Cleaning Vinyl LP's

Part II: Additional Hints & Tips

  2013 July    Audio

In the previous article we looked at some DIY cleaning methods for vinyl LP's.  The basic conclusion was that nothing can surpass the wood glue method for cleaning.  It's slow, it uses up a lot of glue, but it just works.  In the best case, it can make a crackly, noisy LP sound almost like a new pressing. 

Here are a couple reminders and additional considerations. 

Oil = Fail

I said it before, but it bears repeating:   Don't apply the wood glue to an oily or greasy record.  (This substance is probably plasticizer or mold release compound).  First you must degrease it with alcohol.  Use 50 to 70% rubbing alcohol  (don't get it on the label) and let it dry.  Use a lint-free cloth to apply the alcohol, or use a spray bottle.  The vinyl should be totally dry before applying the wood glue.

Bubbles = Missed Dirt

While the glue is still wet, use a wooden toothpick to work the bubbles out of the glue.  It's alright if the bubbles are at the surface, as long as the glue can get underneath them.  The problem happens when the bubbles are right up against the grooves of the record.  Wherever the glue is not touching, that place can still have dust. 

It won't hurt to do two applications of wood glue if you're really picky.  One application might not get all of it, so a second one could help.

Static Electricity = Noise!

When you peel off the dried wood glue, it generates quite a bit of static electricity.  Pretty much no matter where you live in the modern world, you should probably have a HEPA filter in your room anyway, but this is especially true in your music room.  Dust is not good for electronics.   After you peel off that glue, dust could cling to the vinyl again and get in the grooves.  That's no good.   Hence, a relatively clean room is necessary for the peel step.  If your room is not that big, I'd grab one of these air purifiers for sure.   (If you have a bigger area to filter, get one of these.) 

Many people don't think about this, but whatever is in your air will end up in your lungs, and a lot of it never comes out again.  If you ever saw what your household dust looks like under a microscope, you would get a HEPA filter right this second.  There are creatures in there.  Totally serious here.

So anyway, there's another problem with all that static electricity that builds up when you peel the glue.  Your turntable needle is an electro-mechanical device.  It turns a mechanical signal into an electrical one.  That means anything that introduces stray voltage is going to cause noise.  If your LP has a lot of static buildup, the sound will be full of crackles and pops just from the electricity.   It's not difficult to generate a couple thousand volts.  That's probably not good for your equipment, either.  The static can persist for hours, if not days.

Here's a very simple solution.  (A.) Don't peel the glue in the dry of winter, and (B.) after you do the peel, let the vinyl sit for a few days to dissipate the static before you try to record the LP. 

Another thing you can do is to blow on the vinyl LP as you rotate it on the turntable.  The moisture in your breath will help dissipate the static charge, as well as blowing off any loosely-attached dust that may have found its way onto the vinyl.

These steps make a huge difference.  (Actually, static electricity is a nuisance no matter what cleaning method you use.)

Recording Levels

I've said it before, but it bears repeating here:  make sure your recording levels are not set too high.  Clipping will destroy your audio quality.  It will embed that crummy sound right into the recording!   A good piece of software, such as ReZound, will actually tell you how many clipping incidents you're getting when recording.  If you get more than a few isolated ones, turn down the recording levels just enough to get rid of them, and start the recording over again.  Isolated pops will cause clipping that can't be gotten rid of;  don't concern yourself with that.

It just so happens that once you clean your vinyl with wood glue, the record will play "louder".  The same recording level settings on your software will (usually) yield a stronger recording.  If the recording was just below the clipping level before you cleaned the LP, expect it to be well above that level after you clean it! 

I had recorded an old LP before I knew about the wood glue method, and after I cleaned it I of course went back and recorded it again.  I couldn't believe the difference.  It was clearer... and louder.  Think of it this way.  If there's a layer of dust and crud between the needle and the grooves, it's not going to transmit the sound as effectively.

Use Your Head

I might have mentioned this before, but make sure you don't get wood glue on the center label.  This kind of glue will not stick permanently to vinyl, but it will bond quite permanently to paper, wood (duh), cardboard, MDF, and just about anything else porous.  Just so you know, it will (sort of) stick to wax paper.  Don't expect to peel it off the wax paper neatly if you use that as a backing while you're applying the glue.  (Since I couldn't think of anything better for the purpose, wax paper is actually what I use, though.)

I do not know of any damage that could be caused to vinyl LP's by wood glue.  It's probably much more damaging to keep playing your records with dust in the grooves.  That said, you're on your own as far as what may or may not happen.  I accept no responsibility if you wreck something in the process of cleaning your vinyl.  Start out with some really cheap second-hand vinyl and listen for an improvement.  If everything works out, then work up to your better vinyl.  

Just know that wood glue will not correct mechanical problems with the LP.  If someone went ice skating across the surface, glue is not going to fix that.

So far, the glue brands that I know will work are Titebond and Elmer's.  Do not use Gorilla Glue or any kind of all-purpose adhesive.  It has to be wood glue, the traditional kind used by carpenters for many decades.  I would just go right now and buy a gallon of the Elmer's, and you'll know you have the good stuff.  (Some people say Titebond is a better glue, but I think that's a matter of personal preference.  Besides, we're not putting together a cabinet here. )

One more thing:  you should know that some modern vinyl pressings may have noise embedded into the LP because they were either stored in excessive heat, shipped in excessive heat, pressed from a dirty batch of vinyl, or something else that is beyond your control.   This happened sometimes with LP's back in the 70's and 80's, too, but today there is not as much industry push behind vinyl LP's as there used to be.  With the resurgence of interest in LP records, maybe that will improve.


Parting Thoughts

This has been just a quick addendum to the main article on vinyl cleaning.  Mainly, I wanted to talk about the static electricity problem and how to deal with it.  Once you get into a routine, cleaning the vinyl is pretty easy.  If you are into audio, you will notice a big difference between vinyl LP's and more modern forms of music (especially MP3's).  This difference is greatest when you're listening to LP's that were made from analog masters. 

I used to think the vinyl people were exaggerating when they talked about the "presence", "warmth", and "air" of vinyl.  Now, after listening to some wood-glue-cleaned LP's from the Sixties and Seventies, I can positively say I agree with them.   There really does seem to be a difference, and even though we may not be able to measure it with precision instruments, it's there. 

It would be nice to see (er, hear) more bands doing multi-track tape recording as their first step.   Where that's not available, a high bit depth / high sampling rate is more likely to capture the subtleties of the audio.  Today we have 24/96 mastering, but after listening to old LP's, I still think I like 4- and 8-track tape recording better.  

Anyway, keeping your vinyl clean is the best way to get close to that "vintage" sound.

I hope you liked this article.  It really helps me out if you shop for your stuff (pretty much anything) through the links on this site.

Thanks for reading!

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