How to Clean Vinyl Records

A person cleaning a vinyl record with a record cleaning brush.

How to clean a vinyl record is the topic of a much-heated debate on the interwebs. There are two main camps of vinyl record enthusiasts: the spinners and the scratchers. Spinners are audiophiles who are convinced that vinyl records are the best mode of audio conveyance ever invented. They have lots of albums and recommend that you use a record cleaning machine to clean your vinyl, which is fine and dandy except the machines are hundreds of dollars.

Then there are the scratchers. These are younger fans of vinyl who have come to love it because of the sound and/or because they are mixers and DJs. They have a different method for cleaning records. So, in true democratic fashion, I will describe both techniques and let you decide for yourself. After all, it’s your record collection.

How to Clean a Vinyl Record

  1. bottle of D4+ surficantA surfactant is a solvent used to clean the surface of the record. There are surfactants made specifically for cleaning records, and you should pick some up if you are serious about cleaning your records. If you can’t get it, you can make your own by mixing a weak solution of rubbing alcohol with water. Or you can use a weak mixture of soap and water. The problem with the soap and water is that it should be rinsed off afterwards. Also, make sure to use distilled water.
  2. white microfiber cloth and brushTo actually remove the dirt, you will use a brush or microfiber cloth with the surfactant. The record cleaning industry has a couple of different brushes that work well for cleaning a record. It is best to use one of the recommended velvet or carbon fiber brushes or a microfiber cloth to clean vinyl.
  3. brushing the vinyl recordThe brush works by plowing the dirt off the record. So put the record on the turntable and drop a couple drops of record cleaner on the record. Turn on the turntable and place the brush on the record. Once the record has rotated a couple times, slowly pull the brush away from the center until it is completely off the record. The dirt will keep going towards the edge until the brush is off. Once the brush is off, you will notice some dirt stuck to it. Use a stiff brush to remove that and continue until you believe you have removed all of the dirt. This method works well for relative light cleaning.
  4. vinyl record in soapy waterFor much dirtier situations, you will have to try something a little more intensive. Occasionally you will find an old record with a serious stain or goo stuck to it. These records are usually super cheap, like 50 cents. So, if you can get the stuff off, you will have made a great find. If not, well, at least you are only out 50 cents. You are banking on this stuff being water soluble. If it’s not, you may as well give up. Use room temperature distilled water and soap to try and dissolve the stain/goo.
  5. Vinyl record standing up to dryIf you are successful in removing the junk, rinse the record with distilled water and air dry. Once the record is dry, it may be a good idea to give it a once over with a cleaner and brush. Or, if you have it, a record preservative.
  6. Record cleaning machineIt is very apparent to me that the record cleaning machine is by far the best way to clean a record. It is without a doubt the preferred method by record enthusiasts. The machine works so well because it uses suction to remove the dirt. There are several different models available, and they range in price form a couple hundred to a thousand bucks. Most people recommend buying the basic model and getting it used, if you can. If you are really into records and or sell them, this machine is what you want.

Tips for Keeping Your Vinyl Clean

  • Replace dirty sleeves with new ones.
  • Store records in plastic dust jackets.
  • Store records in a closed cabinet.
  • Keep your record player clean.
  • Keep your turntable covered.
  • Keep your stylus clean and replace it when necessary.
  • Don’t touch the record with your fingers.
  • Keep your slip mats clean.
  • Clean your new records frequently to keep them from getting dirty.

Vinyl Cleaning Products

D4+ record cleanerRecord cleaner is a solvent that acts a surfactant to clean the dirt from the record. Some are labeled for use with vacuum-assisted cleaning; this refers to the machines I spoke of earlier.

blue microfiber clothMicrofiber cloths are made up of woven fibers that are super small. These small fibers make the cloths great for cleaning delicate surfaces, like glasses, lenses, and records. You can get a 12 pack of Zwipes Microfiber Cloths for about $10 at Amazon.

carbon fiber brushCarbon fiber or velvet brush—every record owner should have one. It is a maintenance tool. Use it often to keep records from getting dirty.