What To Look for in a Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit
There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to vinyl collecting. Records need entirely different care than most other forms of audio recording. That means new vinyl enthusiasts need to buy cleaning equipment and learn new skills in order to take the best care of their tunes.
Why Do Vinyl Records Need To Be Cleaned?
If you’re mostly used to digital recording, you might not be aware of why vinyl records need regular cleaning to begin with. The reason boils down to two things: dust and oil.
What Dust Does to Vinyl Records
Unlike an mp3 or streaming service, vinyl records exist in 3D space. They’re flat discs covered in hundreds, if not thousands, of little grooves that form the sounds of your favorite songs when a turntable needle touches them. Every one of those grooves is a dust magnet.
It may not seem that dust is a big deal, but it is. Dust can scratch the delicate surface of a vinyl record and ruin its audio playback. Even if there isn’t permanent damage like a scratch or skip, dust can interfere with how a record sounds, creating extra noise, pops, and crackles when the needle comes in contact with it.
What Oil Does to Vinyl Records
You may wonder how oil gets on vinyl records in the first place. The answer is your hands. No matter how clean they are, human hands have natural oils on them (think of how everyone leaves fingerprints behind). Those oils are good for your hands but very bad for records.
Oil can interfere with sound quality in a way similar to how dust does. If left on a record for a long time, oil can actually erode the surface of vinyl material, ruining it for playback.
The best way to keep a record oil-free is to be very careful when handling it, only touching the edge or using gloves. If oils get on your record despite those precautions, a good cleaning can still remove dust and oil.
What Equipment Should Be in a Record Cleaning Kit?
There are a variety of cleaning kits available on the market. Some are very basic, and others have a dozen different components, each for a different aspect of cleaning.
Whether your kit is basic or expert level, here are some of the items you should keep an eye out for.
Record Cleaning Kit Item #1: Vinyl Brush
One of the items that you’ll find in nearly every vinyl cleaning kit is a vinyl brush. This is a soft but sturdy anti-static brush meant for chasing the dust out of your record’s grooves. The best brushes are made with carbon fiber bristles, which are soft enough not to damage vinyl but stiff enough to use in stubborn areas.
Please don’t try and repurpose another type of brush for a vinyl brush. Remember, records are susceptible to scratches, and scratches ruin a record. To avoid accidentally making a costly mistake, be sure to only use a designated vinyl brush on your records.
Record Cleaning Kit Item #2: Cleaning Solution
A brush can take care of the dust, but to get rid of any oils on your records, you’ll really need a bottle of cleaning solution. To be safe, try and get a cleaning solution specifically for vinyl. It should be alcohol-free.
In order to get the best results out of your bottle of cleaner, you’ll need a few other tools to go with it: microfiber cloth and a label protector. Microfiber is advised for record cleaning because it’s soft, absorbent, and won’t leave behind fuzz or snag in the grooves of a record.
You’ll also need a record label protector. A cleaning solution can get the label of a record wet and make the ink run or loosen the adhesive that holds it to the record. Commercial record protectors are usually silicon discs that cover the label completely while you wipe down the rest of the record.
Some vinyl collectors say that there’s no problem using mild soap or plain distilled water to clean your records. If you’re in a pinch, these are probably worth a try, but vinyl cleaners are specifically formulated to be safe for use on audio vinyl and are probably your best bet.
Your microfiber cloth and label protector, on the other hand, really don’t need to be specially sourced. Any microfiber cloth will work as long as it’s clean and dry.
As far as label protectors, you can make your own with a coaster or any round waterproof object a similar size and shape to your label. However, commercial label protectors are already correctly sized, making them more convenient.
Record Cleaning Kit Item #3: Stylus Cleaner
While you’re taking care of your records, it’s a good idea to give your turntable some TLC too. The stylus — a.k.a. the needle on the player arm — is the piece of the turntable that comes into closest contact with your oily, dusty record. Therefore it needs the most targeted regular cleaning.
Styluses are small and difficult to clean by hand, although they can be done with a stylus brush. This is a small, soft brush that you use to brush away any dirt or gunk on the tip of the stylus.
However, a turntable stylus can pick up very small dirt particles that can be difficult to remove completely by hand. Many collectors use specialty stylus cleaners, which are either gel or magnet-based. Instead of scrubbing by hand, you only have to dip the stylus into the cleaner to clean it.
What Extra Accessories Can Be Added to a Record Cleaning Kit?
While the basics don’t change very much, other tools might be useful for cleaning records. These can be especially useful if your record collection is very large or if you collect vinyl from places that may not have prioritized their care, like an estate or garage sale.
A vinyl vacuum works wonders on dust and can save time if you have a very large collection. Just make sure to test the settings and be gentle, so you don’t inadvertently scratch up your record with the hose.
Some collectors swear by a variety of unusual methods to get records really clean. These methods include wood glue, isopropyl alcohol, and compressed air. These methods might work but are probably best tried by experienced collectors.
Every Collector Needs a Vinyl Cleaning Kit
A vinyl cleaning kit is a basic but necessary tool for a vinyl record collector. At its most basic level, a cleaning kit only contains a brush, cleaning solution, and a microfiber cloth. Even though it seems simple, these items will do a great job of keeping your records free of dust and oil.
If you want to buy more records to clean, check out Sound of Vinyl.