Despite the convenience of streaming services, vinyl records continue to ride a massive wave of popularity, and the vinyl boom shows no signs of slowing down. And while sound quality is a big selling point for many, it’s arguably the tactile enjoyment of slipping a record out of its sleeve, placing it down on the platter, and putting the needle in the groove that is driving its resurgence. It’s easier to feel connected to your favorite songs when you can literally hold them in your hands, and albums are made better when you can appreciate the liner notes and the cover art up close.
But there is a reason vinyl lost its popularity before its comeback in the last decade. The portability, small size, and low maintenance of cassettes and CDs showed how finicky vinyl could be, with its large sleeve size and tendency to warp and scratch. One of the biggest problems with vinyl is the grooves themselves. The grooves are where the music lives, but they’re also a perfect trap for dust. In order to avoid skips and fuzzy playback, you have to clean your records and ensure they’re as clean and dust-free as possible. The vinyl material can also be easily damaged by too much heat or the oils from your hands.
The good news is that with routine record maintenance and proper handling, you’ll extend the life of your vinyl and your turntable’s stylus.
Handle With Care
There’s no need to wear gloves, but properly handling your vinyl records will help extend their life and prevent playback issues. Records should be handled by their edges, and you should avoid touching the grooves so as to not leave fingerprints and smudges. You can also safely touch the label, which is the sticker in the middle of the record.
It’s best to handle the records with both hands on the edge of the record, but if you need to handle it with one hand, you can put one finger on the label and your thumb on the edge of the record. If that’s difficult, you can also grab the edge of the record with the tips of your fingers.
Dry Clean Before Each Listen
Cleaning your records with a brush is one of the easiest and most low-effort ways to keep your records sounding great, and you should do it between each play. You can find affordable record brushes online or in your local record store. Look for anti-static materials like carbon fiber.
Place the vinyl brush gently down on the record. Before putting the needle down, hold the brush in place and let the record spin under it. By keeping the brush in place and letting the record rotate under it, you’ll ensure the brush cleans the entire record. Then, slide the brush toward the edge of the record and off. If you lift the brush straight off, it might leave a straight line of dust on the record.
It’s a good idea to do this for every record because even brand new records that are wrapped in plastic can be surprisingly dusty.
Look for record brushes with a plastic bracket. These brackets rotate back and forth, and are used to knock dust off the brush itself. Remember to dust the other side of the record when you flip it, too.
It might seem tedious, but dry brushing your records before each play should only take about ten seconds, and it can go a long way in improving playback and keeping your records sounding great.
Wet Clean Dusty Records
The good news for budding collectors is that there are likely as many people who want to get rid of old records as there are people who want old records. That means you can score great vinyl at a discount from thrift stores and record shops. But old records aren’t always properly stored, especially by someone who’s looking to get rid of them. That means you may need to do a deeper cleaning for your vinyl.
One of the most popular solutions is the Discwasher D4 solution, which is available in spray form, and plenty of other companies like Audio Technica and VinylStyl make cleaning solutions.
You’ll also need a clean, dry microfiber cloth. You then spray the record with the solution and wipe it dry using the cloth. Try to avoid spraying the label, and if you do spray the label, wipe it clean. Or, you can use a dropper solution and apply it to a groove washer brush.
You can use your turntable to rotate the record as you clean it, but you’ll want to be careful and avoid spraying any solution onto the turntable itself. Or, simply use a clean cloth as a working surface. You likely won’t need to do this method very often, unless you find an old record with visible smudges, fingerprints and other gunk.
To keep your records happy, you also need to store them properly. Keep them in the inner sleeves they came in, and store those inner sleeves in the cardboard outer sleeve. You can also upgrade to plastic inner and outer sleeves, which are even more protective.
Records should be stored upright, and avoid leaning them too far in one direction or another. Never stack them, as the weight of the records can cause warping and damage. Likewise, store records away from heat and sunlight.
What You Need
You can buy expensive cleaning solutions and products, but basic vinyl maintenance doesn’t need to be expensive. A few basic tools will help you take care of your records. Below we’ve included specialized tools for record cleaning.
Boundless Audio Record Cleaner Brush
Boundless’ affordable cleaner brush is made with carbon fiber to remove static, and the double layer of bristles helps trap more dust. The plastic arm protects the brush and is also used to swipe dust off the bristles.
Discwasher D4+ Record Care Refill
This record-cleaning solution comes in a spray bottle for easy application. It can be used in conjunction with a cleaning kit, or you can pair it with a microfiber cloth for easy cleaning.
Boundless Audio Record Cleaning Cloth
You’ll also need a microfiber cleaning cloth, which is widely available at hardware stores and online. You can also buy cleaning cloths from brands that make record care equipment, such as Boundless.
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