The record cleaning mix muddle
Tired of paying £20 for a litre for record cleaning fluid for your Moth, VPI or other vacuum machine and waiting weeks for the postman to call each time you run out? In a recent conversation with the manufacturer of one machine, a Director confided “I don’t know why people just don’t make their own, it’s very simple, but as long as they want to pay me for it, I’ll make it”. My recipe works out a third of the cost and is based on a commercial formula.
A quick internet search on how to make record cleaner will give you assorted home-made recipes and much poor quality advice – superstition, myth, contradictory claims, and in some cases, dangerous advice, however well-intentioned. Some examples:
- I caution against home brew concoctions. Store bought ingredients simply can’t match the purity of commercial formulations.
- I took the LP to the sink, gave it a good dousing of Windex and wiped ‘er down with a fresh J-Cloth…. The result was astounding. The record sounded mint!
- 400ml water, 2 drops of household washing up liquid and a cap of malt vinegar
- Squirt lighter fluid on a clean, soft cloth and gently wipe the record surface. The lighter fluid will evaporate, so the record doesn’t need to be rinsed.
- I’ve used the melted ice from my freezer (filtered), as my physics lecturer and
audiophile friend says this is as good as any other.
- We’re talking about ‘safe for human consumption’ tap water here, isn’t this preoccupation with absolutely pure water a little anally retentive?
Alcohol dilution rate
- I use roughly 1 part Isopropyl to two parts purified water …..
- 90% Isopropyl Alcohol, 5% – Anti-Microbial soap 5% – de-ionized water
- Those of you that use Isopropyl you must be careful: Isoproply will harden vinyl.
- It does NOT harden vinyl – there is absolutely no chemical reaction between PVC and/or PVA
Wetting agent (a recipe for confusion)
- A few drops of photographic wetting agent. … just a drop of washing up liquid as a wetting agent ….. 10 drops Photo-Flo + 10 drops “Direct” tile cleaner ….. a teaspoon of car washer fluid ….. 7-8 drops dishwashing detergent without additives ….. 1 drop Triton X-114 or Monolan 2000 ….. 10 drops of Kodak Photo-Flo and 10 drops of Lysol Antibacterial All-Purpose Cleaner….Dawn Dishwashing Fluid,…. few drops of dish washing soap without lubricants. …..3-4 drops per gallon Kodak Photoflo …..a few drops of Ilfotrol (sic) photographic wetting agent.
THE LJC FORMULA, TRIED AND TESTED, SAVES TIME, NO WORRIES
Only the purest ingredients
The main active cleaning ingredient I use well known and commonly used, Isopropanol, known as IPA or Isopropyl Alcohol. It is readily available from chemical suppliers at 99.9% purity and just one litre costing about $10, and is not drinkable. Diluted with pure distilled water it will make five litres of cleaning fluid, which should keep you going for a year or two.
Use only highest laboratory-grade pure ingredients, 99.9% purity, from reputable on-line chemical suppliers. Distilled water should be repeat filtered and distilled to eliminate contaminants and mineral deposits in tap water. You will still save two thirds on the cost of commercial cleaner without taking any risks in trying to save just a few pennies more from the remaining third
You should be aware there has been a theoretical argument, written by a chemist, that exposure of vinyl to alcohol can cause leeching of plasticiser from vinyl, causing it to harden. The molecular chemistry theory is not backed up by any information on the practical concentration or length of exposure required to cause harm in the real world. As is sometimes the case, I believe the advice is a counsel of perfection, without regard to the benefits.
Alcohol is an effective cleaner used by tens of thousands of vinyl lovers. I have cleaned records with alcohol and water based commercial cleaner for five years to considerable audio benefit and no harm I can detect. I don’t have the slightest concern about a well diluted solution exposed to vinyl for a matter of minutes and removed by vacuum. Though known to be unsuitable for shellac 78′s, well diluted Isopropyl alcohol has been used for decades for professional cleaning of vinyl. Ethanol-based formulas like Knosti may suit those of a more nervous disposition, however no doubt some chemist somewhere will find a theoretical risk there too, when they get round to it.
The Final LJC Formula
Surfactants - the all-important “secret” ingredient
IPA/distilled water – 4 parts water 1 part IPA does not “wet” and will not satisfactorily penetrate the vinyl grooves. Due to water surface tension, the liquid draws back from the vinyl to form rivulets and pools, drawn to itself.
The answer is wetting agent, an additive used in the photographic industry where the same issue was encountered in washing photographic films and papers. Wetting agent reduces the surface tension of water, and was developed to ensure even washing of photographic film and papers, promote even drying without water marks or residues, and imparting anti-static qualities.
Ilford, a long-established British manufacturer of films, papers and developing chemicals, have been making “Ilfotol” wetting agent for decades, photographic professionals entrusting negatives from film shoots costing hundreds of thousands of pounds to wetting agent. The manufacturers data sheet recommends a start point dilution of 1:200 – 5ml per litre, equivalent to a teaspoon. Adding a half percent wetting agent to the cleaner changes completely how the fluid behaves. The optimal 2.5 ml of cleaning fluid per record side lays flat on the surface like glass, it truly wets, vacuums off perfectly, without any residue or marks, and records play perfectly.
Wetting agent belongs to a chemical group known as ”surfactants” whose rate of dilution results in different effects. At very low levels they act as an emulsifier, at a higher level they act to reduce surface tension (wetting) and at higher still, they become a detergent (look at the ingredients of washing up liquid – “ionic and non-ionic surfactants”) I tested half Ilfoltols recommended 5ml per litre and it still wetted well, though a little more hesitantly. If you were concerned, around 3ml per litre would still work well enough. The “few drops” some people recommend is completely ineffective.
(Note: The US equivalent wetting product from Kodak, “Photo-flo” is specifically not recommended due to its ingredients containing chemicals which remain coating the vinyl surface. I have no personal knowledge of its effects but it seems well documented, though as with everything, the internet can be an echo-chamber of misinformation)
One tool which is essential in all record cleaning is a 5ml oral syringe, costing about $1. Not only will it control the exact dosage of preparations, it ensures you administer the correct amount of cleaning fluid to the record surface : 2.5ml per side is exactly enough to get good coverage of the vinyl surface, controlling the delivery to keep it away from the label, and sufficient not to start evaporating during the few minutes of a cleaning session. Cheap and after a few months use, replace.
Five litres are good for a year or two’s supply, one-third of the retail cost of the cheapest proprietary commercial record cleaning product. Convenience and simplicity in a bottle
The audible benefit of clean records far outweighs the small outlay and effort. Today I wouldn’t dream of not cleaning. Every record is cleaned before entering the LJC record collection.