean stylus and high end analog rig). I am using it on my new cartridge as well. Costs a buck.

    Also have used the VPI 16 since 1982. Reliable and noisy.
    Considering the Kirmuss ultrasonic cleaner (28,500 LPs/7,000 78s-lots of cleaning in my future as well). Not a digiphobe (7,000 CDs).

    • Eric Pye

      March 26, 2022 at 6:58 pm

      The magic eraser has lots of fans, and may be worth a mention in place of the Zero Dust 😉

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