Record Cleaning Primer

Last Updated: April 27, 2023

Independent authority on aqueous cleaning of vinyl published on line by The Vinyl Press (190 page pdf, free to download, no strings) Third Edition 2022 here. (The LondonJazzCollector formula is referenced on pages 95-6)

How-clean-is-your-record---before-washVinyl needs cleaning

Many of your records may be in much better condition than you think. Whilst nothing will eliminate physical surface damage, you would be surprised how much debris causing surface noise can be removed.  Older records generally have fifty years of accumulated debris and have never had the benefit of proper modern cleaning. The old wiping cloths just moved dust around.

The vinyl grooves of an LP –  close up

To get any closer calls for an electron microscope. These amazing pictures  created by the  optics department at Rochester University give us an intimate look in the vinyl groove.

(original source here)

Along comes Stanley the Stylus riding in the trench, sashaying against the contours in the 45 degree groove wall that are the musical information, sending those physical movements up into the moving coils in the cartridge above to be turned into electrical information destined for amplification. The groove/ stylus sensitivity to generate discernible change in sound  can be as small as 1/1000th of the thickness of a human hair, and everything the stylus hits gets interpreted as information. Any dust or muck in the groove which gets onto the stylus tip reduces it’s reading efficiency, which is why you should clean records before first play.

Some people claim unwanted vinyl surface coatings cause a degree of “muddyness” in the sound, which lifts after cleaning. Beware, superstition is rife in hi fi, and a belief in magic. I ripped a track before and after cleaning. When I A:B’d the two rips you can hear the pop on one absent on the other. It’s called science – knowledge gained by experimentation, observation and measurement, which can be replicated and used to advantage. It’s not just the preserve of scientists, who sometimes have other motives. Ordinary folk can do it too.

The old “dust bug” and “Emitex cloth” mostly merely moved debris around, gathered a little dust which quickly returned. There are  practical ways to improve your listening experience, through ultrasonic or wet/vacuum cleaning which achieves greatly superior results. But you can also make some improvements in noise reduction yourself at little or no cost.

At the outset, we need to separate those problems which we can do something about, and those we can’t.

Not all vinyl  problems can be solved

Some record owners rarely returned the record to its sleeve, leaving them piled in a heap after playing. Poor handling practice and lack of care has left some vinyl records with permanent surface noise

Not all pressing plants operated in a sufficiently  clean environment. Under pressure to improve margins, and win pressing contracts, some plants took to cost-cutting at the expense of quality.  Less than perfect acetates with small flaws were sold more cheaply. Record labels stored in damp warehousing could absorb moisture, and needed to be made bone-dry or released steam during pressing, which caused pressing  imperfections.

Batches of vinylite could be bulked up with a proportion of recycled vinyl containing paper fragments, or the vinyl left-over from trimming edges after pressing.  Even some respectable record companies added cheaper  co-polymer vinyl extender to the raw vinylite – which softened at slightly different temperature, causing tension in vinyl moulding.  Some labels are notorious for “noisy” pressings, few are truly silent.

50s-tonearmIf they came out of the factory good,  the next problem was record owners. Physical impact damage to grooves caused by heavyweight tone arms being jogged or dropped on the record are the biggest drawbacks  of vintage vinyl  pursuit. The popular portable record player was inherently unstable and prone to scratch vinyl.  The teenage record listening session!

Polythene inner sleeve transfer

Yet another problem that needed to be avoided is the damage done by storage for  decades in a polythene-lined inner sleeve. Such inner sleeves were popular in the ’60s and eventually ruined records. Over the decades the polythene formed a reaction with vinyl, leaving a thin surface film bonded to the vinyl surface. The first visible sign  is a moire-pattern rippling reflection on the vinyl surface, usually extending beyond the grooves and onto the run-out vinyl land. It doesn’t wash off.  Potentially, the heat generated briefly at the point of contact between stylus and vinyl (thousands of degrees) may transfer molten plastic on to your stylus tip, permanently impairing its performance. There is no solution. Do not buy or play a record with this problem.

