Do Vinyl Records Wear Out?
Collecting vinyl records is a hobby for some people and a passion for audiophiles. There are some who just started purchasing vinyl recently, and many music lovers who have been collecting for decades. We get questions from both groups about whether vinyl records wear out over time.
The quick answer is yes, vinyl records can wear out over time. However, it’s not quite that simple. Here we wanted to address this question and give you all the information you need to know about vinyl record use, wear, and how to properly care for your vinyl.
What are vinyl records made of?
This might sound like a stupid question, but it's important to understand this if you want to understand how they wear out over time.
Way back in the day, vinyl records were originally made from shellac, a type of resin similar to polyurethane or varnish. Over time, though, manufacturers began using a material called polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
If you purchase a new record today, that is almost certainly the material they will have used to create the record. You may recognize the acronym more than the name, as PVC is the same material used for piping, wires and cables, and even some rubber duck toys.
This material is highly durable, and it’s built to withstand a beating over its lifetime. With normal use and proper storage, this material will typically last decades before it starts to show any serious signs of wear.
But that begs a number of questions. If the material doesn’t really wear over time, then why do we experience so many oddities when playing back old vinyl? There are simple explanations for all of these situations.
Why do my old records make crackling noises when I play them?
This is the most common question we get asked. Someone buys a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours in a used bin at their local record shop. But when they get it home and throw it on the turntable, it starts popping and hissing like something is broken.
For people new to vinyl, they may be concerned that there's been some vinyl wear and the vinyl sound quality is not salvageable. While this is possible, that usually is not the problem.
Crackling, popping, and hissing noises come from dust and dirt that build up in the grooves of your LPs. Over time, especially without proper record cleaning, the dust can begin to build up and pile itself into the crevices where the track is pressed into the vinyl.
The dust on its own doesn’t cause problems, but when you play the record on a record player without removing that dust, the stylus can actually embed the dust into the vinyl itself. This can lead to a “pop” sound the next time you play the record when the stylus passes over that spot, then resulting in actual record wear.
So, an easy best practice to resolve this is to clean records when you take them home, especially if they're coming from a local record store or garage sale where they may not have received good care.
Why does my record skip when I play it?
Another common problem we see is records that skip. You throw on your copy of Led Zeppelin IV and you hear Robert Plant’s vocals scream across the track. You’re anticipating that first guitar riff and drum hit, and you hear one note before it jumps ahead to the second vocal line.
This happens all the time on old records, and it's caused by basically the same issue. It could be a piece of dust that is covering that part of the record, or it could be a scratch that the stylus doesn’t like to play over. Any case, a skip is as harmless as a crackle as long as you take the time to check the record groove and clean it as needed.
While it is possible that your vinyl is so worn down that you don’t have the music information on the vinyl anymore, that’s unlikely. You would need to play a record for much longer than almost anyone would in order to wear down the vinyl itself.
How do I properly care for my vinyl?
If you have a vinyl collection, you probably want to keep it from wearing out over time. While you don't necessarily need to go buy a record cleaning machine, there are some small things you can do anytime you use or handle an LP to keep it near-perfect condition for years to come.
Store your record properly
If you’re like most people, many of your records don’t get played often. Maybe you have a rotation of albums that you keep on repeat, swapping them in and out every so often. For most people, though, a large portion of their collection won’t get played for months, or even years, at a time.
In that case, you need to make sure you store your records properly to protect them from the dust and dirt that may try to build up on them, not to mention warping and scuffs.
This is fairly easy to do. All you really need is some anti-static sleeves and a cool, dry place to store your LPs. You will typically want to have both inner and outer record sleeves for the best protection possible.
The anti-static properties will keep dust off your vinyl, protecting them from any build-up or scratching. For more information on how to keep your vinyl in mint condition, check out our article on how to store vinyl records.
Get an anti-static brush
In addition to figuring out a storage solution, you should also invest in an anti-static record brush. You can get one as part of this Vinyl Styl Ultimate Record Care Kit, which also comes with a handy cleaning solution and is a must-have.
These are really simple to use, but they make a huge difference in the long run. Basically, each time you put a record on your turntable, use one of these brushes before actually playing records--i.e. before you put the stylus down.
You can use the table to spin the record and just hold the brush on the vinyl. You don’t need to apply pressure, just make sure it’s in contact with the whole surface of the LP. This may take a couple rotations, but most brushes are made to be the same length as a record’s surface.
Doing this will help to remove any dust within the groove walls and on the surface before you begin playing the album. This helps limit the amount of dust that gets pushed into the grooves and also prevents scratching.
It takes no time at all, and it can dramatically improve the longevity and sound quality of your vinyl records.
Deep clean them semi-regularly
As long as you are storing them well and using a brush before and after each play, you shouldn’t need to deep clean your records very often. This is something you can do every 6 months to a year or so.
If you’re buying used vinyl or records that have seen a lot of wear, you may want to give them a deep clean when you first get them, just to be safe.
Remember, most scratches or other damage on vinyl records comes from dust that is left on the surface when the record is played. If you give them a good cleaning prior to using them, it will help you a lot in the long run.
Handle your vinyl the right way
Another reason that vinyl records get damaged and scratched is due to poor handling. Any time you pick up your vinyl, you need to be careful to avoid touching the surface whenever possible.
The oils from your hand can cause the surface of the record to get greasy, leading to the same kinds of problems we get with dust.
There are two proper ways to pick up an LP. The first is by using the flat parts of your fingers to hold it by the edge. Don’t grip it between your thumb and forefinger. Instead, you should sandwich it between both hands, leaving both surfaces untouched.
Alternatively, if you need to pick it up with one hand, there is a proper way to go about that. Place your thumb on the paper label in the center of the record, and then stretch out your fingers to the edge. By doing this, you are accomplishing the same goal - not touching the surface of the record.
Proper handling can do your records a world of good over time. Make this a priority any time you’re putting on or taking off a record from your turntable.
Make sure your stylus is in good condition
The stylus on your turntable is not something that needs to be replaced frequently, but over time it will wear down. You’ll see that most manufacturers typically recommend changing a turntable’s stylus after somewhere around 1,000 hours of use, because nothing disturbs an audiophile like a worn stylus touching down on a high-quality vinyl.
If you start going past this, using a worn-down stylus can damage your records over time. In addition, you also want to be sure and keep your stylus clean.
Always keep it covered when not in use, and try to clean it frequently with some sort of stylus cleaning kit. We recommend this one from Vinyl Styl.
In conclusion, as long as you’re properly caring for your LPs, they really shouldn’t wear out, at least not during your lifetime. The PVC that manufacturers use to create them is durable and long-lasting, so you shouldn’t have any problems.
Just show your records some love, and they’ll show you the same in return. If you’re looking to add some new vinyl to your collection, check out what we have on offer at Sound of Vinyl.
We have an extensive collection of rare and limited-edition vinyl, as well as hundreds of classic records. Take a look and see if you can find something you love.