How To Clean Vinyl LP's
2013 July Audio
you're into vinyl, you've probably bought used vinyl at some point. And you probably have some albums that need cleaning.
Dust, dirt, smoke deposits... these can greatly affect the sound quality.
Disclaimer: I assume no responsibility if you wreck your vinyl LP's or your expensive stylus.
These methods have worked well for me, but use them at your own risk.
Alcohol & Water Cleaning
Distilled water is a good cleaner for non-stubborn dirt. Two to four quarts
of distilled water should have one drop of liquid detergent added to
break the surface tension. This tiny amount of detergent will not leave significant
residue even if you don't rinse it.
Or, use a 50% solution of isopropyl alcohol. A bit of white
vinegar seems to help the cleaning power. A spray bottle helps to blast the dust particles out of the vinyl
grooves, but avoid breathing the mist or vapor.
If you need to use a cloth, don't use anything
paper-based; this can leave fibers that get stuck in the
grooves and lower the sound quality (badly). Use a microfiber
lint-free cloth. It has to be lint-free. Some
microfiber cloths shed a lot of lint!
These methods are good when the vinyl has an oily sort of sheen that has to be removed. I think
this may be plasticizer or mold-release compound. I've seen it on
albums that have been sitting ten years or more. It's not
water-soluble, strictly speaking, but it will dissolve in water that
contains alcohol or detergent.
Don't use alcohol to clean 78's.
These should only be cleaned with water, with perhaps a drop of detergent as described earlier. Never let 78 rpm records sit around
with moisture on them. Store them dry.
Specialty Pads & Cleaning Kits
Most of the pads they make today are cheesy and really no better than
the microfiber cloth you can get at the dollar store.
I would just do a cleaning with the methods we've already talked about (or
wood glue; see below). Then, do a dry-brushing before each
listen, using an Audioquest LP brush (available here; a must-have item).
This seemed like a really gonzo idea at first. I mean, could it really
work? Wouldn't it damage the vinyl?
I decided to try it out on a cheap, old, fairly common LP that I'd already recorded. If it made this record worse, no big deal.
Did I just wreck this LP with three ounces of wood glue?
I guess we're going to find out.
What a pleasant surprise: the
difference was like night and day. The previously-recorded WAV
file from the LP looked "fuzzy" with a lot of noise. The new WAV
file was clean. It had almost no clicks or pops.
Alright, it still had a few, but it was nowhere near as bad.
I don't know that it's going to be this much of an
improvement for every LP, but I think I've found my new favorite
Now that I've cleaned a bunch of LP's with wood glue, here are some things I've learned:
1. You should already have cleaned off the worst of the dust, mold release compound (or whatever that oily stuff is),
etc., with 50/50 alcohol or some distilled water that has a drop of
detergent. (Use no more than 1 small drop per quart of water). Let the vinyl dry thoroughly before applying the wood
2. Don't get any glue on the center label!!
3. Don't leave isolated thin spots or droplets of glue. These will
be MUCH harder to remove later. It should be one, continuous layer
that can be peeled off when dry. If you see any isolated droplets, connect them with glue while it's still wet.
4. It's possible to leave the record on your
turntable and slowly spin it by hand, but you have to be very careful
not to spill any glue over the sides & down into the mechanism.
Eventually, you will. It's better to put the vinyl on wax paper
or something, on a flat worktable. The table must be level.
5. Use an index card or something else flat to spread the glue. Work any bubbles out of the glue.
6. Obviously, you can do only one side of an LP at a time. Once
again, keep the LP perfectly flat while the glue dries.
7. Let the LP sit undisturbed for 24-36 hours so the glue can
dry. Don't leave it in the sun. Just let it dry indoors where no one can disturb
it. The best time to remove the glue is when it hasn't fully
hardened. It should be somewhat pliable. Start out
with some cheap, semi-throwaway records first, until you get the hang
of it. If the glue has gotten too brittle, put the record in the
sun for maybe thirty seconds to soften it. Don't leave it too long in the sun, or you'll melt the vinyl too.
8. Some people like to embed strips of tape into the wood glue while it's still partially wet. They let the
strips overhang a bit from the edge. This gives you a "handle" to peel
up the glue when it's dry. If you use cardboard, make sure it's
strong enough to keep from ripping. You could coat it with
woodglue first. Or, use a small scrap of wood. Glue it to
the wood glue layer after the wood glue layer is almost dry, so it
doesn't sink down in there.
You might be able to use a toothpick or your fingernail to lift up the
glue, but don't use metal or hard plastic. You
WILL scratch the vinyl. You'll think you won't. That's when
you will scratch a favorite LP you can't replace. Just
don't do it.
9. Static electricity causes NOISE. After you peel the glue
off, let the vinyl sit for at least 24 hours. If the air is very
dry, let it sit two or three days before you try to record it.
10. A second or even a third cleaning with wood glue can remove more dirt (clicks & pops).
||I used regular Carpenter's Wood Glue
by Elmer's. It worked great.
Here's what I would do: the 8-ounce container has a perfect applicator tip for vinyl LP's, but
you're going to use up those eight ounces pretty quickly. I'd get
an 8-ounce container and a 1-gallon container,
and use the gallon to refill the eight-ouncer when you empty
it. I'm not kidding... once you see what wood glue can do
for a dusty old thrift-store LP, you're going to want to do
this for every one of them before you make a recording.
Even LP's that look shiny-clean can have a lot of dust down
in the grooves. No other method seems to get them out of there as
One drawback to the wood glue method is its slowness. It also uses up six to eight ounces of wood glue for one LP. If you
spread it very thinly, you might be able to get 1 1/2 to 2 LP's out of an 8-oz container, but I wouldn't guarantee it.
There are two good reasons for going to all this trouble. (A.) Someone
might have an album that has never been released on CD, or (B.) they
just like the "vinyl sound" so much that they wouldn't want the CD even
if they could get it.
Oh yeah, and (C.) vinyl LP's are fun. So this is kind of an add-on to the whole process.
Storing Your Cleaned LP's
Cleaned 'em? Great. Consider storing them in new, clean paper sleeves.
Don't throw away the old sleeve if it has original printing on it, but I wouldn't put a freshly-cleaned LP into a grimy old sleeve. There can be crud that
outgassed from the old paper and cardboard. A 50-year-old LP sleeve can have a lot of it.
Store your LP's in a "real" storage case or LP crate such as this one. Then you won't need to worry about someone
setting a heavy object on top of your carboard box full of vinyl LP's,
and you coming back to find them all warped. The storage case
also keeps dust from working its way down into the packaging.
Now enjoy your cleaned LP's!
Vinyl LP's should be cleaned once in a while.
If an LP has already been deep-cleaned, some canned air duster or a special LP-cleaning brush will do the trick between listens. (Another brush here).
A decades-old LP is probably going to need deep-cleaning. The wood glue method can work great, if you follow the precautions we've looked at in this article.
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