The worst thing you can do is NOT clean your records…
But if you’ve done any kind of research on the subject, you know there are as many opinions on the best way to do it as there are collectors.
Do this. Don’t do that!
That’s the message you’ll get.
If you’re overwhelmed and wondering what is the best way to clean old vinyl records, it’s understandable.
I’m not saying my way is the best. But it works well for me and I’ve tried a lot of different methods.
If I can give you one piece of advice, pick a method you feel comfortable with and stick to it…
What is the Best Way to Clean Old Vinyl Records
So, today I’ll share exactly how to clean vinyl records at home with my step-by-step guide.
With this method, I wash 8 sides – 4 records – before changing out for fresh water.
You’ll need the following…
- Distilled water. I use only distilled water for cleaning my records. It’s had all the minerals removed. So there’s no chance of anything interfering with the vinyl. And it leaves no residue. Please! Whatever you do, don’t use tap water.
- Dish soap. This is a controversial ingredient is record cleaning solutions. Some folks swear by it. Where other folks say it’s bad for records. I’ve used dish soap very successfully with no issues or damage to my records.
- A soft paint brush. Here you need to take care to pick the softest brush you can find. I use an artist’s paint brush, made especially for watercolor paint. There are hundreds of brushes to choose from on Amazon, so pick the one you feel comfortable with.
- 2 tubs. One for your cleaning solution and one for rinsing.
- A synthetic chamois. The chamois is used for drying the record. I don’t use the natural leather kind because it sheds lint. The synthetic one doesn’t. And it’s baby soft so it won’t damage your records.
- 2 bath towels. The towels are only there for laying your records down on during the cleaning process.
- 5 microfiber cloths. High-quality microfiber cloths are lint free and soft enough not to scratch your records. High-quality microfiber cloths are available on Amazon. They come very cheap and usually in packs of 6 or more.
- A drying rack. After a thorough drying off with the chamois, I stack my records on a drying rack. Choose a drying rack that’s got plenty of space for your records. I like this one by Interdesign on Amazon.
- An old turntable. This is an optional piece of equipment. But it makes drying the records so much quicker and easier. You can pick up an el-cheapo at the thrift store. As long as the platter spins, you’re good to go.
- Good lighting. Lighting is very important in the cleaning process. You want to see any obvious marks before washing your records so you know where some extra work is needed. Also, after washing and drying you want enough light to make sure you’ve cleaned those pesky marks off.
Cleaning Vinyl Records at Home: Step-by-Step
My cleaning setup is structured like a conveyor belt so one step follows the next in a logical order.
Here’s a picture of my washing station. The turntable and the drying rack are set away from the washing station to avoid wetting a record that’s already dried.
The Cleaning Solution
If you do some research online you’ll quickly notice there are hundreds of cleaning solution mixes out there.
Some folks add isopropyl alcohol along with dish soap and distilled water. The alcohol is mainly used as a drying agent.
And the dish soap is a surfactant. It breaks down the surface tension of the water. Which helps the water work its way into the grooves.
The soap is not meant to do any of the cleaning. So if you’re seeing a lot of foam in your cleaning solution, you’re using too much soap.
My mix is 16 oz or 500 ml of distilled water. And only a few drops of dish soap.
I recommend using a dish soap that’s biodegradable. And one that has as little chemicals as possible. These are usually fragrance-free too. You can get this kind of dish soap on Amazon for a few bucks. And it’ll last you a long time.
I like to heat the water just a tiny bit. Just take care that it’s not too hot. But if you’re uncomfortable, you can use it at room temperature too.
The Washing Process
Lay a record out on a pad made up of a folded towel covered with a microfiber cloth.
Then take the wet paintbrush and distribute the washing solution over the records.
Don’t use sweeping motions – you’re not painting. If you do, you’re likely to scratch the records.
So take care to direct the brush around the record keeping the bristles as flat as possible.
This will gently ‘scrub’ the record into the grooves where all the old gunk is.
Make sure the brush is soaked at all times. If it dries up you could risk leaving little scratches on the record.
Try not to get water on the label. But if you do get a few drops on it, it’s not a train smash.
I’ve found that they handle some drops pretty well without any blistering.
Once the record is covered with the cleaning solution. Let it sit for a minute or two.
Then give it a few more ‘scrubs’ with the wet brush.
Rinsing Your Records
This is the most important step in my opinion.
If you don’t rinse your records properly you’ll just spread the dirt around during the drying process.
And you don’t want any soap residue left behind either.
My rule is, you can never rinse too much. So rinse, rinse and rinse again.
I place my records upright in a tub filled with clean distilled water. And I use a small glass – a shooter glass works well to rinse it off.
Again take care to avoid getting water on the label. But a few drops are not the end of the world.
Once I’ve thoroughly rinsed the bottom and sides of the record, I pick it up at 12 and 6 o’clock and spin it around. Then it goes back into the tub and I rinse the sides and the bottom.
I’ll do it a couple more times just to be sure it’s rinsed properly.
Drying Your Records
After a good thorough rinsing, place your record on the second folded towel covered with a microfiber cloth.
Using the chamois gently dry your record in a circular motion. Take care not to cut across the grooves.
If you do you could end up with tiny fragments of chamois in the grooves. Which means you’ll be washing that record all over again.
After a quick dry with the chamois, I transfer the record to a turntable I keep just for cleaning.
I run it at 45 rpm and simply holding the chamois so it’s just touching the record until it’s completely dry.
If you don’t have a spare TT you can do this by hand. But it adds more work to a process that’s already labor intensive.
If you’re drying by hand just take care not to cut across the grooves as I mentioned before.
I highly recommend getting an el-cheapo turntable to make this process easier.
Then transfer your record to a drying rack. I leave them there for a minimum of 30 minutes before putting them back in their sleeves.
