How to clean your records to keep them looking good and sounding sweet

Even as Spotify and Apple Music have wrapped their tentacles around the music industry, a curious thing has happened: Vinyl records, those big black discs that were once all too common in garages and dorm rooms, have made a big resurgence.

With more people getting into vinyl, there is one thing that may come as something of a surprise to budding enthusiasts: Unlike files in an iTunes collection or on a streaming playlist, records can get extremely dirty.

Dust and grime easily accumulate in the grooves of vinyl records, and even a little dust or static electricity can heavily impact the sound quality of your analog audio. To enjoy vinyl to the fullest, owners must keep their records as clean as possible. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult. There are a few ways to clean and maintain your vinyl, even on a tight budget, and doing so will keep a record sounding pristine for decades.

We partnered up with Gary Alpern, owner of True Audiophile in Digital Trend’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, to learn more about how to protect your vinyl investments. Check out the video above, and keep on reading to learn more about the tools of the trade.

Carbon-fiber brushes ($20)

carbonfiberbrush

If your records are merely dusty, without caked-in grime, a simple brushing may suffice to clean them up. There are several companies that produce carbon-fiber brushes explicitly for dusting off records. A light touch is crucial here, as a heavy-handed motion could scratch the vinyl. Place one side of the brush on the vinyl, then sweep the dust outwards toward you. Use the back section of the brush to wipe off any dust you find and keep wiping over and over again until there’s no dust left.

A gentle brushing before every listen will keep larger concentrations of dust at bay, and ought to be part of any listening routine. Brushes are insufficient for deep cleaning, as they are not designed to get down into the grooves and, as mentioned, can scratch the record if too much force is used. Still, a carbon-fiber brush is a vital part of routine maintenance. Finally, don’t just use any old brush — make sure to choose one designed for use on vinyl, such as the Audioquest brush shown above, as those without anti-static protection could actually make the problem worse.

Record-cleaning machines

Because the grooves along a vinyl record are a millionth-of-an-inch thick, the only way to clean them completely is to use a powerful cleaning solution and a strong vacuum that can suck out the dirty liquid once it has done its job.

For that, you need a record-cleaning machine. There are many kinds of cleaning machines out there, ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to thousands (which, in our opinion, is totally unnecessary). Here is our favorite:

how to clean vinyl records okki nokki
Okki Nokki Record Cleaner ($600)

A bi-directional cleaner with a powerful vacuum, the Okki Nokki will easily remove all deeply entrenched dirt and grime from your favorite vinyl.

After clamping a record down on the machine, simply use a brush to spread cleaning fluid around the record, then use the cleaner’s vacuum to suck it all up. The process is quick and easy, and the device has a solid build quality. Aside from being noisy, the only downside to the Okki Nokki is its $600 price, which will keep it out of the hands of the average collector.

If that’s too rich for your blood, many record stores offer cleaning services. Call around to local shops and see if they’ll do it for you for a small fee, or if they know of anyone locally who cleans vinyl. Another option is to make friends with someone who has one and borrow it every once in a while to keep your records sounding their best. Ideally, you should clean your records every 5 to 10 plays.

Stylus/needle cleaners

If you listen to a lot of music on your turntable, chances are your stylus has been collecting gunk and grime for some time. A dirty stylus can remove the vibrant dynamics that you want to hear from your favorite music and, worse yet, can even have a “lathe” effect, damaging the grooves of your records. Here are three great types of stylus cleaners to consider:

Stylus brush ($5 to $20)

how to clean vinyl records edit revised 00 09 32 15 still004 preview

These tiny brushes sometimes come with high-end turntables, but can also be purchased for $5 to $20 online. Simply take the brush and pull it lightly across the stylus, moving the brush toward you from back to front. Be sure not to go side-to-side or front-to-back, as that can damage the stylus. We can’t stress that enough — don’t break your stylus!

Stylus pillow ($40)

how to clean vinyl records edit revised 00 09 39 01 still005 preview

Among the most “magical” of the cleaning options is the stylus pillow. Simply drop your needle on this polymer bubble, and it will slowly sink in, leaving behind any debris when you lift it.

Ultrasonic Cleaner ($150)

how to clean vinyl records edit revised 00 09 46 06 still006 preview

The most expensive stylus cleaners are ultrasonic cleaners that use low-frequency oscillation to “shake” free any debris that may be sitting on your needle. They work quite well but may not be ideal for all but the most discriminating audiophiles due to their relatively steep price point. Note: In the video, it is recommended to use an ultrasonic cleaner for 15 minutes. The cleaner should be used for approximately 15 seconds. 

