How Using a Record Cleaner Keeps Vinyl Collections Sounding Pristine

Vinyl records can sound fabulous if you maintain them

What to Know

  • Basic Dry Cleaning: Brush each vinyl record with an anti-static cleaning brush before and after playing it.
  • Wet Cleaning: Fill a record-washing system with cleaning fluid and spin the record slowly through it by hand.
  • Wet and Dry Cleaning: Use a microfiber cloth for dry-wiping a record and add cleaning solution to the cloth for wet cleaning.

This article explains several methods for cleaning your vinyl records. Records can be dry or wet cleaned or both.

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Anti-Static Record Cleaning Brush

An anti-static record cleaning brush, made by Audio-Technica

Nothing beats a vinyl record brush for basic dry cleaning. Most of these brushes use either a soft velvet surface (they look similar to dry erasers for whiteboards), animal hair or carbon fiber bristles to safely sweep away dust and fine particles. These are great to have since they don’t cost much or take up a whole lot of space.

Some record cleaning brushes even come with a small stylus brush to help keep your turntable’s needle clean. It’s considered good practice to dry clean a vinyl record before and after playing to prevent any build-up — carbon fiber also has the added benefit of reducing static. Just a few, circular sweeps following the grooves is all it takes. The downside is that you will have to take care in handling the vinyl to not leave fingerprints. Also, these brushes are meant for regular maintenance and not for reaching into the grooves for deep cleaning.

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Compact

  • Effective for daily use

What We Don't Like
  • Requires careful handling of vinyl records

  • Won’t reach into the grooves for deepest cleaning

  • Dry cleaning only

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Record-Washing Systems

The Spin-Clean record washing system for cleaning vinyl records

Record-washing systems provide a complete, deeper clean that you can’t accomplish with basic dry methods alone. Wet cleaning your vinyl records with a washing system will remove oil, fingerprints, stuck-on grime, and any of the more stubborn bits of dirt that a brush couldn’t get. Most of these record-washing systems come as a kit with everything you need: wash basin, cleaning fluid, wet brushes, drying cloths. Some may also come with lids or drying racks.

After you fill the basin with the cleaning fluid, set a vinyl record within it, typically on a rolling mechanism, leaving the bottom portion submerged. As you slowly spin the record by hand, the grooves pass through the cleaning solution. Don't let any fluid drip down and ruin the vinyl’s label.

What We Like
  • Provides deep cleaning for dirt, fingerprints, oil, etc.

  • Both sides of the vinyl get washed simultaneously

  • More affordable than record cleaner machines

What We Don't Like
  • Requires manual operation

  • Record labels can get wet if not careful

  • Less affordable than a dry brush

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Microfiber Cloth & Cleaning Solution

A crumpled up blue microfiber cleaning cloth
mollypix / Getty Images

For the least expensive wet/dry record cleaning setup, buy a lint-free microfiber cloth and vinyl record cleaning solution. You can get both for less than half the cost of a record brush if you shop wisely. Microfiber cleaning cloths are safe (i.e. scratch-free) and effective for sensitive surfaces, such as prescription eyeglasses, mobile device screens, and television panels. You can take one of these and dry-wipe a vinyl record about as easily as you would with a record brush. If you choose to apply a solution to wet clean your records, these cloths gently push and soak up the liquid as it scrubs through the grooves. The trade-off is that you’re doing everything by hand and need to take extra care in the approach.

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Effective for daily use

  • Takes up the least amount of space

What We Don't Like
  • Requires far more of a hands-on approach

  • Not all microfiber cloths are truly lint-free

  • Wet cleaning can be a little messy

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Vinyl Record Vacuum

A hand holding a Vinyl Vac to clean a record lying on top of a turntable
Vinyl Vac

If you like the idea of deeper record cleaning then a vinyl record vacuum makes an ideal choice. Products such as the Vinyl Vac are special wands that attach to the end of a standard vacuum hose. Record vacuums like these anchor to the center spindle of the turntable and have a velvet-lined intake that spans across the vinyl’s grooves.

As you spin the turntable platter, the wand brushes, loosens, and sucks up dust, particles, and debris. Suction reducers are included to help regulate the flow of air if you own an especially powerful vacuum. These wands also work with wet cleaning methods. Just make sure you use a wet/dry or shop vacuum that can handle liquids.

What We Like
  • More effective than a basic brush

  • About as affordable as a basic brush

  • Can also be used with solutions for wet cleaning

What We Don't Like
  • Requires a vacuum

  • May need adjusting for ideal suction power

  • Primarily designed for 33 RPM LPs (but can work with 45 RPM LPs)

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Record Cleaner Machine

The Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine Mk II (in black)
Okki Nokki

For the all-in-one hands-off approach, a record cleaning machine is the way to go. Simply set a vinyl record onto the unit and follow the operating instructions. Many of these devices, such as the Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine Mk II, are fully automated and handle both dry and wet cleaning. Vinyl records go through the dry brushing process to remove all loose dust and debris before being washed with a wet solution. These machines feature built-in vacuums and reservoirs that suck up and store all the used liquid, leaving the vinyl records squeaky clean and dry. The only thing you'll have to supply is distilled water for the cleaning solution and rinse. While record cleaner machines are fantastic, they’re neither small (approximately the size of another turntable) nor cheap. They can range in price from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars.

