The Vinyl Cleaning Bible?

Everything (and more) that you ever wanted to know about record cleaning…

By Roy Gregory

Record cleaning has long been a contentious subject amongst vinyl collectors and audiophiles alike. From Linn’s hands-off, “let the stylus clean your records” line, to the simple Discwasher or Hunt EDA brush, from the many ‘wet’ cleaning options such as the Disc Doctor’s multiple fluids, laborious manual application and rinse regime, to the machine assisted “wet-dry” vacuuming offered by the exotic Loricraft thread-dragger and the brute-force, wamm-bamm simplicity of the VPI HW-16.5 machine. Then there’s the latest craze – ultrasonic cleaning. The sheer range of options and possible combinations is mindboggling in its breadth and opacity. Throw in your normal quota of personal agendas and audio fundamentalists and trying to sort sensible information from self-serving (or even potentially damaging) advice has never been easy. It’s a field that’s as long on anecdote as it is short on hard information and all too often the only approach has been one of hard won experience.
Add to that the fact that every audiophile and record collector has their own personal criteria and demands – particularly when it comes to time and convenience – and hard and fast answers to record cleaning questions are almost impossible to give. The best solution is, inevitably, the one that works for you. But, arriving at that solution is a far from simple task.

After many years of buying secondhand as well as new vinyl, the one thing of which I am absolutely convinced is that, unless your approach to record cleaning is matched to your patience/tolerance for the task, it simply ain’t getting done. Indeed, the beauty of the VPI HW-16.5 that I used for years was its speed and simplicity. As a serial consumer of vinyl records, being able to clean them as you go was just about perfect – even if the results weren’t necessarily the best possible. What they were was simple and quick enough to actually get done and much, much better than doing nothing at all. But even with a machine in situ and sorted, that still left the vexed question of what cleaning fluid to use? With alcohol or without? What surfactant and how much? Those are just the basic questions and it gets a whole lot more complex from there… These days, I use an ultrasonic bath with Kuzma’s ‘kebab’ system (RD Ultrasonic Record Cleaning kit – Kuzma Professional Turntables, Tonearms and Accessories) to clean records in batches. But even here the same questions persist, along with a whole new set of issues around record spacing and spin-speed, timing, temperature and settings on the bath itself. Let alone how to manage the bath; do you filter, how do you filter, what size filter, and when do you refresh the bath?

Well, I’ve finally got some answers. Not THE answers, you understand, but a comprehensive source of impeccably researched and annotated information that will allow you to answer pretty much whatever question(s) you might have – from fluid composition and function through to how different ultrasonic baths actually work and the implications that has on the choice of settings. If you really want to understand record hygiene at the ‘in the groove’ level, then look no further than Neil Antin’s exhaustive paper/book on the subject, Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records, available as a free download from The Vinyl Press: