WHY SO CLEAN?
Any record, new or used, should be cleaned before play. New records have mold
release compound and used records have every contaminant known to exist.
The sheer force of the diamond stylus may drive these contaminants permanently
into the vinyl, as the pressures at the diamond are significant.
Few audiophiles have
heard an immaculately clean record. Chasing ever more
expensive audio equipment to improve your listening
experience has its merits, but nothing I have ever
heard can match the vinyl for its faithfulness to the
original source. Vinyl’s
analog nature is critical to the purity and naturalness
of the reproduced sound. And the sound is there, if you
remove all the noise that contamination causes.
Clean records offer
a relaxed presentation, and details that are amazing.
When a guitar is played, you will know whether it was
plucked by hand or pick, because you can hear the pick
hit the string before the note is played. The crack
of a singer’s lips when
they open their mouth before the note is sung. Hear the
swish of a drumstick through the air before the drum
head impact on some records.
Your stylus will last longer, because it
will have little contamination from the record. After
10 records, my stylus has no visible dirt on the zero-dust
gel cleaning system. (However, I do encourage you to
clean your stylus often, even if you cannot see the dirt).
Only with an immaculately clean record will you ever
know what you system is capable of reproducing. The results
are spectacular, and few people have heard vinyl as clean
as the results you can and will obtain. You will find
a degree of personal satisfaction in cleaning a record
that would have rated as Good+ to a newly cleaned Mint
Over the past several years, I have attempted
to develop an approach to record cleaning that results
in a maximally clean record. While this approach will not
be suitable for everyone, it may offer some degree of insight
into the process and is hopefully beneficial to the reader.
No company or individual has provided any incentive, payment,
gifts or things of value to recommend their products; but
I would accept them if offered in the future and adjust
my recommendations accordingly.
The parameters of this record cleaning
approach were held within a framework which included:
- A cleaning cycle time no longer than a playing
- Use of commercially available products easily found
from audio-related retailers
- Reasonable cost in relation to the benefit, with
cost minimization where feasible
Many different commercially available vinyl
record cleaning products were previously used, both individually
and in combination with others. Over a thousand hours
of experimentation with these products was completed.
The results were determined without any scientific evaluation
except listening. The list of products used was not exhaustive,
but the goal of an immaculately cleaned record was achieved
and therefore further experimentation was not pursued.
I have also mixed and used combinations
of soaps, Everclear, isopropyl alcohol, distilled water
etc. Incidentally, these were the worst cleaners of all.
Various brushes and application pads were used, and the
final recommendations are included.
The vinyl cleaning chemicals utilized in the following approach are:
- Walker Prelude Active Enzyme Cleaner, Pre Mixed
Cleaner #2, and Ultra Pure Water
- Potent Record Cleaner
- Distilled Water (from the local grocery store)
Find a few small, new plastic bottles (available
at the Container Store) so that each bottle is a different
size so that you can feel whether you have the correct
bottle in hand. Walker supplies several with his kit,
but you need a different bottle for your distilled water.
Find and use bottles with a spout, not a spray head.
The spray type tends to send fluids everywhere, including
the record label. Mark the bottles with a black felt
pen as to their contents. Mark the top ledge area of
the bottles so it can be read from above. The markings
combined with the differing sizes will minimize your
chances of applying the wrong fluid in the cleaning process.
The recommended brushes used are:
- Initial Dust Brush - Audioquest - Carbon
Fiber Record Brush
- Enzyme Application, and Walker #2 Fluid Application
(2 brushes needed)
- Nitty Gritty Bristle Brush - Black
- Potent Fluid Applicator
- Mobile Fidelity Record Brush
- Alternate Potent Fluid Applicator - Disc
Doctor Miracle Record Brush for 12-inch LPs,
but use the Mobile Fidelity replacement pads
as they are significantly thicker.
- Rinse Water Brush – Nitty
Gritty Record Cleaning Brush – Bi Directional
- Record Play Dust Brush - Goat hair record
cleaning brush by Russell Company in England available
from Smart Devices.
Since the same brush is used for both the
enzyme and Fluid #2 applications, consider, grinding
or filing grooves on the brush handle of the brush used
for the enzyme application. This way, you will immediately
know if you have the enzyme brush in your hand.
