There’s nothing more satisfying than pulling out a new record and dropping the needle down for a first listen. But once the needle has dropped, there is nothing more annoying than being inundated with that familiar hiss of dust and residue. It’s unavoidable, whether it be dust, dirt, scratches or residue, you are bound to run into something that will stand in the way of your pure vinyl enjoyment - even on your brand new records! Thankfully, there are a bounty of solutions to combat the crackles and pops. With proper equipment and attentive care, you can make sure that your system and record collection sound as stunning as possible.
The most essential tool in a vinyl cleaning kit is a good brush. The role of a vinyl brush is to remove all of the dry debris and fine dust particles that have a tendency to accumulate on the surface of the record. A brush with fine bristles, such as an anti-static carbon fiber brush, allows us to easily lift the unwanted debris off the record surface. Not only does this reduce surface noise and help keep your stylus clear of build-up, but it also helps reduce the sort of static charges that usually induce annoying pops and crackles.
As an alternative, a multi-purpose velvet brush has a very soft surface material that can be used either dry, or with an alcohol-based cleaning solution. Regardless of your weapon of choice, it’s good habit to give every record a pass with a brush before each play.
There are, however, some more thorough approaches to keeping records squeaky clean, or even reviving some vintage vinyl in need of some extra care and attention. Wet cleaning methods are best used to enhance an already well regimented dry cleaning process. They provide an occasional ‘deep-clean’ to each groove, and greatly reduce unwanted static. The first level in this battle involves an alcohol-based cleaning solution along with a non-abrasive and lint-free cloth. A dollop of the solution goes on the record while the cloth manipulates the fluid and wipes away the grime. Just be careful not to use alcohol based cleaners with 78 rpm records.
Another popular cleaning system is the Spin-Clean record washer system which functions much like a bathtub. The user immerses each vinyl record into a basin of cleaning solution. The sides of tub are outfitted with two soft brushes that gently wipe both sides of the record surface as it rotates through the basin. Although this process does take a bit more effort, it easily pays itself off with how well it helps to preserve any prized collection.
Lastly, we come to vacuum cleaning systems. These take wet cleaning to a whole other level and are the quintessential cleaning method used by many vinyl enthusiasts. The vacuum allows the cleaning fluid to be pulled directly off the surface, leaving no trace of dirt, dust, or residue. Vacuum systems range in automation from those with manual rotation to units with a fully automatic process, from applying the cleaning fluid, to slowly spinning the record and lifting the dirt right off. The difference in sonic quality before and after one using one of these systems is usually night and day. Listeners notice much improved clarity and detail, even after using this method with brand new vinyl. While definitely a higher priced solution, this method offers the best end result hands down.
As a bonus tip, listeners may also want to consider how their vinyl is being stored. Keeping them as vertical as possible will prevent any sort of warping that would occur due pressure from sitting at a heavy angle, or worse, being kept completely horizontal. Each record should also have its own sleeve to prevent exposure to dirt, dust, or accidental scratches. Lastly, vinyl is best kept in a cool, dry place. Exposure to heat or humidity can cause irreversible damage to a record that may even do harm to the stylus if played.
Practicing these guidelines will ensure the longest possible lifespan of your vinyl, and more importantly, your enjoyment of them!