Static & Your Record Collection
Static is coming!
Static electricity is a nuisance. Take one stroll across your living room’s rug and immediately your door knob becomes a lightning rod. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating and unfortunately our record collections are subject to the same forces. It affects the sound, the cleanliness and can even make the ritual of playing a record tedious. For us, putting the needle in the groove is a relaxing experience - we're not about to let static electricity spoil it! So what is static electricity and what can we do to keep its influence away from our precious LPs?
What is Static Electricity
Simply put, static electricity is the build-up of an electrical charge in a non-conductive material. It is created when any two non-conductors rub against each other. The friction between the two creates an electrical charge and because these two materials do not conduct electricity, the unbalanced charge becomes trapped inside. The only way to release this energy is for the non-conductor to come in contact with a conductor. The conductor then absorbs the charge from the non-conductor bringing an electrical balance to both materials. This exchange of electricity is responsible for that pesky shock you may feel from time to time. Our body’s are non-conductors and because we spent most of our waking life active we can build up a charge very easily - the friction of gentle steps on carpet is enough to do it! After the charge is created, any conductive surface you may come into contact with will absorb that charge and you’ll feel the exchange as a gentle shock.
Why is it Worse in Winter?
Water is public enemy number one for our electronics. Although not particularly conductive in its pure state, water has a unique property that makes it incredibly conductive. Known as the universal solvent, just about anything will dissolve into water. It is such an effective solvent that you will only find pure H20 in a laboratory. These impurities are what makes water so conductive. Even the miniscule amount of minerals in distilled, bottled water is enough to make water a powerful conductor. It’s also why the thought of our laptops taking a bath inspires horror movie soundtracks to play out in our heads.
This conductive property of water is also why static electricity is a lot worse in winter. In the summer the warm temperature evaporates water into the atmosphere. We experience this evaporation as humidity. Basically, in the warmer months you’re walking around in a conductive soup. Any charge a non-conductor - your body, your records - may build up will readily be dissipated into the air through constant exposure to conductive water in the atmosphere. Now the winter is a different story. As the temperature drops, so to does the volume of water evaporated into the atmosphere. Eventually it slows to a halt and the air becomes very dry and thus non-conductive. Without the conductive water in the atmosphere, charge builds and builds until every conductive material you touch brings a shock and your records become magnets for dust.
What does this mean for my records?
As you’ve probably already guessed, the vinyl material that our records are printed on is completely non-conductive. The good news is you’ll never get shocked reaching for a record in your collection, but the bad news is much more substantial. The amount of static charge in a record can cause a number of issues. It will directly affect the sound and cleanliness of your collection. Clicks and pops will become more common. Dust in the air is very attracted to electrically charged surfaces so the static will literally turn your records into dust magnets. This dust will build up on the play surface not only affecting the sound of your record, but also the lifespan of your needle. Does your turntable have a felt record mat? Well, with a static charge your record and that mat are going to stick together like glue. Trust us, peeling the mat off the record every time can really start to annoy. To make things even worse, that felt mat is non-conductive, so yes, even playing your record on it creates more charge.
How can I prevent this static?
Unfortunately, by the time the LP even reaches the shelves of your favorite record store it has probably built up some amount of static charge. Records come into contact with plenty other non-conductors intrinsic to their production. The record is probably cleaned with a dry cloth in the final legs of it’s quality control stage - there’s some extra electrons there. The record is packaged in an inert protective sleeve - again, more charge. Even the friction of taking the record out of the sleeve to play it creates a static charge. The friction between any two non-conductive materials creates a static charge and records come into contact with plenty. There’s no avoiding it!
For this reason, it’s impossible to completely prevent the build-up of static charge in a record before it enters your collection. There are, however, plenty of methods for eliminating that pesky charge!
What can you do?
The simplest tool for chasing away static is an anti-static carbon fibre brush. The brush gives the static charge a direct path to the ground, forcing it to leave your record and neutralize. It is also great way to take care of the surface dust that the static attracted to the record. For us, this brush constitutes an invaluable before-you-play ritual. Before the needle hits the groove, let this brush clear the way.
A lot of turntables made today come with a felt record mat. Getting rid of this will immediately help to mitigate the effects of static. When felt and vinyl meet, static is created - big time. There are a lot of different materials available as record mats. Luckily, your search won’t be too stressful as just about anything is better than felt so why not find one you like the look of? Take the opportunity to hit your player with a little flair! We’re big fans of cork, rubber and most of all this real cowhide Moo Mat:
The Milty Zerostat 3 has got to be the most fun way to reduce static. Using a brush to eliminate static works, sure, but wouldn’t you rather point a ray gun at your record and zap it away? The zero stat works by generating both positive and negative ions. The pull of the trigger generates the positive ions, and then the gradual release of the trigger creates the flow of negative ions after. By introducing both to any static laden surface, the charge becomes neutralized. As an added benefit, eliminating this charge causes previously attracted surface dust to simply fall right off the surface of the the record. We like to think this is how Captain Kirk cleans his records.