Here’s a picture of my drying rack station…
The drying rack is used ONLY for the record cleaning process and nothing else.
I also place the remaining microfiber cloths over the rack before stacking my records.
This is mainly to prevent any unwanted scratches and scuffs from the rack.
How to Keep Records Clean in-between Washes
After a good clean, you won’t need to wash your records for a long time.
Of course, if you’re adding to your collection often, you’ll need to wash those babies before playing them.
The first rule to keeping your records clean is to handle them properly.
But sometimes a pesky finger lands on the wrong place and you’ll need to do a spot clean.
To keep my records clean I keep a spray bottle with distilled water and an extra chamois handy.
If I see any finger marks I give the spot a quick spray and dry it thoroughly with the chamois.
Should You Wash Brand New Vinyl?
Yes, you sure should.
If you’ve ever released a new reissue from its cover you’d have found it’s covered in a thin film of residue. And even small shards of paper from the pressing plant.
And they’re usually packed with static! Static is the bane of every vinyl collector’s existence!
So for that reason, I wash every new LP I buy.
Some folks are of the opinion that new records don’t need to be cleaned. And that might be so.
But from my tests – cleaning one side and comparing it to the uncleaned side – my experience has been positive.
Now that you know the best way to clean old vinyl records, you might be wondering what’s next…
What to do After Your Record is Clean
Before you do anything else, make sure you have an anti-static sleeve handy for each record.
I always make sure to keep any inner sleeves that have artwork on them inside the album cover.
Yes, I swap out the inner sleeves of new records for my own anti-static sleeves. This is because the sleeves new records come in are loaded with static and it’s almost impossible to get rid of it.
I love using the anti-static sleeves by Vinyl Styl. They are of good quality and very affordable.
Get 50 Vinyl Styl Anti-Static Inner Sleeves on Amazon.
I recently did an experiment where I kept my new pressing of Portishead’s ‘Dummy’ album in the sleeve it came with. While I replaced the other new pressing’s sleeves with my own.
Now, even weeks later, my Portishead record still smacks with static when I take it out of the sleeve. The other’s are almost static free.
Almost static free?
Yes, almost! Which brings me to my last bit of advice…
What to do BEFORE You Play a Record
First, make sure your hands are clean. Okay, your hands will never be 100% clean since you have oils and other natural residues on your hands.
But don’t play vinyls while you’re cooking. Unless you don’t mind sauces, herbs, meat juices and the odd piece of cheese on your records.
But seriously, keep your hands as clean as possible when handling records.
Second, get yourself a firm velvet brush. I use mine as a step one to clean a record before playing it. I’m using the one from Crosley on Amazon. I like the velvet side. But their anti-static brush that comes with this one is crap.
Place your velvet brush onto the record while it’s spinning for about 3 revolutions to pick up any dust particles.
Next, you need a good anti-static brush. Like I said the anti-static side of the Crosley brush is junk. So I use the one from Vinyl Styl. And I’m super happy with its performance.
Follow the instructions in this video by Vinyl Styl and repeat if necessary.
As a side note, you shouldn’t put any pressure on the anti-static brush. Just let the spinning record and the brush do the work. You’ll get more done with less pressure.
I have a real problem with static in winter months. Our winters are dry with no rain or humidity in the air. So my goal at some point it to invest in an anti-static gun like this Milty Zerostat gun on Amazon.
The last step before you put needle to vinyl is to give your stylus a quick clean. I use a soft fine artist’s brush for this. But I’ve been known to use some Blu-Tack from time to time.
Just take care to only use the brush on the underside of the stylus from back to front. Never on the top and definitely not from side to side.
If you’ve made it this far and you’re still excited by collecting vinyl then you’re in for the time of your life!
Good food, great sex and listening to the sweet sounds of vinyl all take time.
But dang! It’s worth it!
We’re a weird bunch, but we still have rules. Check out these 13 things you can do to have a better crate digging experience.
Are you buying used vinyl records? Here are my tips on choosing, grading and buying used vinyl records.
Cleaning Records FAQ
Can you clean vinyl with Windex?
The short answer is yes, you CAN. The real question is, should you? And that answer is No. You probably won’t notice a problem, to begin with, but repeated use can definitely start to damage your records.
Windex is considered to be too harsh. The chemicals used in Windex can damage the protective layer of your records as well as your paper label. On top of the damage, it may cause, Windex can also leave a residue that causes crackling when playing your vinyl records.
Can vinegar be used to Clean Vinyl Records?
Yes, you can use vinegar. As mentioned above dish soap can be considered controversial so the vinegar can be a better agent for the cleaning process.
Vinegar is also greener for the environment, non-toxic and is very affordable. With many other uses around the house!
A simple ratio of 50-50 white vinegar and distilled water can return excellent results.
Because of natural particles in other types of vinegar, white vinegar is the only one acceptable to use when cleaning vinyl.
Can you clean vinyl records with WD40?
No! Do not use lubricants on your vinyl records. Not only is it not necessary to lubricate with WD40, Baby-Oil.
These items are not meant for cleaning and can cause damage to your vinyl. This damage can be permanent. Similar to Windex you could also get residue left on your records causing the audio quality to be reduced.
How to clean your stylus?
The stylus will have to be replaced on occasion but in between replacements you can keep it clean with a stylus brush or mr.clean magic erasers.
Once a week is a good start to cleaning the stylus, this may need to be increased depending on how often you play your records.
Most cartridge manufactures recommend using a stylus brush. It is a simple process
- Hold the tone arm steady
- Move the brush a couple of times along the stylus in the direction a record rotates.
If you prefer to use something you may already have on hand, like Mr. Clean Magic eraser
- Cut a small square
- Lower the tone arm onto the eraser
- Repeat until it stops leaving any residue