There’s a lot of misinformation about cleaning records these days – often posted by people who have very little experience or who haven’t thought very much about it. The majority of second-hand records were pressed between 35 and 65 years ago and in most cases they have never been washed. That’s a lot of time to attract unwanted contaminants.
And there are many different contaminants: tobacco smoke and ash; organic dust, such as cotton fibres, pollens, skin cells and pet hairs, human grease, fungus - you name it!
The only way to clean records properly is to wash them. You can make a dirty record sound a lot better just by gently scrubbing it with a velvet brush and record cleaning fluid, rinsing it under a tap, and drying it with a tissue and isopropyl alcohol. It won’t be perfectly clean, but it will be better than most other suggested methods. The problem that remains is getting the record dry without leaving any residue whatsoever - any kind of cloth is likely to leave fibres and air drying leaves a residue.
This is something we’ve thought about a lot. We’ve had over 40 years of learning how to clean records, and have done several million. We developed our own vacuum record cleaning machine and they sold successfully, but it had its drawbacks. We now have what we believe to be the best system for cleaning records, residue free, that we’ve tried.
For old records that have never been cleaned, especially if they have the tell-tale fuzzy spots of fungus, we use a two-stage process: a first wash with record cleaner in a bath with brushes, followed by a period of ultrasonic cleaning in a rinse solution that leaves no residue. For stage one, you can use any of the commonly available record cleaners such as Vinyl Styl Deep Groove Washing System, Knosti or Spin Clean, or if you have one, a Nitty Gritty vacuum system or similar. These all work reasonable well to clean the records, but it’s important to closely inspect the surface first, and pick off any hardened lumps before you start. Then clean them as per the manufacturer’s instructions, with Real Groovy Record Cleaner. This contains surfactants that dissolve oils and greases, and it’s important to remove these surfactants and released contaminants before the next stage.
So rinse the record once it’s cleaned. Cool tap water will do, 10-25 degrees Celsius. Let it drain for five or ten minutes while you do another one.
The record is now cleaned a second time in an ultrasonic record cleaner. A special clamp system holds three records and protects the labels. The tank is filled with a special rinse solution. The record is hand-rotated for five minutes in the solution with the ultrasonic transducer operating. Ultrasonic cleaning uses cavitation bubbles induced by high frequency pressure (sound) waves to agitate the liquid. The agitation produces high forces on any remaining contaminants that are adhering to the record surface.
The record is then removed and allowed to drain dry. The rinse solution contains highly purified water and linear alcohols, and because most of the contaminants were removed in the first stage, there’s almost no residue left on the record, so that the record doesn’t have to be cloth-dried, reducing the risk of leaving lint or other fibres on the disc.
Once completely dry the record needs to be placed in a new inner sleeve. Or played.