If you didn’t know, I’ve got a lot of albums, the earliest of which I started collecting in the early 1970s. They’ve been through a lot – teenage years, moves, and many of them were bought used. As I catalog them on discogs.com, I’ve been looking at each and every one. Most look pretty good; very good plus or even mint minus; others, not so much: finger prints, dust and who knows what! A record is made of polyvinyl chloride – PVC. It’s pretty hardy stuff, most modern plumbing is made of it. The grooves are more fragile, and once scratched, scuffed, etc, it cannot be undone. Yet anything that gets into those grooves that makes for a less than perfect playing experience can be rectified with proper cleaning. But please have realistic expectations about $3.00 records from Salvation Army. You can’t undue wear to vinyl – scratches and scuffs are permanent – dirt and dust are not.
Now let’s talk about money. If one had unlimited resources, they could just buy a better copy of an album. Or a $5000 ultrasonic record cleaner. Or even pay someone to clean their records. But I didn’t spend 40 years collecting records just to replace them; that wear and tear is my wear and tear, and those records and all they’ve been through are part of my story. And cleaning them, is my work.
The best way to clean records is by using a wet solution and then vacuuming it dry. Record cleaning machines start at about $500, and go up, though the Record Doctor V is only $200. A product like Spinclean handles the washing part, but not the drying; microfiber clothes are okay, but they don’t provide the “lift” that vacuuming does.
The $29 Vinyl Vac is not only one of the least expensive ways to get into vacuuming records, it’s also one of the best! It’s a PVC tube that attaches to the end of a shop vac, and over the spindle on a turntable. The tube has a slot cut into it, with felt around the edge that rides over the vinyl – pictures speak a thousand words, so here it is:
One can absolutely shine in all their obsessive-compulsive glory when talking cleaning habits; my record cleaning regime may not be yours, but if you’ve made it this far, you must be interested. Make no mistake, ideally, I’d prefer to never clean a record. If it was purchased new and handled properly, there shouldn’t be any need to. But my records are road-hardened. It’s time to clean!
The solution: Guess what’s the most effective cleaning chemical in the world? Water! Yep, all the other stuff – surfactants – just help water do its job. I use a 3:1 mix of distilled water and 91% isopropyl alcohol as the base, and add a minute amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid, and Photoflo, a Kodak “wetting” agent, which helps the water spread across the vinyl as well as aide in drying. Isopropyl Alcohol is a solvent for cutting grease, aka finger prints, and dries quickly. While some consider this controversial, it’s diluted, and PVC is thermally bonded. Plus, it’s only on the record for a few minutes at most.
The tools: I use a flat paint brush to scrub the records on my lazy susan, and a 4″ sponge brush to rinse the records. The Vinyl Vac and a shop vac dry the records. After vacuuming, I let them air dry for a short while, before I return them into the sleeve.
The process: Here’s the video.
The result? The records that needed cleaning are now clean. It’s mostly a one and done process, as I don’t expect them to get dirty again. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but these are my records, scratches, scuffs and all.