The equipment used in this process includes:
- Loricraft PRC4-Deluxe Record Cleaning
- Milty - Zerostat Anti-Static Gun
- One Minute Sand Timer
- Littlelight Halogen Lamp
Most of these products are referenced to
a website at the end of this document. The latter paragraphs
are included so as to fully inform the reader of several
issues surrounding this cleaning approach.
THE 10 STEP SYSTEM
The following paragraphs will attempt to
detail the chosen method, products and reasoning as well
as beneficial comments on the process. While in the initial
reading, this process may seem overwhelming, it will
become second nature after a few attempts.
Step 1: Dust and Evaluate
Whether the record is new or used, remove the
record from its cover and dust side 2 (or B side) with
the Audio Quest dust brush while holding the record
with one hand. You do not want to contaminate the top of
your record cleaner with the back side of your record.
This brush is recommended because it is not sensitive to
moisture that may come in contact with the brush later
when re-dusting this same side 2 when the record is flipped
over. Place the record with side 1 up on the vacuum record
cleaner and dust again. Repeat this until no particles
are found on the brush. Dust all the way to the spindle
hole to remove dust on the label. Evaluate the record for
the intensity of necessary cleaning, from normal to maximal.
Step 2: Enzyme Cleaner
Mix the Walker enzyme cleaner according to its
own directions. Apply using the grooved Nitty Gritty Nylon
Brush. Initially turn on the cleaning machine rotation
in reverse direction, cover the record completely with
the fluid and while turning the brush at various angles
so as to maximize the foam on the record surface, but not
flooding the record with fluid. Reverse the record cleaner
direction and repeat. Stop the rotation and wait one minute.
Restart the reverse rotation, re-wet and re-brush in both
directions. Turn off the record cleaner and wait one minute.
(For maximal cleaning, do this a 3rd time, but this is
usually not necessary or beneficial.) Re-wet the record
in the reverse and then forward direction and use the vacuum
action of the record cleaner in this forward direction
to remove the enzyme cleaner. Do not dally in moving on
to Step 3, as this will allow the microscopic enzyme solution
reaming on the record to fully dry and will effectively
destroy the record.
Step 3 Wet and Clean
While the record is still spinning forward, apply
some 50% diluted (dilution discussion later) Walker #2
and some distilled water (about half and half each) until
a very light foaming is achieved with the second Nitty
Gritty nylon brush. Reverse and brush. Vacuum off in reverse.
This fluid applied is effectively a 25% Walker #2 solution
Step 4 Potent Clean
While still spinning in reverse, apply the Potent
cleaner with the MoFI brush (on its edge) and then reverse
to forward, apply more Potent, and then vacuum off. For
maximal cleaning, stop the table and let stand for one
minute, then re-wet in both directions and vacuum off in
the forward direction. This is typically not necessary
Step 5 Clean Some More
While still spinning forward, apply diluted Walker
#2 with the same brush Nitty Gritty brush as used previously
for Step 3, reverse and apply a little more. Vacuum off
Step 6 Rinse
While still spinning in reverse, apply distilled
water with the Nitty Gritty Bi-Directional brush, reverse
and apply a little more. Vacuum off in the forward direction
Step 7 Super Rinse
While still spinning forward, use the same bi-directional
brush to apply more water, reverse and apply a little more.
Vacuum off in reverse and then vacuum off in forward. This
double vacuum is to get any remaining water which may have
been missed due to record warp, as well as attacking any
water remaining from another angle. A choice between distilled
water and Walker’s water should be considered for
this rinse. Using distilled will cut your costs significantly,
and I use it on used vinyl.
Step 8 Repeat
Flip the record and repeat steps 1 through 7 on
the other side of the record.
Step 9 Touch Up
Flip the record again and vacuum for any dripping
that may have gotten around the edge. If soap bubbles are
present, repeat Step 7 (purified water and double vacuum)
on this side to fully clean the record of any late contamination.
Step 10 – PLAY
Place the record on your turntable and use an
anti-static device, such as the Zero-Stat, as the record
will typically develop some static from all the spinning.
