A guide to record cleaning and the best entry-level methods

By in Features





TLC for your vinyl.

Delving into the world of record collecting, and hi-fi listening, is filled with many moving parts. Building the perfect turntable speakers, and amplifier combination is a considerable task on its own. For the vinyl aficionado, few feelings compare to creating a system that makes your records sing.

That said, while you may have the hi-fi set-up of your dreams, records that are not properly cared for, and cleaned regularly, can hinder the overall sound quality. No matter how well you store your records, elements such as dust, dander, mold, and oil from your fingers can all affect the longevity, and overall quality of even the newest of records.

While hearing surface noise – like hissing, cracks, or pops – during your listening sessions can often be tell-tale ways of knowing whether or not your records may need cleaning, this isn’t always the case. An unclean record can also damage your needle, resulting in reduced and distorted sound quality over time, even when playing debris and oil-free records. As such, regular cleaning is essential.

If you have a penchant for buying secondhand records, you should always clean before first use, as older records are more likely to have dust collected within their grooves due to lackluster storage, and exposure to the aforementioned elements. Even newer records can also collect dust and residue from pressing facilities as it makes its way into your hands, so ideally you will want to give them a good cleaning before first use as well. Pulling out records from their sleeves can also cause static, which attracts dust onto the vinyl itself.

Now, you’re probably wondering what options there are to help keep your records clean. Tools such as anti-static record brushes and guns, record cleaning machines, vacuum machines, stylus brushes, and various solutions can all work wonders, There is also an endless rabbit hole of advice you can follow to make sure your records are squeaky clean. So, it you’re looking for a definitive answer to what the best system or method is you’re out of luck.

When considering which system, or combination of systems, works best for your needs, it is important to assess what your cleaning concerns are at any given time, as well as how many records you’ll be looking to clean at once. Manual methods that incorporate brushes, microfiber cloths, and solution combos are affordable, and better-suited options for a couple of records at a time. Machines are typically more expensive, give a deeper clean, and are more efficient in cleaning a larger number of records quickly.

Whatever you choose, it is worth mentioning that you should stay away from using soap, detergent, and paper towels. Using these items to clean and wipe down your records is ill-advised because they can scratch and damage the surface of your vinyl.

Below we look at some of our favourite budget options to help keep your records fresh and clean.

Audioquest Super Conductive Anti-Static Record Brush

Price: £17
Pros: Anti-static, conductive gold contacts
Cons: Only removes surface dust and debris, can not be used with liquid cleaning solution

Verdict: An anti-static brush should be a staple in everyone’s set-up. This model goes the extra mile with its gold contacts, to pull dust and reduce static build-up on your records more efficiently than average models.

Static is a frustrating, and seemingly invisible, electrical entity that can “pull” unwanted dust onto your records – making them crack and pop like you’re frying something. Most anti-static brushes are affordable, and do a decent job of reducing the amount of static coming from your record, while also getting rid of surface dust. However, Audioquest Super Conductive Anti-Static Record Brush is a significant cut above the rest. This is largely thanks to the addition of gold contacts on its brush, which helps to ground errant electric charges that cause static, and also pulls microscopic dust away from the grooves of your records. It also has higher-quality bristles that ensure your records receive an adequate clean too.

Mobile Fidelity One Cleaning Solution + Brush

Price: £44
Pros: Deep cleans record grooves, leaves little to no residue
Cons: Have to manually clean each record and wait for it to dry

Verdict: Machine-like deep clean without having to pay the price for a good record cleaning machine. Stands as a better option to other solutions + cloth/brush combos

Mobile Fidelity’s cleaning solution and brush combo is one of the best you can get. It gives you a deep clean that most anti-static brushes can’t achieve, and offers a more affordable alternative solution than with a bulky record cleaning machine. The solution dries fairly quickly, and offers little to no residue when it does. This means you won’t have a “gunk” build-up that forces you to go through multiple cleaning sessions on your records. The dual-cleaning brush is also pretty sweet as it can be used wet with the solution, or dry for surface dust. The pads are easily replaceable and surprisingly affordable too.

Record Doctor Vi

Price: £299
Pros: Easy to use,
Cons: Makes a lot of noise, manual solution spread aspect can be time consuming if doing multiple records

An easy-to-use, vacuum record cleaner that ensures all dirt and grime is sucked out from the depths of your record’s grooves.

The Record Doctor Vi is a handy vacuum system that efficiently cleans your records via its vacuum and solution system. While some aspects of the machine are manual, it also offers a deeper, suction clean that is not achievable through a more manual brush system. Once you’re done, it produces a completely dry record, so you can get straight to listening to your records. The machine is also affordable, easy to use, and incredibly low maintenance.

Honourable mentions:

Zerostat 3 Anti-Static Gun for Vinyl Cleaning

Price: £60
Pros: Reduces Static
Cons: Has a limited 10,000 uses lifetime, does not clean

Verdict: If static is a problem for your records, this efficiently eliminates it

This is a nifty device that is designed to specifically deal with static you may come across from your home listening set up. It “shoots” positive ions onto the surface of your records, to greatly reduce any static charge build-up.

Spin Clean MKII Record Washing System – Deluxe Package

Price: £75
Pros: Cleans records thoroughly
Cons: Completely manual

Verdict: An affordable washing system that gets as close to a machine wash as possible with a manual offering.

The Spin-Clean MkII record washing system is a neat little system. While the system is completely manual, it does a better job than just having a brush and a solution. If you’re looking for an adorable package, that’s a slight step up from a brush + solution combo, and also have a few records to clean at any given time, this is recommended.

Banner photo: Dan Medhurst for The Vinyl Factory