*(Updated)* I have removed the expensive ultrasonic machines and such because there was no point in discussing them in this article since one, they are well outside real-world cost and second, they are flawed in ways that potentially do more harm than good without improper use, I must say. It should be also noted that one can do harm to records with any of these devices if used improperly.
RCMs (Record Cleaning Machines). Thankfully, there are many choices on the market today.
First let me say that if you play vinyl records and have even a small collection of say, 50 records or so and if you purchase vinyl records, especially used ones, I believe getting a record cleaning machine is one of the single best investments in your sound system you can possibly make. The beauty of it is that there are virtually no diminishing returns for an RCM. There are many reasons for this and here is just one: You can purchase a used record for $1 or $2 from a garage sale or record fair or what have you, bring it home to your RCM, spend about 25 to 50 cents and a few minutes to clean it and end up with a record worth many times what you just paid. However, it is not really about the monetary worth of the record, it is really about the sound and preservation of not only the record, but your analog gear as well. Who wants to take out their needle or hear lots of noise while playing a record?
RCMs don’t work miracles, they cannot fix damaged or warped records nor improve poor recordings, but they can extend the life of records, bring records back to life so to speak to listening quality and better depending on the record condition. With the exception of fully automatic ones (which are thousands of dollars by the way), RCMs are really just platforms and helpers in cleaning records, but a big help they are. RCMs provide the most effective way to deep clean your vinyl records. Most RCMs employ the same basic design: apply a cleaning fluid to the record to loosen the dirt and debris trapped in the grooves, and in most cases, they have a vacuum system to remove the dirty fluid from the record, leaving behind a clean and dry record.
The only downside to RCMs is the price, that said though, there are many choices today and you don’t have to spend the farm. As I said in the beginning, if you are serious about record collecting, have a sizable collection, buy a fair amount of used (and new vinyl), some sort of RCM is one of the best investments you will ever make.
However, no matter how well or much you carry out “manual cleaning” (use of carbon fiber brush, rinsing with water, or wet brush), there is still residue of dirt and debris left sitting deep down in the grooves. In fact, I do not call using a carbon fiber brush or a wet brush “cleaning a record”. It really isn’t, it is closer to dusting than anything else. Brushing and rinsing are simply not enough to remove all that dirt. RCMs and proper cleaning methods are able to extract dirt from deeper in the grooves where your needle rides.
I’m going to show you most of the RCMs currently available both in the US and internationally so you can choose what fits your situation and budget best. I will also show the cleaning fluids I use that I have found to be best performers.
No, I have not tried all the RCMs on the market. In fact, I have only done two versions, one was my manual set up and then thanks to a nasty repetitive motion injury, I now currently use my VPI 16.5. Besides, I don’t have the money to try different RCMs and since they are really just variations on the same theme, with the exception of ultrasonic units, what would be the point?
As I talked about in my article on record cleaning, I have seen every manner of fluid or substance used to try to clean records by people whom just don’t want to do it correctly or maybe are genuinely misleading people as some kind of cruel joke or something. It seems to me like it is more of the former. These people just don’t want to spend the extra dollar or less to get an appropriate cleaning fluid specifically formulated to clean their records properly and would rather ruin their records in failed attempts while claiming they are masters of the subject. I don’t care how many forums or websites or YouTube channels, etc. those people are on, please folks, don’t go using wood glue, window cleaner, bathroom cleaner, high levels of alcohol, furniture polish, lighter fluid, etc. to clean your records. See my article here: for more in-depth discussion.
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