Best Way to Clean Records

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Hello all,

I have some records that I'd like to clean to get the sound un-popped! Some people have proposed fancy solutions, expensive products, and even simple distilled water. When a record brush isn't enough to get those pesky pops and clicks out, what do you do?

Pinging @Harry because he has expertise in this area :)

C

(I should note that I'm not talking about the very obvious pops from deep scratches; the sound I'm talking about is the kind of white noise that seems to be baked into the groove no matter what I do.)
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Sometimes there’s not much you can do. In the 70’s, during the oil crisis, one way to keep records cheap enough for people to buy was for record companies to use recycled vinyl that had a lot of impurities, like ground up center labels.
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
Staff member
Site Admin
Ultrasonic cleaning is not inexpensive, but it's the best way to deep-clean the grooves. (The Degritter is currently the best system out there in terms of ease-of-use and efficiency. I've demo'ed one for a while and once a good process is worked out, it does a fine job.) Vacuum cleaning is the next best option, like one of the systems from VPI or Nitty Gritty.

Some users like the Spin Clean but I see it as cleaning records in dirty water, after you've cleaned the first record and contaminated the water. It's better than nothing, I guess. It is actually quite good for pre-cleaning really dirty records before using them in an ultrasonic or vacuum type cleaner.

Rinsing records under tap water and using dish detergent is something that should never be done. The detergent can be too harsh, and tap water is contaminated with minerals that will dry onto the vinyl. (Usually the water used in ultrasonic or vacuum cleaning systems is distilled or heavily filtered--Aquafina is actually one of the purest waters you can use.)

Record brushes and Discwashers do nothing except push the dirt around in the grooves, clearing off some of the surface dust but not getting down deep enough to actually lift that crud out. They can never get out that low-level noise from years of accumulated dust, nor can they eliminate the mold-release compound that record plants use to release the vinyl record from the stamper, or other contaminants.

Not all records can be saved--some are noisy from dust and dirt that's been played over dozens of times, and some records were pressed noisy (poor quality or recycled vinyl).
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Not all records can be saved--some are noisy from dust and dirt that's been played over dozens of times, and some records were pressed noisy (poor quality or recycled vinyl).
This quote has stuck with me throughout my record listening. I have some records that have barely any background noise when the stylus hits the vinyl, and I have some records that, no matter how much MoFi cleaning solution you put, or carbon fiber brushing you do, it seems like there is just horrible popping everywhere. How can I tell the difference between a dirty record and a record that is made with recycled vinyl or is pressed poorly?
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
This quote has stuck with me throughout my record listening. I have some records that have barely any background noise when the stylus hits the vinyl, and I have some records that, no matter how much MoFi cleaning solution you put, or carbon fiber brushing you do, it seems like there is just horrible popping everywhere. How can I tell the difference between a dirty record and a record that is made with recycled vinyl or is pressed poorly?
Some recycled vinyl will have color bits of paper embedded in the vinyl since they kept the inner paper label on when they shredded the other records.

Otherwise, I have a few records in my collection where the weight of the vinyl tends to be extremely light and are really flexible and the sound quality is poor on them (they’re by 3rd party companies like Arc Sound or k-tel) which makes me wonder if they are recycled plastic records that are only like 50-60 gram records vs the usual 120 gram.
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
Some recycled vinyl will have color bits of paper embedded in the vinyl since they kept the inner paper label on when they shredded the other records.
Oof. This sounds yucky. Thankfully, I don't think any of mine have this.

Otherwise, I have a few records in my collection where the weight of the vinyl tends to be extremely light and are really flexible and the sound quality is poor on them (they’re by 3rd party companies like Arc Sound or k-tel) which makes me wonder if they are recycled plastic records that are only like 50-60 gram records vs the usual 120 gram.
This on the other hand seems like a lot of my records from the 1970s and 1980s. The records I buy new in the store today are almost always heavier than the original pressings from way back when. But, surprisingly, there are some records, especially from the late-1970s and early-1980s, that are actually much quieter as far as ambient noise; the flipside of that is, I think that's when record labels were beginning to master songs loudly (pushing the analog VU), which to me is still fine since there still was minimal-to-no peak limiting, digital clipping... so, actually, I kind of appreciate some of those louder records. BUT, now that I'm thinking, I guess the flipside to that is, if you have a bad or misaligned stylus like I had for years, those louder parts (especially the sibilant noises, like the S sound and the hi-hat/cymbals) get really crackly.

Ugh. In some ways, I'm glad that I played records through my adolescent years, but in other ways I'm really upset that I permanently ruined a lot of them (inadvertently) by using suboptimal equipment. Imho, it really does take someone with a solid knowledge of turntable mechanics to make a setup that doesn't leave records permanently worn and crackly.
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
Staff member
Site Admin
How can I tell the difference between a dirty record and a record that is made with recycled vinyl or is pressed poorly?
The only way I can think of is with a microscope. With all the records I've bought since the mid 70s, I've never seen one with any bits of label embedded into it. Although I've had plenty from some labels that I could almost count on them being noisy from the moment I took them out of the shrinkwrap. Occasionally I'd seen one where there was a tiny bump in the vinyl, probably some dirt or recycled piece of something that got baked into the record when it was pressed.