Avoid so called vinyl “lubricants”

Avoid anything which coats the grooves, like LAST “vinyl preservative”, anti-static spray coating or anything claiming to lubricate the groove. There is a school of thought in the hi-fi community that vinyl benefits from lubrication – think engine oil, a false analogy. Any additional material in the groove creates “bad information” which your stylus reads the same way it reads “good information” – the music, and impairs faithful reproduction. You want bare clean grooves, and nothing else in them.

Clicks and Pops

Clicks and pops, (and surface scratches) were one of the vulnerabilities of vinyl that led people in the eighties to follow the technological pied piper of the digital compact disc (The Evil Silver Disk™).  Taking better care of vinyl was maybe was culturally too onerous. Clicks and pops can be remedied, by a proper cleaning process.

First of all, your vinyl cleaning best friend is an LED spotlight, like this clamp positionable light from IKEA, around $15.00 –  I have one positioned next to the turntable. A cold temperature LED is better than a warm temperature LED.

A directional LED will reveal  everything about the surface of your vinyl. It is ruthless. Dust, paper fibres, white spots, paper-scuffs, fine stylus scratches, and vinyl whitish stains, imperfect vinyl compound mixing, everything is revealed.  Once you know the score , you can direct your effort in the most useful way.

“White Spots”: pre-wash finger touch method 

Your enemy is surface debris, that clicks when your stylus tip strikes it. Forget the rule of never touching the vinyl groove surface, but wash and dry fingers thoroughly before setting out. Do a quick finger-trace over the vinyl surface to dislodge any persistent debris. Gently run clean dry fingers over the grooves in a short brushing motion in the direction of the groove rotation, turning the disc slowly in your hand. Circular figure eight tracing will also help dislodge particles. You will see airborne settled dust being swept aside, but this is not what you are after. You will also feel some specks of grit under your touch. I call these “white spots” but there are also dark non-reflective spots you can feel but can’t see.

I photographed this vinyl before cleaning, to highlight the three types of vinyl contamination  – illuminated by an LED spotlight . This album looked spotless under room-light.

The fibres (probably paper fibres from packing material) are harmless, sweep away with a brush. They clog up the stylus tip, eventually generating distortion. Not a good idea to blow the dust off your stylus, due to moisture in your breath. Use a dedicated stylus cleaning fluid (expensive)

Fine dust is settled in the grooves, best lifted with a velvet-pad cleaning brush. I use an “Exstatic” brush for this purpose. Dust is everywhere in the air,  probably not especially harmful. It clings and returns, attracted by static charge . Better to clean it out, it will keep returning, keep it under control.

In addition to the Exstatic gently hold a carbon fibre brush on the spinning disk,  before and after play before returning vinyl to its inner sleeve. Replace your old inner sleeve with a new mylar archive-quality inner sleeve, which protects contact with the vinyl surface from dust, fibres and paper scuffs.

The White Spots are more than ten times or more bigger than grains of fine dust.  If you sweep over the vinyl with an Exstatic velvet pad brush, many  of them will brush away, but a minority persist, stuck in the groove.  Unfortunately, the persistent ones survive even ultrasonic cleaning.

These stuck white spots are the enemy, that generate a random click when the stylus hits them. You can feel them under your fingers tips, like a raised piece of grit in the groove. Some will resist even finger-brush but with repeated firm pressure, they will break up into powder  Those that really persist, need a poke gently with a fingernail, to push them out.

The odd white spot will not shift. The base of the spot is “welded” in the groove. Probed by fingernail, the top will shear off,  the stylus will ride over the residual base, and stops a hard click, leave a slightly audible pop.

I don’t know the origin of white spots but they are found on many vintage records. I believe they are an accumulation of fine atmospheric dust which, when heated by contact with the stylus tip (200 degrees C), forms an obstructive “rock” residing in the groove. Whatever the cause, they can be dealt with.

A few minutes attention to both sides, then ultrasonic or wet/dry clean. This combination manual touch-brushing I have found effective in achieving near-silent playback from records with previously persistent clicks and pops, and that includes “new unplayed records” with pops.

The Record Cleaning Machines

A record cleaning machine is an essential component of any Hi Fi  and essential for any serious audiophile. These come in the form of manual cheap and simple , through to automated mechanical cleaners.