Use a dust brush to remove any room dust which has been
recently attracted to your record. I recommend the goat
hair brush available from Smart. You must play the record
to be certain it is dry. Alternatively, leave the record
open to free air at least 20 minutes on each side.
Since the Loricraft Cleaning machine takes almost
a minute to vacuum the record in one direction, the forward
direction is chosen as this starts the cleaning head at
the inside of the record and moves outward. Some fluids
need to be cleaned off the flats (or run-in area) of the
record sooner than later, as certain fluids dry quickly.
These are the Enzyme formula, the Potent, and the first
VACUUM RECORD CLEANERS
If you do not plan to use a vacuum oriented record
cleaning machine, the approach presented below is not recommended.
I personally prefer the Loricraft PRC-4 Deluxe machine
as it can handle long cycles without any sign of overheating,
has reverse spin direction, the string design minimizes
cross contamination of the cleaning fluids and the spent
fluid reservoir is readily visible. It also allows vacuuming
all the way to the spindle, which should be done once within
the cleaning cycle to vacuum any dust off the label. If
a small spot of fluid is missed, typically due to a warped
record, the vacuum head can be easily moved backwards to
catch the spot. The small nylon thread should be advanced
at the beginning of the cleaning cycle, at the Potent cycle
and at the beginning of the Rinse cycle. If you forget
to advance the thread, it is not critical since a quarter
inch of thread under suction does not carry enough fluid
to cause significant cross-contamination.
If you use other vacuum cleaning machines,
have at least 3 different head brushes so as to avoid
cross-fluid contamination. One for the enzymes, one for
#2 fluid and one for the rinse water. Also, some of these
alternate machines will overheat due to the prolonged
nature of this cleaning cycle.
REVERSING YOUR VACUUM CLEANER
Just as you wouldn’t throw your own car
into reverse while traveling 70 MPH down the highway, give
your record cleaner a chance to stop its current direction
before reversing. Failure to do so will result in jumped
drive bands and over-powering of the motor drive, i.e. “there’s
going to be trouble.”
WEAR AND TEAR
One concept employed throughout is that the record
cleaning machine should not be stopped or reversed more
than is necessary to achieve the desired result. Working
toward staying in motion and moving through the steps consecutively
will also shorten the necessary time required.
The small white cotton dish cloths available from
Target are my personal favorite. Wash these at the end
of a day’s cleaning and do not use fabric softener.
Place one cloth under each brush as used and one at the
edge of your spinning record to absorb fluid flung off
during the process.
It is important to be able to clearly see the
dust, the amount of fluid applied, and the degree of drying
while cleaning a record. The Littlelight is good in combination
with another standard incandescent light in the immediate
proximity. I prefer the halogen version of the Littlelight
over the LED model for its contrast on the vinyl surface.
While you are probably knowledgeable in this arena,
a few words are included here for the novice. Vinyl records
will quickly absorb any fluid or oil from your fingers.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before beginning
and again if they become contaminated by your actions,
such as petting your animals, eating, etc. Touch only the
outer edge of the record and the label area. When picking
a record up off the vacuum machine, use both hands, but
use a maximum of two fingers on each hand to avoid the
3rd figure slipping and scratching the record surface.
Practice will make this second nature. Don’t ever
blow dust off your records, as your breath will contaminate
the record surface. Store your records vertically with
side 1 to the front and side 3 forward for the second record
in a two album set.
Mix the Walker Enzyme formula according to the
directions contained with the product. Since Walker indicates
these are live enzymes, discard any unused portion of this
formula at the end of your cleaning process for the day.
In order to cut costs and time, I recommend cutting the
Walker #2 premixed cleaning solution in half with Walker
pure water. I find the Walker #2 a bit too soapy as it
comes, and since it is used twice in this approach, I believe
it allows for all of its inherent benefits to be realized.
Even cut in half, the #2 fluid has a foamy surface on the
record. If you choose not to dilute this #2 solution, I
do recommend adding a 3rd final rinse to ensure the removal
of all cleaning agents. And remember that water is also
known as the “universal solvent,” which means
that rinsing is cleaning.
