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Best Vinyl Record Cleaners
With record sales across the world continuing to grow, we thought it would be fun to go over some of our favorite ways to take care of your vinyl records. If you are into buying vinyl, you have probably found out it's a really fun hobby, and you can quickly spend several hundred dollars or more on your favorite music.
One way to save some money, and we must say the hunt is a lot of fun too, is to search for used records in good condition. But whether you are buying all new records, used, or a combination of the two, before you know it, you will have a pretty substantial investment in your growing collection.
When we see someone who has more than a few records with just a simple brush to clean them, it makes us very sad. They are missing out on so much! Usually it is just a lack of knowledge in why it is important to properly clean your records and how to safely do it.
The purpose of this article is to go over how we think you should keep your records in the best possible shape. There are actually several aspects to it we will cover.
There is just getting a record clean to start with, but also keeping it in that state and storing it properly.
First, we will go over our thoughts on used and new records. Brand new records are normally in very good condition. However, you have to think about how they stamp records. You have a metal stamper that presses down into the vinyl. In researching this subject we have found some record producing companies spray what is called mold release compound onto the stamper, while others put an anti stick compound into the vinyl itself, negating the need for the release compound. The catch is, with a new record, there is no way to know. In some cases, this compound can reduce the audio quality a bit.
We also see some new records where static has caused small dirt particles to stick to the vinyl.
Used records are a whole different story. You can look at them and see surface scratches, or even grim, but without a super powerful microscope, you have no idea of knowing what is really on them. The store you bought it from could have cleaned it just using tap water, which will leave a residue. It could have been exposed to finger oils, tobacco or cannabis smoke, or had soda, beer, wine or whatever spilled on it then just wiped off.
So what is the point of all this? It comes down to the fact that we think you need to use a wet cleaner if you want your records really clean. And when it comes to wet cleaning, you can get really deep into it, or do some basic steps.
There are a variety of wet cleaning machines on the market and we want to go over our top four choices. Before you think: “why should I spend money on a cleaning machine?”, just add up the cost of your vinyl collection. For many collections, buying a good cleaning machine is less than a dollar or two per record in your library, or even less.
Let’s look at our favorite wet cleaning systems.
Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII
The first is the Spin Clean Record Washer MKII Complete Kit. This system is totally manual and requires devoting some cleaning time as it is not really designed to do one record at a time. But for the cost, it does a great job. Spin Clean has actually been around since 1975! To operate it, you drop in the two rollers at the right spot for your record size. It comes with two brushes. You want to make sure these are very clean before you put them in as when they are brand new, they have some debris. We suggest using a fresh toothbrush to clean them off before you insert them into the machine. Next, and this is why you want to do batch cleaning, you fill the machine up with distilled water. Please do not use tap water as it could have impurities. Then, you will pour a capful of their fluid over the brushes. Spin Clean has been perfecting this fluid for decades and it contains a compound that will capture the dirt and cause it to drop to the bottom of the cleaner, which is pretty cool.
Next you drop a record in and rotate it three turns in each direction. We suggest you use rubber gloves as it is easy to touch the sides, but if you are careful you can use your bare hands. Then you pull the record off, holding it above the machine for a bit until the fluid stops dripping. You’ll lay it down on their drying pad, then dry in a clockwise motion using the other drying pad. Spin Clean supplies instructions on how to clean these pads so you can reuse them, which is nice.
The part we are not crazy about is the fact the pad does not get the record as completely dry as a machine with a vacuum and you’ll need to find a way to air dry them. A lot of people find a dish drying rack that will hold the records safely. Air drying has the risk of some dirt remaining, but for the most part, their system does a good job of cleaning.
The fluid should get you through about 20-50 records depending on how dirty they are. You should replace the fluid if it starts to look cloudy. Also, if you are cleaning a batch, start with your thin records first, leave those 180-gram copies till the end as they will push the brushes apart. When you are done, pull the brushes out to air dry, then put the cover over the machine or just dump the fluid and do a fresh batch the next time. Eventually, you will have to clean the bottom of the machine, which is a bit of a pain, but for the cost of the Spin Clean, it's not something to complain about.
Another tip — if your records are visibility pretty dirty, clean them first with a record brush to get the surface dirt off to keep your cleaning solution from getting dirty too fast.
Overall, this is a well-tested and highly effective machine for a very low cost.
Before we jump into the next machine, let’s talk about what to do with your clean records.
That sleeve you pulled the record out of, especially if it is a used one, likely has a lot of dirt inside it. We highly recommend you put your clean record in a fresh sleeve. When you pull the record out again, we suggest you use an anti-static brush to give it a clean before playing. And make sure you store your records vertically.
Finally, you’ll want to use a good brush to keep your stylus clean on your turntable.