Dirt can manifest itself in two ways. You can play over the dirt, which of course causes noise. But every so often, if the vinyl is soft enough and you play over the same bit of dirt and then dislodge it, you could leave a tiny indentation in the vinyl where the dirt was, which also causes noise. That dirt also wears the stylus faster.

Long ago, back in the 90s, I bought a lower-end record vacuum. I knew that any brush and fluid combo (like the Discwasher, which I found to be a useless contraption) could never lift the dirt or dust out of the groove--it pushes some of it around but leaves a lot still in the groove. A vacuum can suspend some of that crud with the fluid, then extract it via the vacuum. The one downfall to record vacuums is that whether you use a brush or a felt pad, it still can't always get to the bottom of the groove, and the short amount of time the fluid is on the record isn't enough to dissolve some of the dirt so it can be sucked up. Letting it soak for a bit, without drying out, can help with that.

Ultrasonic goes one better and uses the tiny bubbles created to clean deep into the grooves. Problem with that is, if it's a cheaper or DIY setup (where you buy something like the VinylStack to spin the records inside of an ultrasonic cleaner), you still need the vacuum step as a rinse, and you have to filter the water in your ultrasonic cleaner between batches of records. Or you have to spend the big bucks to get one of the better cleaners that has a tank that automatically drains and filters the water each time it cleans a record (like the Degritter).

Even the best cleaner can't get rid of all the noise, but it will get rid of the dirt or any other impurities on the record (like mold release compound), so then we know the dirt isn't causing the noise during playback. And it's also lengthening the life of the stylus.

It's quite a topic to get into--I could write pages more and probably not get anywhere with it. 😁
 

Cuyler

Bright colored pinwheels go 'round in my head.
Thread Starter
It's quite a topic to get into--I could write pages more and probably not get anywhere with it. 😁
Hey, if you wrote a dissertation on the topic, I'd read it and archive it for permanency! I would love to have a contraption like the one you mentioned, but I am quickly running out of space haha. But... at the same time, I'd much rather be proactive about cleaning the junk rather than just playing over the dirt and dust and leaving permanent damage, like you said...
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Oof. This sounds yucky. Thankfully, I don't think any of mine have this.


This on the other hand seems like a lot of my records from the 1970s and 1980s. The records I buy new in the store today are almost always heavier than the original pressings from way back when. But, surprisingly, there are some records, especially from the late-1970s and early-1980s, that are actually much quieter as far as ambient noise; the flipside of that is, I think that's when record labels were beginning to master songs loudly (pushing the analog VU), which to me is still fine since there still was minimal-to-no peak limiting, digital clipping... so, actually, I kind of appreciate some of those louder records. BUT, now that I'm thinking, I guess the flipside to that is, if you have a bad or misaligned stylus like I had for years, those louder parts (especially the sibilant noises, like the S sound and the hi-hat/cymbals) get really crackly.

Ugh. In some ways, I'm glad that I played records through my adolescent years, but in other ways I'm really upset that I permanently ruined a lot of them (inadvertently) by using suboptimal equipment. Imho, it really does take someone with a solid knowledge of turntable mechanics to make a setup that doesn't leave records permanently worn and crackly.
You have to remember that in the 70’s a lot of record companies were using recycled vinyl due to the oil crisis causing the cost of virgin vinyl to skyrocket. This is why labels introduced certain brands like A&M’ “Audio Master Plus” brand—-this was to give people the option at a higher price.

Also the majority of vinyl pressed today is pressed on 180G vinyl which wasn’t used all that much 40-50 years ago. The average weight back then was 120G. I just recently got Glass Tiger’s 2020 reissue of “Thin Red Line” on the tiger stripe vinyl and that’s 180G, whereas in the 80’s if it had been issued on that type of coloured vinyl it would’ve been 120g.
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
Staff member
Site Admin
Hey, if you wrote a dissertation on the topic, I'd read it and archive it for permanency! I would love to have a contraption like the one you mentioned, but I am quickly running out of space haha. But... at the same time, I'd much rather be proactive about cleaning the junk rather than just playing over the dirt and dust and leaving permanent damage, like you said...
I think a lot of the issue with cleaning vinyl is that there are a few ways to do it, and so many opinions on the right or wrong ways to do it (including a cleaning formula), that it's an exercise in frustration in trying to document it all. Harry Weisfeld of VPI (they manufacture turntables and record vacuums) had a long-running thread on VPI's forum about the methods he used, and it's one of the few that is light on BS and full of his observations of how well his records were being cleaned. (His method involved both ultrasonic and vacuum.)

Having had a Degritter (ultrasonic cleaner) on long-term loan, I can say that with a few caveats (in other words, learning how to use it effectively), it's the cleanest I've ever had my records, as well as the one method that requires the least amount of messing around to get them clean. To buy one, though, is cost-prohibitive unless someone has thousands of records in a collection that they need to maintain.
 
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