Car Boot Vinyl Diaries

Car Boot Vinyl Diaries

Monday, 22 February 2016

Cleaning vinyl records

I frequently get asked how I clean my car boot and charity shop records, so instead of repeating myself endlessly, I thought I'd jot it all down here in one handy blog post.

All secondhand records could benefit from a clean; not only does it improve playback, it also protects your stylus from excessive wear, so it's worth a little time and effort.  Even if a record looks shiny and clean, you never know what mucky horrors may be lurking within those grooves.  I've tried various methods over the years, and the following is what works for me.

1. Pre-clean:
I do my record cleaning with the bath and label clamp that make up part of the Knosti Disco Antistat kit, and it's done at the kitchen sink, which if you knew how cack-handed I am, you'd agree that this is the safest option.

First, the clamp is attached over the label, protecting it from getting a soaking and allowing the record to spin through the bath evenly.

Ooh, would you look at that dust.
Clampy hub-thing in place.  Don't screw it on too tightly.

I usually give the record a quick blast under the tap (warm, not hot!) to remove excess dust/sand/soil - you get all sorts of crap on car boot records.  Then it goes into the Disco bath, which is filled with warm water and a drop or two of washing up liquid, and I usually give each record at least 8 full turns in each direction.

Do as The Byrds said: "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

The bath has a soft brush inside (goat's hair, I think, sorry vegans) that sweeps the grooves thoroughly, dislodging dirt particles.  If there's something stuck on part of the record's surface such as paper or a sticky label, I leave that part soaking below the water line for a few mins first and it comes away easily.

2. Rinse:
My records get two rinses: one under a warm tap to remove all traces of detergent, and a second with a spray bottle filled with distilled water, to flush away the mineral-laden tap water.  I live in a hard water area, and if I forget this stage the records are left with white streaks of lime if allowed to dry before the second clean.

3. Second clean:
Once I've pre-cleaned and rinsed a few records, it's time to empty and rinse out the Disco bath for the next stage.  For this second clean I use a homemade solution, and to make one litre I mix 900ml of distilled water (available from local chemist's) with 100ml of 99% isopropyl alcohol.  I used to get the latter from the chemist's too, but the last time I asked for some they looked at me like I was a substance abuser and said "Oh, we're not allowed to sell that anymore!", so now I get it from eBay, who are much less judgemental.

This mixture works pretty well as it is, but I've now started adding 2ml of a photographic wetting agent to every litre (many recipes online say 5ml per litre but I found this to make the fluid far too sudsy).  It acts as a surfactant, not only preventing the fluid from beading on the record's surface, but also helping it to get properly into the grooves (as recommended by Madonna circa 1985).  The Disco bath is filled with the homemade fluid (it holds around half a litre) and the process is the same as in the pre-clean, i.e. 8 full turns in each direction.

"Let's go round again...".  (Hey, who moved my tap across to the other side?)

After about an hour in the drying rack for a decent airing, the records are then given a quick check and a buff with a large spectacles cloth.  Occasionally a record will have a speck of something like paint, tippex or some unidentified yukkiness on it that doesn't come off during the normal cleaning process, but it's easily removed with a couple of drops of undiluted isopropyl alcohol and the soft cloth.  It's a good idea to give the inner and outer record sleeves a shake over the sink; there's not much point in putting a freshly cleaned record back inside a dusty sleeve.

The plastic caps on the ends of the drying rack seemed to me
a bit scratchy, so I removed them and replaced them with soft
electrical tape.  The rack holds 15 records.

  • The surfactant I use is Ilford Ilfotol Wetting Agent and can only be bought by the litre, so will probably last one person a lifetime, although I've noticed lately that some eBay sellers are now decanting these to sell in smaller quantities.  
  • I re-use the homemade fluid until I can see dust particles floating around in it. It never gets to the stage where it looks actually 'dirty', as it's only used on properly pre-cleaned records.
  • The pouring lip on the Disco bath is a bit rubbish, so I decant the cleaning fluid into a jug first, before pouring it back into the bottle.
  • The cleaning liquid that comes with the Disco Antistat is expensive to replace (around £15 for a litre, i.e. the same as vodka) but it is good for reducing static crackle.  I only use it occasionally and swear like a trooper if I spill some. 
  • Sometimes the clamp's hub doesn't quite cover the record's label.  This doesn't seem to matter, as once it dries, it looks quite perfect again.  I've never had a label suffer damage from getting a bit wet.
  • As with any cleaning solution, particularly one containing alcohol, it goes without saying that it should be stored safely away from kids, pets and alcoholic relatives, and used in a well-ventilated room.
  • Umm... I think that's it.  If you've any questions, do leave them in the comments or tweet me @VinylCarBooty.

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