Surface contamination

All records start life with an ultra-thin film of residue “mould release” , a stearic acid compound included in raw vinyl to ensure it’s clean separation from the pressing stamper. Mould release and handling residue need to be “washed away”, which requires some form of liquid cleaning system, enter the record cleaning machine.

The Record Cleaning Machine  – visible evidence of dust and dirt removal by wet and dry RCM. One White Spot resists


There are numerous machines on offer at different pricepoints and with different methods of operation. For many years I used the Moth Pro from British Audio Products, which is a noisy but  affordable (around the £500 mark) and therefore popular machine compared with more expensive alternatives, but there are many others available. The VPI is also popular, and the Oki Noki, Nitty Gritty.  VPI is similar, Loricraft at around £1500.

Ultrasonic Cleaners

There are now the new generation of cavitation – ultrasonic cleaning machines (Klaudio, DeGritter, Audiodesk Systeme) at around the £2,500 – £4,000 price-point. If price is not an issue, lucky you, probably ultrasonic is the way to go. A warning – some Ultrasonic machines have a reliability problem – motor and pump failure and circuit-board problems, within a few years. I am currently on my third Audiodesk machine, one failed just outside warranty, the other just inside.  An Ultrasonic or wet/vacuum system is an essential tool despite faults, and nothing is the worst solution of all.

Wet and Dry cleaners

Wet and Dry RCMs can use which have different cleaning product solutions. A friend who buys mainly new modern records swears by an ethanol-based cleaning fluid (commercial brand Knosti Disco Antistat) which claims to target mould release and static. For vintage vinyl, I recommend an Iso-Propyl Alcohol (IPA) based cleaner, which I find is is more effective in shifting contact soiling and accumulated detritus in the grooves.

Given the cost of a high-end hi fi in tens of thousands of pounds, and a record collection possibly much more, with your listening pleasure at stake, why would you not invest in an RCM?

Now enjoy the benefit of cleaning – actually clean records

Nothing will repair physical damage to the groove, such as scratches, major scuffs, dropped tone-arm, or groove-wear. However, for the undamaged record, a significant reduction in avoidable surface noise can be expected,  improved stylus life, less wear on your records, and much improved enjoyment of your records.

Next, for vacuum systems: Home recipe cleaner

Or take the nuclear option: Ultrasonic cleaning.


28 thoughts on “Record Cleaning Primer

  1. Such unnecessary everything, my goodness. No cleaning machine, no expensive anything, its almost futile as records are static sponges.
    If you havent spent your retirement on a capable record player/turntable & are terrified of “destroying” it, or at least thinking youre doing so.
    Basic formula for extreme cleaning of records:
    Cotton balls, loose cotton.
    Cotton swabs ie: ‘Q-Tips’ in the US, fluffier the better.
    Glass cleaner ie: ‘Windex’ also in the US, the blue stuff used for windows, etc.
    Flat surface, SMOOTH & CLEAN, nothing underneath that can scratch or gouge. Saturate the record grooves with glass cleaner, PROTECT THE LABEL. Using cotton, with a liberal amount of glass cleaner, go in a CIRCULAR MOTION ONLY, look at the cotton, depending on what you see, you may have to do this numerous times, dont be stingy with your supplies.
    When no more visible dirt is coming off, let it dry.
    NEXT: Put the record on your player/turntable & set the platter spinning. Take a small cup or glass, any glass receptacle, fill it half way with glass cleaner. Put a dozen cotton swabs in to start, DO NOT BE STINGY WITH THE SWABS. Have dry swabs ready & standing by. Take a swab thats soaked with glass cleaner, put it GENTLY to the run-in, the beginning of the record, advance slowly & GENTLY, into the grooves.
    Look at the swab, very soiled? Expect to do it again. Then do the whole side of the record. When the swabs appear clean, now play your record. While the record is playing, YES, do the same thing with another swab soaked with glass cleaner just ahead of your tone arm/needle/cartridge. USE A LIGHT HAND, VERY GENTLY, BE CAREFUL!
    The needle will have traveled behind the point youre cleaning, it will have “kicked up” dirt & debris you cant see, dislodged it.
    Keep changing swabs, dry any excess glass cleaner BEHIND, the part where the record has already played. A GENTLE, LIGHT & CAREFUL HAND IS CRITICAL.
    Youll hear the record become quiet, if not damaged much to begin with. If the record is very dirty, expect to repeat all the steps mentioned as much as ten(10) times or more.
    If youre careful, this works incredibly well. At some point, you will need to clean your needle, which you should be doing anyway.
    Light, gentle hand….change swabs over & over, dont use a soiled swab on a part yet to be cleaned, dont try to save pennies/pence.