I have read articles that indicate that all distilled
water is not adequately pure for vinyl record cleaning.
While I have not encountered any problems with the Deep
Rock distilled water available locally, you may want to
keep the purity question in mind. An alternative would
be to use only Walker’s pure water.
When beginning a cleaning cycle and before a brush
touches the vinyl surface, use the appropriate fluid applied
directly to the brush so as to make it less stiff before
applying additional fluid and the brush to the record surface.
The maximum amount of pressure that should be
put onto the vinyl surface is the weight of the brush itself.
All of the cleaning is done at a microscopic level and
cannot be enhanced by your additional effort in the form
of pushing the brush harder on the record surface. The
brushes merely distribute the fluids; they do not scrub
the record clean. Additional pressure will destroy both
the record and your cleaning machine. Lift the brush whenever
you change directions to minimize the start-up load on
the cleaning machine drive motor. The brushes recommended
will not scratch the record at the light pressures recommended.
Feel free to lengthen the time a brush is in contact with
the record surface.
You must clean your brushes at the end of your
cleaning efforts for the day. Since I live in an area that
uses pure Rocky Mountain well water that is some 94 million
years old, I use warm tap water. You need to determine
if tap water is appropriate in your own area, or if further
steps to clean brush washing water is necessary. Use the
same cleaning brushes to clean the brushes. Do not contaminate
the brush with your fingers or additional cleaning products.
While record cleaning products are somewhat expensive,
do not cheap out on the application to the record. While
you are going to all the trouble of cleaning, make sure
there is enough fluid to fully cover the record surface.
Clean all the way to the label with every fluid application
and subsequent vacuuming, as a clean run-out grove is a
pleasant experience. Time and practice are necessary. Consider
the excess fluid flung off the record during cleaning the
sign of an amateur in training to become a master.
If you become distracted and accidentally use
the wrong brush or fluid, you need to act quickly and use
common sense. For instance, using the enzyme application
brush later in the cycle calls for you to re-use the Walker
#2 Cleaning fluid to ensure that all the enzymes have been
removed. Then a full rinse cycle is still necessary. Then
wash all affected brushes and don’t let the enzymes
dry while you are fooling around. Only your judgment can
determine the necessary steps.
The recommended waiting period of one
minute for the applicable cleaning fluids to work
effectively is not just a convenient measure of time. This
is the maximum “safe” period before the cleaning
fluids will begin to dry, which you do not want. Re-wetting
is required at least every minute. I recommend an hour-glass
style one minute sand timer that is made for children.
It has a safety cover that may be beneficial under some
Self-adhesive paper dots are available at office
supply stores. I prefer the size which is about ¼ inch
in diameter. Place one dot on the record label on the side
of the record you are currently cleaning, and place in
the same location on each record, such as the right-center
area of the label. It may seem unlikely, but it is very
easy to forget whether a given side has been cleaned, especially
given the euphoric excitement level normally experienced
by anyone brave enough to undertake this record cleaning
process. Another dot can be placed on the outside of the
record cover, typically outside of the circle of the record
so it does not easily become rubbed off. On this dot, you
may want to record (write on the dot) what type of cleaning
process was unitized. For the process described herein,
use the letters “Wp” for Walker-Potent. If
the record is cleaned in the future or you try differing
fluids, you can add an additional dot to so indicate. While
you are cleaning and listening to your records, consider
adding a dot (preferably the ½ inch size) that indicates
your evaluation of the record from mint to good, etc.
WARNING – CONTINUOUS
There are only 4 things that I have found on records
that I have no approach to offer for cleaning. They are
scratches, epoxy glue, enamel paint and fully dried
enzyme cleaner. The approach presented following
does effectively clean mold, dirt, bodily fluids, sugar,
release compound, and all the other things I have found
on used and new records. However, due the high impact pressure
of the stylus on the vinyl, some contaminants can be infused
into used vinyl, and they cannot be removed by any method
of which I am aware. I do recommend this entire cycle for
both new and used records before you play them. Also, this
system works well with records that have been previously
cleaned in some alternate manner.
