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Peak Vinyl

Providing guides and information to keep your collection and equipment at peak condition.

Justin Stewart

6 minute read

I pulled out a record today that has been in storage for a few months, and I was sorely disappointed in the amount of surface noise. To get the most of your records, cleaning your records is a must.

A vinyl record should be cleaned if there is a noticeable amount of surface noise such as pops or hissing during play. It is recommended to clean any newly acquired record, new or used. Proper handling, storage, and brushing off dust particles before each use can reduce the need for deep cleans.

If you own any vinyl records, you should be doing some essential maintenance of your record collection. There are a few small things you can do to keep your collection pristine with little work. I have created a little ritual out of it and provides me comfort.

When and Why You Should Clean Records

There isn’t a clear cut answer of when you should clean your records. It really comes down to preference and how tolerant you are to surface noise.

However, I think there are some specific times where you should consider cleaning the record.

  1. When adding a new record to your collection. Even if it is brand new and still in the original packaging.
  2. When there is contamination visible to the naked eye. After dry cleaning with a carbon fiber brush.
  3. When there is an unsatisfactory amount of surface noise. Resulting in unpleasant pops, crackle or hissing during use.

Keeping your records clean is absolutely essential to get the best sound out your album. It’s something to get it right from the get-go, so you don’t run into unnecessary pops and crackle on a newly purchased or aging album. Not to mention, improve the longevity of the record itself.

When playing a record, the stylus, which can also be referred to as a needle, glides down the groove. If the record is dirty, the stylus can hit a contaminate, like dust, resulting in that distinct “pop” sound.

If the particle is big and stuck to the plastic, it can cause the stylus to lift off the groove and drop back down. Potentially damaging the stylus and record in the process.

Damage to the stylus could increase wear, reducing the lifetime of your records. Which, in turn, causes groove damage that can’t be fixed by any amount of cleaning.

A more subtle effect would the stylus dragging the dust with it. Potentially dulling the sound and causing damage to the stylus.

Cleaning New Additions

I’m always surprised by how dirty brand new records can be. I had run into multiple records that when I slip it out of the cover. I see huge smudges and dust particles across the grooves.

Even if the conditions of where it was manufactured are stellar. It is a good idea to clean any record you purchase, to remove any possible dust or contaminants leftover from pressing and packaging.

I would stress this far more for used purchases. Used records have seen some days by the time you have received it. Possibly not in the best of storage conditions.

Even if it came from a good home. Take the time to give it some love and make sure it’s clean before playing it or adding it to the shelf. This can ensure you that it’s going to be in the best of condition going forward.

I can relate to the excitement of obtaining a new album. I just want to drop it on the platter and listen right away. However, I have to show some patience and take a short moment to clean the record. If I were in it for the convenience, I’d just play the album on some music streaming service.

When it comes to cleaning the records, there is a massive variety of conflicting methods and opinions on what is best. From home solutions, commercial products, weird contraptions, and ludicrously expensive machines.

The Spin-Clean is one of the most popular commercial products, due to its comparatively low cost and ease of use. The Spin-Clean is available on Amazon and quite highly reviewed.

For those avid collectors with hundreds of records, I would consider a professional record cleaning machine. These machines automate a lot of the process for you when you have dozens of records to clean at a time. They are pricey and can cost upwards of $500-$800 USD at the entry-level and thousands at the high end.

Brush Before Play

Dry cleaning a record before each play is a good practice that is widely accepted throughout the vinyl community. Most commonly done with a carbon fiber brush, it’s considered a staple to any turntable setup.

It is near effortless to perform dry cleaning and can be broken down to the following steps:

Place the record on the playing mat, just like you usually would. Turn the turntable on so the record spins on the platter. Gently place the carbon fiber brush on the record surface at a 90-degree angle. Let the record rotate a few times underneath. Then slowly move the brush towards the center, letting the bristles touch the spindle. Once the center of the brush is centered with the spindle, lift the brush off the record.

After which as it continues to spin on the platter, I take the time time to inspect the record for warping, dust, and smudges. If I see any blemishes or a notable accumulation of dust that wasn’t immediately brushed away. I will warrant it for a deeper, wet clean.

Proper Storage and Handling

Every aspect of vinyl care always comes back to this. Properly storing and handling your vinyl records is essential for any vinyl record owner.

When it comes to keeping dust off of records, there is a subset of things to keep in mind.

  1. Properly Handling a Vinyl Record
  2. Upgrading to Archival-Quality Inner Sleeves
  3. Using a Turntable Dust Cover

Properly Handling a Vinyl Record

Refreshing on vinyl care 101, never touch the playing surface if you can avoid it, especially with bare skin. The oils transferred can make it easier for the dust to stick to the surface, and aide contaminates deeper into the grooves.

Only handle records by the outer edges and the label when they are out of the sleeves. Ideally, you are trying to minimize the time your record has to gather dust. From sleeve to the table, and from table to sleeve.

Upgrading to Archival-Quality Inner Sleeves

Many aftermarket inner sleeves are designed to be softer and have anti-static properties. Preventing the sleeve from marking the record as you insert or remove it.

The anti-static nature of these sleeves can help protect the records from dust. Keeping a treated record in the condition of when it was stored.

The paper sleeves that often come with albums accumulate dust like crazy, shave off paper particles, and are (in my opinion) fragile. On a more superficial level, it can also give a more premium feel over inner sleeves made from paper.

Using a Turntable Dust Cover

A large number of turntables come with dust covers and are generally recommended amidst the assembly instructions. With the option of never installing it, or providing a convenient way of removing it entirely.

A turntable dust cover can be an ugly thing that ruins the look of your turntable. Even though the aesthetics of your setup may be tarnished. I would instead rather minimize the dust falling onto my record.

I am somewhat paranoid, and I would have a small itch on the back of my head every time my air conditioning kicked on without a cover. Which is why I follow everything I detailed in this post.

Hey, I'm Justin

I've been caught by the vinyl bug after the big resurgence over the past few years. I've been happily discovering music and groups that was "before my time." Growing an appreciation for vinyl and the practice of caring and growing my collection.