  2. Replying here because comments seemed to be closed on the Ultrasonic page: Have you experimented with the fluid on the Audio Desk? I ask mostly because it’s so expensive, but also because you’re a fan of cleaning with alcohol on vacuum systems. (I know using any other fluid voids the warranty.) I also wonder if you’ve felt the need to give discs a distilled water bath after cleaning in the Audio Desk, to remove any leftover fluid? I just bought one of these (thanks for the recommendation… maybe?!) and am dying to experiment.


    • Hi, I run a completely open comment policy on everything. Looks like a WordPress glitch, I’ll have look into it, if necessary re-publish to get around the issue.

      My A/D warranty has run out so I have no fear, just a worry about introducing something that harms its operational functionality. I agree the A/D proprietary cleaning fluid seems vastly overpriced. but as yet I don’t have a homebrew alternative.


      • Speaking of expensive A/D accessories: how have you found the longevity of the various pieces? Are you switching the fluid after every 100 records, the wipers, filter, and microfiber barrels every 500, the drive rings every 1500? (Do you keep a little clicker counter handy to remember your count?)


        • I use a TDS meter (total dissolved solids) to check the putity of the water. as it approaches 100 records cleaned, I figure around 100 ppm (parts per million) is a reasonable threshold – three times as pure as tap water. Then time to change.

          I tend to use four cycles on each record, as I feel happier with the results. I found using just one cycle is ok for new records, or dealing with superficial household dust and static, but it needs more force of cavitation to tackle those isolated pops due to matter wedged in the groove. Four is better than one.

          I have had the rollers out once to check them for discolouration but as long as they are white clean and they do the job, I haven’t found any need to change them (two years use). The wiper blades likewise seem to operate fine, though it is becoming noticeable that the drying cycle is leaving spots of water behind, and sometimes need to use the extra drying cycle.

          The sponge filter needs a a good wash under the tap when changing the water, and I do multiple flushes of the tank – refill with plain tap water shake and drain to remove any sludge that may have collected in the bottom of the tank. None of this maintenance routine is advised by Audiodesk, but I think ncessary for effective operation.

          I printed nyself a tally-sheet with 200 numbered squares on one side of A4 using MS Excel. For each record cleaned I increment one box with a pencil mark, so I know what the cumulative usage number is. Primitive, but a necessary discipline.

          I’m still happy with the machine, but it is not entirely maintenance free. I am a light user, and anyone cleaning in bulk, like a record dealer, may have a different experience


          • Thanks for all this — very helpful for someone just about to start out with the machine (I pick mine up tomorrow).

            When you say four cycles, do you mean that you actually run the disc in and out of the machine four times (four separate 6-minute cycles) or that you hold the start button a little longer (four beeps, or whatever it is) do have a longer cavitation period?

            I’m in the midst of a ludicrously rigorous step-by-step upgrade of my LP12, and have two discs (a 1963 Sparton Impulse Black Saint and a 1968 Reprise Pentangle s/t) that aren’t sounding any better with iterative upgrades, likely because they’re dirty (or worn). I’m very excited to see if the Audio Desk will make any difference with them — and also to see what kinds of differences I’ll hear from discs I currently imagine are clean…

            Thanks again.


            • The A/D gives you the option to increase the cavitation time, by pressing the start button repeatedly, before it actually starts. Just press start button, up to I think five times maximum. The sixth press initiates just a drying cycle.

              Good luck, and enjoy!


  3. Hi there, I have found your posts regarding cleaning vinyl very educational and spot on. A question that I have is related to the process of cleaning using a vacuum RCM. Yours and many others clearly outline the use and purpose of the wetting agent to get into the grooves and soften up accumulated gunk, however, what is not clear is how long the solvent should remain on the vinyl for a) maximum benefit and b) how long to apply the vacuum to the vinyl. Can you please provide some practice advice here?