What We Like
  • Comprehensive dry and wet cleaning

  • Most are fully automated/motorized

  • Easy to use

What We Don't Like
  • Can be expensive

  • Can make some noise while operating

  • Takes up a decent amount of space

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Wood Glue

An 8 oz bottle of Elmer's wood glue

Equal parts extreme and thorough, wood glue has proven its vinyl record cleaning prowess over the decades. It may sound bizarre at first, but the squeaky-clean results are hard to dispute. Unlike other types of glue, wood glue won’t bond to vinyl or plastic, but it will remove all impurities from your record (even in the grooves) without leaving any residue. Think of it as a facial mask, but for your vinyl music.

The trick to using wood glue is that it needs to be spread evenly as one continuous, bubble-free piece (a silicone spatula helps). Otherwise, you might have a harder time peeling it off if you're working with several sections. Make sure that the record is on a flat surface the entire time, and take care to not get any glue on the label. The downside is that you’ll need to wait a day for the glue to harden enough to be safely removed. Then you’ll have to flip the vinyl and repeat the process with the other side. But the upside is that a bottle of glue will set you back only several dollars.

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Proven safe and effective

  • Can be a lot of fun if you like to peel things

What We Don't Like
  • Requires more effort than some other cleaning methods

  • Long drying process takes at least a day per side for each vinyl record

  • Can get messy quickly if you’re not careful

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General Tips for Vinyl Record Care

A close up of the vinyl records layered across each other

Andreas Naumann / Getty Images

  • Clean your vinyl records (even the brand new ones) before and after playing.
  • Carefully handle records with clean, dry fingers so you don’t transfer any dirt or oil to the vinyl. Also, try to limit contact to just the outer edge and not the flat surface of the record (especially any grooved part, since that’s where the audio information is stored).
  • Keep your turntable’s lid closed whenever you’re playing a record to help prevent the accumulation of dust. If you don’t have a lid, look into finding one made of clear acrylic.
  • Safely store vinyl records in their sleeves when not in use. Leaving them on the turntable platter can result in a thin layer of impurities assembling together in the grooves.
  • Only use clean sleeves. If the sleeve is dirty, it will transfer to the vinyl record. When purchasing new sleeves, look for the acid-free anti-static kind.
  • Do not use any regular household cleaning products on your records. Most of these contain ingredients that can incite a chemical reaction and end up permanently damaging the vinyl itself. Use only cleaners approved for vinyl.
  • Do not use any kind of cloth (e.g. shirt, towel, napkin) to dry-wipe your records. They can leave scratches, lint, or even static (which attracts dust particles). Stick to microfiber (which is soft and excellent at collecting dust, oil, and static) or the types of brushes meant for cleaning vinyl.
  • Keep the tip of your turntable stylus clean, as it often collects dust and fibers as the record plays. You can clear the dust off with an air bulb for camera lenses (or just blow with your mouth so long as you’re careful to not spit) or a small stylus brush.
  • Choose turntable mats made of leather, cork, rubber, or carbon fiber, since they have anti-static properties and won’t shed any material.
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Why Clean Your Records?

hands holding up a vinyl record

 JGI / Getty Images

So much of today’s audio entertainment is enjoyed through digital media files on mobile devices or streamed through the internet. You don't have to give much thought to performing regular maintenance on such music sources. But it’s a different story for vinyl records. Unlike their digital counterparts, vinyl records can suffer from a lack of proper care. Not only does neglecting the cleanliness of this analog format result in directly affecting how music sounds, but it can lead to permanent damage on both the record and the turntable and its stylus (also known as a needle).

The main culprits of filth that eventually find their way into a vinyl’s grooves are airborne particles (e.g. dust, lint, fibers, pollen, etc) and whatever is left on your fingers, including dirt, oil, grease, and even acids. When you play a dirty record, the stylus adds an element of heat as it travels along the grooves. With that heat, the particles and oil combine together to create a hard residue that sticks to the vinyl and stylus. This residue becomes the source of all the distracting noise — clicks pops, hisses — you hear when playing the record. If left unchecked, the music will sound worse as time goes on, and there’s also no way to repair a damaged record. On top of that, you’ll likely have to replace the turntable cartridge sooner than later.

It’s not difficult to keep vinyl records clean. You just need to be mindful of the cleaning habit each time you decide to play one. Dry cleaning is good enough to get most all the surface debris — it takes wet cleaning to effectively purify the grooves. Many products assist this process, ranging from comprehensive solutions such as a professional record cleaner to inexpensively effective tools like vinyl brushes. None of them are perfect, as each has its own pros and cons. So it’s up to you to decide which one suits you best. Just remember that any kind of proper cleaning is better than none at all!

Here are our thoughts on the best places online to purchase vinyl albums for your collection.

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