Now, let's move on to our favorite machines, the Pro-Ject VC-E and VC-S2.
Pro-Ject VC-E & VC-S2
You may have heard of Pro-Ject as they make the best-selling turntables in the world in their factories all over Europe. Who better than to invent some first-class cleaning machines and some great fluid to use with it!
The real difference between these two models is how you plan to clean your records. We will get into that shortly.
Both machines have an aluminum-clad exterior, which means you do not have to worry about cleaning fluid spills. We really like the fact the record just sits on a small platter that is only the size of the record label. This keeps the record surface from touching anything dirt might stick to. When you first set the machine up, be sure and observe one side of the small platter has a recessed hole for the single screw to go in, otherwise the screw head will stick up and your record will not lay flat.
The machines come with a starter bottle of Pro-Ject’s concentrated cleaning solution. They recommend you mix this with distilled water in a ratio of 20:1 for normal cleaning and 10:1 for very dirty records. Pro-Ject supplies a mixing bottle, but we prefer to use old-style squirt bottles and suggest you get two. You can simply do the math on how large your bottle is, then use a kitchen scale with the gram setting to mix up two bottles with the different ratios. Be sure and use good distilled water.
Each machine has a vacuum brush with replaceable fabric pads and a cleaning brush. Like our Spin Clean recommendation, brush these off with a new toothbrush first just to get any residue off them before your first use.
We like to squirt a little fluid on the brush, then a little bit on the record as it is spinning. Then all you do is hold down the brush for a couple of revolutions, use the reverse button on the machine to switch the revolution direction, then do a couple more in the other direction. You’ll notice the fluid will start to bubble up, which means it is working. And there is no harm in going for more than 2-3 revolutions of cleaning. It's ok to let it sit there for 20-30 seconds before moving the vacuum arm over and pushing the vacuum button. It will only take a couple of revolutions to get your record completely dry. These machines just do an outstanding job of drying the record.
Now, if you really want to make sure things are super clean, you can have a third squirt bottle and second brush. That bottle only has distilled water for you to give your record a rinse and a second vacuum. Just squirt a little on and spread it over the record with the brush you only use for the rinse, vacuum it dry and you can be sure you have pulled up everything on that record.
So which machine is best for you? It really depends on how you are going to use it. The VC-E has its exhaust on the top. After you have cleaned about 6 to 8 sides, a little bit of moisture will blow back out of it and wet the bottom side of the record you are cleaning. Pro-Ject now supplies a small round disc you can put under the record to block this, but we are not crazy about putting a clean record down on a disc that will get dirty.
The bigger VC-S2 has its exhaust on the side. It also has a larger waste fluid reservoir. We did find the bigger machine to have slightly more noise than the VC-E, but both are pretty quiet.
So, if you plan to clean your records in batches or if you are going to do the second rinse method, get the VC-S2. If you are just going to clean them as you play them or a couple at a time, the VC-E is probably the best value record cleaner we have ever seen.
After you are done cleaning, you can let the brush air dry. And you can wash it in the sink with distilled water final rinse once it gets dirty. We also suggest you brush off the pads on the vacuum arm fairly often and replace them when they look worn.
Overall, these are just incredible machines for what they sell for and we highly recommend them.
Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner Pro
The last machine on our list is by no means the same bargain the Pro-Ject models are, but it comes from the same region. This is the famous Audio Desk ultrasonic record cleaner. This is really for the very serious collector but it is simply a marvel to watch in operation.
Just like with the other models, you start out with good distilled water and add a bottle of the Audio Desk solution to the machine. There is a nice indicator on the front that lets you know when you have enough water in it. Then you simply drop in your record and press start. The reservoir will fill up with fluid, the brushes will start to turn and before you know it, you’ll be mesmerized watching your record spin around as both sides get cleaned with both the action of the brushes and an ultrasonic system. Then, the water will automatically drain out and the vacuum system comes on as your record slowly spins and dries. We do find sometimes it does not completely dry. You can start a second dry-only cycle by holding down the on button until you hear 6 beeps which always finishes the job. Records cleaned on this machine are as clean as anything we have seen. Plus it is just a ton of fun to watch in operation. All of the parts are replaceable and it's really easy to drain out the fluid reservoir which we recommend after about 50-100 records depending on how dirty they are. Is it a bargain? Heck no, but it has to be one of the best record cleaning machines on the planet!
That completes the overview of our favorite record cleaning machines. If you are just starting out, the Spin Clean is a great value, but you will need to be set up to clean several at once. We feel the best bang for the buck is by far the Pro-Ject VC-E.
We hope this article on the care and cleaning of your vinyl collection has been helpful to you. If you have any questions at all feel free to reach out to us via email, phone, chat or drop by one of our award-winning showrooms.
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