    • In the light of comments from the Chemistry community about IPA and its effect on vinyl, I tend to be conservative, and recommend the minimum exposure necessary to do the job.

      Some people recommend leaving the fluid on for some length of time, to “penetrate” – maybe an hour. Instinctively this doesn’t feel a good idea. I’ve seen what long-term exposure to IPA does to the plunger in the syringe I use to deliver the right quantity of cleaning fluid to the record (2.5ml per side). It hardens. You don’t want that happening to a groove wall.

      Because the Moth vacuums the underside while you soak the top-side, length of fluid contact with the record is set by the cleaning cycle.: three full revs in each direction, a total of six revs, which delivers a vacuumed-dry record at the end of the process. Too many revs results in accumulation of static, which defeats the object of cleaning. Fewer revs leaves fluid still in the groove, which wets the inner bag.

      There is an argument for a second wash, after a number of plays, as the stylus may do some useful work in lifting up residual gunk deep down in the groove. I’ve heard benefits from a second wash.


      • Thank you for the reply, it helps. I generally only let it set on the record for a minute or less, then vacuum for about 15-20 seconds. I use a Kuzma which only cleans one side at a time so I repeat this when I a ready to play the next side.

        Thanks again!


  4. need help: I’ve go some Transition known to be released on styrene, not vinyl. I’ve always treated them with my VPI cleaning machine, just as any other record on vinyl. now a friend has lent me one warning me not to wash it.
    is there a reason not to treat styrene as vinyl?


  5. Hello,

    I’ve just come across your website and it looks very seminal, thanks for that. What do you think about carbon fibre brushes? Do you suggest them and if you do, could you describe the correct usage of it? You know everybody is giving a different method and it’s impossible to determine which is correct!


    • I keep a carbon fibre brush beside the turntable at all times (Analogue Seduction carbon fibre brush with velvet pad). It is definitely not a substitute for wash/vacuum cleaning, but a “maintenance” tool to drain off any static before play, and keep an already clean record free of dust attracted during play before returning the record to its anti-static inner bag.

      Never use it on a rotating platter. That may sound energy-saving but the drag on the rotating platter is counter to all the rotational mechanisms beneath, like the rubber belt and spindle, it is bad practice.

      Mount the LP on the platter and give it about one and a half turns each way with the brush, before clamping down. I apply a little pressure. If I see any significant amount of dust mounting up- should be just a few specs on a clean record – I tag the record as needing another clean on the record cleaning machine, add it to the new records “awaiting washing” stack. (Past RCM performance can be variable, say, if the vacuum suction-point pads were worn at the time , giving not as good a clean as it should have)

      Playing “dirty records” is not only a less than satisfactory listening experience, it is shortening the life and performance of your stylus. Cleanliness is next to godliness, at least in hi fi, if not in life.


      • Thanks a lot for your reply. Sorry but I couldn’t exactly understand what you described. Should I use the brush perpendicular to the grooves and rotate the LP by my hand to left & right with one and a half turn each?


        • Sorry if I wasn’t clear. The LP should be mounted flat and stationary on the turntable platter, The LP shouldn’t move, your brush should. You sweep the brush at right angles to the grooves, covering from run-out to edge, around the stationary LP in the direction of the grooves until you have covered the full circumference of the LP, and then back again. Just keep your hands well away from the stylus as you go.


  6. Question to our host and fine readers: any thoughts on how to remove cello tape residue from an LP? I have a very nice record that is EX but for a bit of tape residue at the edge which (mildly) affects play on the first track. Mind now, it plays superbly but for that, there are no skips, and even the tape residue itself doesn’t affect play that much for very long. Meaning, I’m looking for a VERY SAFE method, i.e., I don’t want to damage my 8+ record in trying to make it a 9.


    • Fortunately I’ve never had to do this, but my main fear is not the record surface, which is fairly resilient, but the transfer of adhesive to your stylus tip, which is much more delicate and requires to be completely free of anything vaguely like an adhesive in order to do its job.

      I had some gunk transferred on to the trail-off groove once, the safest way to deal with it seemed a small eyedropper quantity of neat isopropyl alcohol – the same stuff I dilute down 1:5 as regular strength record cleaner. Let it sit a while, powerful enough to do maximum cleaning job but no residue or contamination, then give it a regular clean afterwards.

