Record cleaning and maintenance
(pictures used just for illustration and are not endorsements of any specific product)
So, you have records. With that comes a bit of responsible care, but it’s in the name of great sound and well worth it. You may be wondering: So, how should I clean my records? What is the right thing to use and what is the right way to clean records? How should I store them? In this article I am going to attempt to answer those questions and more.
I’m going to give my take on record cleaning. It is not the only word. It is my view and opinion based on lots of reading, talking to experts, my own years of experience and research. The most important thing I can say about this is go with what makes the most sense for you with all factors considered. The point is that I want you to know how to take care of your records properly so that you can enjoy them and have them last well beyond your years so you can maybe pass them on to your relations as well.
So why do records, even new ones, need to be cleaned?
In my opinion the first thing to know about cleaning records is why you should clean records. Secondly, is that all records, including new ones, need to be cleaned before first play. Third, what dirt and contaminates are commonly found on records.
Why records should be cleaned is pretty straight forward and though you may already have that figured out, I’ll tell you anyway. Some folks have proposed, believe it or not, that it’s ok to dust the record and let the stylus clean the grooves, since it’s going to anyway. Well, I believe there are two possible thought processes to that position. 1) It comes from those who may have no turntable or records and just want to appear to be the smartest one in the room or 2) they are too lazy to bother, enjoy listening to dirt and have limitless funds to repurchase styli, cartridges, etc. and enjoy the frustration of never finding that perfect record.
As I stated, owning and playing vinyl records requires a bit of care, but in the end it is well worth it. Vinyl records are made from PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), far tougher than your needle and cantilever. However, at the same time they are fragile in certain ways. PVC by itself can be rather brittle and not good for making records, so plasticisers are added to make the PVC remain pliable enough. It should be noted that some of the plasticisers are close to the surface as well and can even be rubbed and removed with your fingers. Of course there are other even stronger reasons you never want to grab or hold a record between your fingers and such.
I believe that new records just as used records should also be cleaned before first play. *A note about that “Mold Release Agent” on new records you may have heard or read about: It doesn’t exist. If it did exist, you would see it or feel it as it would either be visible to the eye or would have a oily or greasy feel and the paper inner sleeve of that new record would be stained. Records are not pure PVC, they are formulated. In that formulation is a plasticizer along with other ingredients that help keep the record flexible and prevent it from becoming brittle. Within that formulation there are also ingredients that help the PVC flow easier when heated and release from the press easier. That is partly why it is relatively easy to warp a record. It would take a lot more heat to melt a piece of PVC plumbing than it does a record. Besides, when was the last time you ever saw or heard of a record pressing plant spraying non-stick spray or tossing some powder on the pressing machines between records? That said though, at very least new records are shipped in paper inner sleeves which in my opinion may as well be made from “recycled sandpaper”. They deposit paper dust and such on the record and in the grooves which will scratch up the record, especially each time you take the record out and put it back. Some contaminates that are hiding in the grooves of the record are stuck there and hard and can easily take out your needle as it passes. In addition to that, the other fact is that as a stylus passes through the grooves while playing a record a certain amount of heat is generated. That causes some of the contaminates to get sticky and in turn they get stuck to the stylus. So now that great elliptical or fine stylus is now just a blob of stuck on dirt and no longer in the shape it was, which leads to tracking errors, etc. In certain instances no amount of stylus cleaning will save you if you insist on playing dirty records.
Properly cleaning the records ensures that the paper dust, release agent and such get off the record and out of the grooves so you can hear the music as intended.Then of course there is the sound, let’s face it, you didn’t purchase those records so you could listen to pops, ticks, clicks and other noise from dirt instead of music, did you?
That record is dirty and that dirt has got to go!
Let’s talk about contaminates and dirt, yuck! I know, but we must.
Nobody I know plays their records in an industrial clean room and I doubt you do either.
We play our records in our homes and it’s our homes that give an all out assault on our records.
As we know, our homes are full of dust, there is just no way around that, even if you dusted everyday. There is more to it than ordinary dry house dust though. House dust is composed of many things and with that dust is also particulate matter and that’s where things get nasty.
A lot of contaminates that find their way to our records are protein based. For example: The food particles that go airborne from cooking in the kitchen whether you have gas or electric make their way to mingle with ordinary house dust and spread through the house. Those particles are usually proteins and they are sticky. If you do have a gas kitchen you have added particulate matter from that. Likewise, if you have a smoker in or just around the house there is nicotine that gets airborne and that is particularly sticky. You also have pet dander if you have pets, etc. Those are just three examples. Of course, different contaminates can be removed with proper cleaning agents and that’s where things get more scientific. (Continue on page 2)