Bonus: The wood glue method

woodgluevinyl2
/u/RetroHacker / Reddit
/u/RetroHacker/Reddit

For a foolproof (if lengthy) hand-cleaning method that actually gets into the grooves, using wood glue is a possible alternative to the vacuum cleaning method described above. This method will require a great deal of patience but is certain to leave a record immaculate. The only ingredients necessary are wood glue and a tool to spread it around on a record, such as a piece of card stock.

To begin, drizzle the wood glue around the record. To make the process easier, it’s helpful to have the record gently spinning on a turntable. If you have a spare record player, for example, that might be a good use for it. Be sure to pour an ample amount of wood glue on the record; once it dries, you want to be able to pull it all off in one piece. If the glue is too thin, it will break apart as you try to lift it.

Once you have a healthy amount of glue on the record, spread it around gently, making sure to cover the surface of the vinyl entirely. Do not get glue on the record label, however, unless you want to peel it off. Once done, let it sit until it dries, for about 24 hours or so. The glue should form a solid piece on top of the vinyl. Now comes the fun part. Grab the edge of the glue and slowly peel it off the record. The glue should grab any particulate on the vinyl, even in the grooves, leaving your record spotless.

Computing

Enjoy your music on more devices: Here's how to convert FLAC to MP3

FLAC files sound awesome — that is, if your device can handle the lossless format. No matter your OS there's a converter for you. Here's how to convert FLAC to MP3, so you no longer have to worry about incompatibility issues.
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Deals

Amazon’s deal drops these Bose SoundSport wireless headphones to only $129

If you are in the market for quality headphones that can keep up with your active lifestyle, check out Amazon's offer for Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones. These sports earbuds are now available for only $129.
Computing

MacBook charger not working? Here’s what to do

A laptop is only worthwhile if you can keep it charged, which makes a non-functioning power adapter a huge nuisance. Thankfully, there are a few things you can try before making your way to the Apple Store.
Home Theater

Bose Noise Cancelling 700 vs. QC35 II: Are Bose’s newest headphones worth it?

The Bose Noise Cancelling 700 are the company's new flagship headphones, but how do they stack up to their older, still-beloved, QC35 II model? We compare both pairs of headphones in terms of features, performance, and sound.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Home Theater

The best MP3 players of 2019 cram tons of music into a small package

Want to go for a run, but your phone is weighing you down? Don't sweat it. Can't fit your whole music library on your smartphone? No worries. Check out our list of the best MP3 players, and find one that works for you.
Music

What is hi-res audio and how can you experience it right now?

High-resolution audio has gone from audiophile novelty to mainstream attraction, but understanding it isn’t easy. Here’s what “hi-res” really means for you, and why you shouldn’t just brush it off as another marketing gimmick.
Home Theater

Get the most boom for your buck with the best headphones under $100

Everybody wants a bargain, and this list has a bunch. For those looking for a solid set of headphones without spending a big stack of cash, this list is your ultimate guide. Check out our picks for the best headphones under $100.
Home Theater

Bose Noise Cancelling 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM3: Which headphones should you buy?

Sony's WH-1000XM3 were considered the high watermark in noise-canceling headphones when they came out last year, but now Bose is back with an intriguing new pair. How do the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 stack up against Sony's best? Let's find…
Music

Don’t let spotty Wi-Fi keep you from Spotify. Here's how to download your songs

Did you know you can download up to 3,333 songs on your device with Spotify Premium? The process is incredibly straightforward, too, and literally takes seconds. Here's how to do it.
Home Theater

Looking to add songs from SoundCloud to your music collection? Here's how

Have you found a great new artist on SoundCloud and want to add their tracks to your music collection? It's not always easy, so to make your life easier, here's our guide showing you how to download songs from SoundCloud.
Mobile

Find out everything you need to know about video-making and sharing app TikTok

TikTok, the latest video craze, is a free app for iOS and Android that specializes in 15-second, musically oriented videos. Check out musical genres like hip-hop, EDM, pop, rock, and country, tailored to various viewing categories.
Home Theater

Rock out, dance, or just nod along with the best Bluetooth speakers

The market is saturated with wireless audio solutions fit for any and all circumstances. Check out our picks for the best Bluetooth speakers available, whether you'll be listening in the kitchen or on a mountaintop.