      I’m still nervous for that stylus.


  7. For weeks I’ve done pretty much nothing but read blogs and watch videos on YouTube about ‘the best’ or ‘the safest’ way to clean vinyl. Reason being I’ve just purchased a new turntable and have now become determined (borderline obsessed) with making sure my entire collection is properly cleaned before using it!

    After a few days searching for the definitive answer I realised no such thing exists, several people have different methods that work for them and for every one there is someone who knows better! So, I’ve taken bits of advice from here and there and opted for De-ionised water, Iso-Propyl (4 to 1) with a few drops of rinse-aid and using the knosti. The only thing I can’t find an answer for is how many records will 500 ml of above concoction clean properly before liquid becomes too grimey to use. I cleaned my first batch today and stopped after 20 records with the liquid looking pretty dirty. I bought 1litre of Iso-Propyl and was hoping that would do the job for roughly 200 records??


    • Washing records in the contaminated residue of previously washed records may save money but it doesn’t make for good cleaning practice. When you have a bath, do you run the taps and have fresh clean water, or, to save water, do you bath in the previous occupant’s bathwater? I can’t see the sense in it, but it’s your records, your budget, and best decide according to the results you get rather than other people’s opinions.

      Vacuuming away cleaner and contaminants after each record wash is the way to go. If it is more expensive, that is because that is what it takes to do the job. You can do anything cheaper by doing it in half measure. If the objective is a clean record, that remains the objective, even if can’t afford to achieve it to perfection.

      I’d probably get better results with an ultrasonic cleaner, but the difference is not worth the £2k it costs to me.


  8. Such a helpful article, thanks so much. Do you know of a good place with a serious record cleaning service in London? Like a Moth Pro or a Keith Monks? I found one in Harrow but am hoping to not lose a half a day doing it. I have one album with mysteriously entrenched filth all over it, which I desperately want to rescue.


    • Try Rough Trade Vintage, down stairs at 130 Talbot Road W11 (off Portobello Road, Nottiing Hill). I know they have a Loricraft RCM in the shop as I have chatted to them about it. Ask nicely and offer a couple of quid they might be accommodating. They also have a good selection of jazz on vinyl.

      The other people I know that have an RCM in the shop (basement) are Howard Moores, Gt Marlborough St back of Oxford St. They have a VPI. Again they don’t offer a service but would not do any harm asking.


  9. Interesting reading. We’ve recently invested in a Moth MkII which I personally find laborious (we sell on Discogs, the sellers on which, I note, you are slightly dismissive of LJC). I’ve resorted to using the Discostat to do the cleaning and the Moth to do the drying. The downside for me is that it won’t dry singles/45s as the vacuum contact is lost. Back to Discogs, we pride ourselves on the grading and correct pressing information and I’m not quite sure what makes a Discogs seller a professional?

    I like what you write though LJC. Interesting and nicely phrased and the photographs are excellent! It will all, I’m sure, be a good point of reference having just acquired a 14,000 collection and jazz being our weakest link!

    Keep up the good work.


  10. I recently splurged on an Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaner. Big money but really great. Not too much noise, very clean records and very easy to use (better than the handwork with the Okki Nokki). But now, thousands of records, 5 minutes each. God bless


  11. Great photo’s. Sad to admit but I am massive advocate of cleaning records and agree that a 2nd or 3rd cleaning is beneficial. For years I used the disc doctor miracle record cleaner, having settled on it after trying others and reading some reviews that seemed to tie in with my findings. I then went and used the Walker Audio Prelude kit which was a step up improvement – sometimes using both. And latterly I can wholeheartedly recommend the Audio Sonic Cleaner – but even then the use of 30 year old Doug Brady Carbon brush helps get pesky 50 years of paper dust out the grooves.


    • Clean, clean, and clean again. It’s a cracked record here but I’ve never heard a record worse for another cleaning.


  12. I’m extremely happy. I dug my ancient Technics SL23 turntable at the weekend. To my very great delight, my Cecil Watkins dust bug was still on it. It is now back in use on my working turntable- an old and only slightly better sounding Sony.


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