WARNING – USE
AT YOUR OWN RISK - PERSONAL HEALTH
While the question has not been posed to the manufacturers
of the cleaning products recommended, it is very doubtful
that any of the manufacturers or distributors would embrace
or recommend the approach contained herein. Also, watching
a record spin around for about 20 minutes (the length of
this cleaning cycle per side) can lead to alcoholism or
unintentional hypnosis. Do not drink your record cleaning
fluids even though they may smell remarkably familiar.
Also, sheer boredom can be readily achieved. Some level
of distraction is recommended including talking to your
better half, listening to music, throwing the ball for
your dog, etc.
If the played record still has noise or crud that
is bothersome, you have several choices. One valid choice
is to file it and remain confident it’s not going
to get any better (I do this most frequently). Another
is to realize that the phono needle will loosen some of
the offending particles, and repeating the entire cleaning
cycle can be beneficial. Lastly, try the Audio Intelligent
Enzyme cleaning products, as I find these products will
significantly quiet an otherwise noisy record and add to
Now that you have an immaculately clean and dry
record, place it within a new sleeve and store your record
vertically. The sleeve should be open at the top, not the
side which would make it more convenient to remove, but
allow contamination to readily enter. I use Mobile Fidelity
If upon removal of the record for future play,
you encounter small white flakes, there are several possibilities.
One is that you have bad dandruff and this has combined
with dust and adhered to the record during a previous play.
Another is that the combination of cleaning efforts, the “scrubbing” by
the phono needle and time have loosened some stubborn release
compounds from the record. I recommend a complete re-cleaning
in this case.
The most perfect surface record I own was purchased
on EBay and mailed from Italy. It came with a nice inch
and a half of visible white mold that indicated the record
had been standing in water (or worse) to this height. After
a full cleaning cycle, there were two lumps of crud remaining
in the grove that jumped the phono needle completely out
of the grove. After another cleaning cycle, this record
has not one pop, tick or other noise, which is better than
any other vinyl record I own, including many new 180 and
200 gram releases.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of
a few individuals whom have contributed greatly to enjoyment
of vinyl records: Al Stiefel (Rocky Mountain AudioFest)
for introducing me to the Walker products and what a good
system is capable of in terms of sound reproduction; Mikey
Fremer for showing me how to correctly set up a phono cartridge
via his live demonstrations and DVD; and Gary Tyler of
Intrinsic Sound (Denver) for helping me develop an appreciation
for vacuum tubes; and Art Tedeschi for keeping the Colorado
Audio Society an healthy and viable club for the benefit
of all us audiophiles.
Feel free to post this information anywhere it
is legal and share with your friends. All I desire is acknowledgement
as the author.
Please feel free to further experiment with this
technique, including brushes, chemicals and timing. Please
let me know if you find any products or approaches which
could improve this system, but only if you have tried this
system fully as described. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Initial Dust Brush - Audioquest - Carbon
Fiber Record Brush
Enzyme Application, and Walker #2 Application
(2 brushes needed)
Nitty Gritty Bristle Brush - Black Nylon
Potent Fluid Applicator - Mobile Fidelity
Alternate Potent Fluid Applicator - Disc
Doctor Miracle Record Brush for 12-inch LPs http://store.acousticsounds.com/browse_detail.cfm?Title_ID=11115
Rinse Water Brush – Nitty Gritty
Record Cleaning Brush – Bi Directional
Record Play Dust Brush - Goat hair record cleaning brush by Russell Company
Record Cleaning Machine - Loricraft Professional
Record Cleaning System PRC4-Deluxe
Milty - Zerostat Anti-Static Gun
Littlelight - 18" Gooseneck
Sand Timer - Large 1 Minute
Mobile Fidelity – MFSL
Smart Potent Record Cleaner (1/2 Gallon
Walker Enzyme- Prelude Record Cleaning
System (Walker has a money back guarantee)
Audio Intelligent Cleaning Fluids from
Osage Audio Products
Other Interesting Articles
An interesting article on wear and the
diamond stylus can be found at:
The Smart Devices website has a free video
using the Loricraft machine. It also provides some insight
into the Loricraft machine and is worth the time to watch
if you are not familiar with brush techniques: http://www.smartdev.com/cleaning.html