More Vinyl talk, while I prepare records to blog next.
The record cleaning mix muddle
Tired of paying £20 for a litre for record cleaning fluid for your vacuum machine, and waiting weeks for the postman to call each time you run out? I decided to try-out as a celebrity vinyl mix-master. A quick internet search on how to make record cleaner threw up loads of second and third hand information: assorted home-made recipes and much poor quality advice – superstition, old wives tales, urban myth, contradictory claims, and in some cases, stupidity, however well intentioned. Typical of what you find on hi fi forums really. Some quotes:
- 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?
- 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 photographic wetting agent.
BS-BUSTING LJC FORMULA, TRIED AND TESTED, SAVES TIME, NO WORRIES
So here we boldly go with the LJC record cleaning formula.
I took the best of recipes that makes sense to me, and tested experimental quantities of secret ingredient wetting agent using record A and B sides as a control for different strengths on the same record, first washed, repeat washed, all the while watching the wetting-in behaviour closely. All records play-tested after vacuuming.
I bought the highest laboratory-grade pure ingredients I could find, 99.9% purity, from reputable on-line suppliers. Nothing was sourced from local stores destined for the household shelf, nor for other purposes like top-up water for batteries. I wanted to save money but not take risks for a few pence.
Having washed records with alcohol and water based commercial cleaner for four years I don’t have the slightest concern and do not accept the unsubstantiated Wikipedia claim isopropyl alcohol “hardens” vinyl, which claim lacks any citation or proof, but is repeated by sellers of non-IPA formulas. Well they would, wouldn’t they.Though known to be unsuitable for shellac 78’s, well diluted Isopropyl alcohol has been used for decades for professional cleaning of vinyl without any evidence of harm. Ethanol-based formulas like Knosti may suit those of a more nervous disposition.
The Final LJC Formula
Surfactants – the all-important “secret” ingredient
Starting with pure IPA/Distilled water at the most commonly recommended dilution in commercial preparations – 4 parts water 1 part IPA – the surfactant quickly proved the critical variable. A neat mix of alcohol and water does not “wet” and won’t penetrate the grooves. Instead, within seconds, it draws back from the vinyl, forms rivulets and pools, drawn to itself.
The solution is an ingredient borrowed from the photographic industry where the same need was encountered for washing photographic films and papers. “Wetting agent” reduces the surface tension of water, and was developed to ensure even coverage of photographic film, drying evenly without water marks or residue, and imparting antistatic qualities. Washing up liquid and car screenwash are not anything I would risk on a £100 record..
However, the quantity of wetting agent to add mystified many people, me included, and commercial manufacturers won’t say. “A few drops” is the most common DIY advice, though people forget to say what quantity they are adding it to. I tried everything experimentally from a five to fifteen drops per litre and it was totally ineffective. Water would not wet. Consulting the manufacturers data sheet, Ilford recommend a start point dilution of 1:200 – 5ml per litre, equivalent to 150 drops. Ilford have been making wetting agent for decades, photographic professionals entrusting negatives from film shoots costing hundreds of thousands of pounds to this dilution of wetting agent. Might they know what they are doing?
I upscaled to the recommended film-washing dilution of 5ml per litre, and bingo, suddenly everything fell into place. This tiny correct quantity completely changed how the fluid behaved. No vinyl resistance, cleaning fluid lay flat on the surface like glass, no drawing back from the vinyl, it truly wets, vacuums off perfect, no residue or marks, record plays perfectly.
The advice I read in a hi fi forum “you will know you have added too much wetting agent, as it bubbles up” wrote one forum poster, is the complete opposite of what happens. It “bubbles up” when you have not enough wetting agent. Some research on “surfactants” suggested their rate of dilution accords to different effects. At very low levels they act as an emulsifier, at a higher level they act to reduce surface tension (wetting agent) and at higher still, they become a detergent.
Whilst some recipes call for “a few drops” of something, we don’t know its degree of concentration. A few drops of X might well be the same as 100 drops of Y if Y is prepared for consumer use already in a more dilute form. 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.”A few drops” is a complete waste of time. Incidentally, 5ml is considered in plain English as “a teaspoon full”.
One tool which is essential in all record cleaning is a 5ml oral syringe.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 most important discovery
Little did I anticipate in 1990 that I would need to label polypropylene bottles of record cleaning fluid. I have finally found a use for the packet of 3.5″ floppy disc labels I have been keeping since 1990, “just in case”, at a stroke proving wrong the fragrant Mrs LJC, who throws away anything she can not see an immediate use for.
Everyone has hindsight. But foresight? It’s a gift, you know.