I have been cleaning my vinyl for many years now, ever since I learned such a thing could be done and what doing it did for the record. I started sometime around 1984 after I left college, so I have been doing it a while now. When I began doing it I took an interest in the proceedings and one of the things I noticed is how often people try to "invent" their own method, usually in an attempt to save money, time and labour. However the products of these endeavors have always appeared to me to be either bizarre (washing records in the sink and placing them in the dishdrain) and/or they utilize home made contraptions and concoctions so complex that they would make Rube Goldberg proud.

Is there an easier way? I think so. Of course there is no one "right" way, including mine. One cannot argue in the face of success. A persons method may even be outlandish, but if it works you really can't fault the guy, especially if they enjoy doing it their way. So it is with this in mind I submit my method, which I believe is easy, economical and achieves results as good or better than you will get doing it any other way.

If you are not familiar with the facts about what causes the pops and noise on records, then you ought to visit my page about Understanding Vinyl before going further.

First of all, you will need a few things. They are:

  1. A Record Cleaning Machine
  2. A Work Turntable (direct drive)
  3. A Mold Release Agent
  4. Record Cleaning Fluid
  5. Last Record Preservative

Record Cleaning Machine - No arguments, you MUST own one. Otherwise, you may as well stop reading now because you're wasting your time. Records do indeed sound better than CD's and can be as quiet, but you can only help a record sound this good thru the use of certain chemicals. The catch is they must be removed thru suction, however that very act itself cleans it in a way nothing else can.

Of all of the machines made, I prefer the Nitty Gritty, and I prefer the basic, manual model. Why? Because anything designed to do it's job well and simply (ie. no "bells and whistles") almost always does the best job, for the longest time. This model does that and mine is going strong nearly 20 years later. It's also the most cost effective machine made (It can be had used for under $150, sometimes under $100) and can be had new on places such as Music Direct for only $255. Yes, you can buy others which cost A LOT more, but what you are paying for is them scrubbing and putting the fluid on, something you'd do better doing yourself anyway. (plus you'll use FAR less of these chemicals doing it yourself which will also save money)

I prefer manual machines for that reason, because I am positive I can do a better job of scrubbing a record than the automated machines can, especially after seeing many of them in use. Unless you work for the library of congress, don't be so lazy. Get a manual machine. I used to clean 25-30 records at a time back in the 80's, and while that number starts getting taxing, in truth what reason is there to do more than that at a time? So look on ebay or buy new, but get one. I also prefer that Nitty Gritty machines suck down, with gravity. A surprising number of others machines do not, and why would you not wish to use an ally like that?

Work Turntable - This is needed to both apply the mold release compound and the Last record preservative. In it's instructions sheet, Last unbelievably tells people to lay the record flat on it's sleeve on a table, and they then expect you to try to attempt to manually move the brush around the record to apply the fluids while holding the record still. This is insane. This process must (and logically ought to) be done on a spinning turntable. However, as doing this puts strain on the motor, I don't advise using your good turntable. My advice is to find an old "POS" turntable and use that. It is also preferable to use a direct drive design over a belt as they do not stall as easily under pressure. I can only assume Last does not suggest this for fear of getting mail about burned out motors on tables costing 3 grand with the note: "But you told me to..."

A problem you are likely to encounter however is that most old direct drive tables are actuated by the tonearm moving over the platter, which would obviously place it in the way. You will have to remove, defeat, or re-wire it before it can be used with felicity. Being a cabinetmaker, I took one completely apart, built a new wooden body for it, and use that. It's a somewhat complex task as the parts are designed to fit into the pre cast blow molded shell of the turntable it came from, but the result is far more elegant and easy to use. It gives the task the dignity and importance it deserves. I have been approached to make these available to others and if you are interested in one please email me. Mine is made from a maple ply top and solid curly maple sides.


My table

Mold Release Compound - The first step to cleaning any record is to get the mold release compound off. I used to use a product made by Nitty Gritty but since the old ones had CFC's in them they eventually got banned. I had enough to last me for a while as my vinyl buying mostly stopped by the 90's (not because I switched to CD's, but rather there wasn't much I wanted) so it didn't matter. When I did run out a number of years ago I started using a home mix of distilled water and alcohol as I heard others claim to use this with success, stating it worked just as well. I only did a very few LP's this way, and it's my belief they sound not as ideal they could. When I then started using Last Power Cleaner I found that the records were very open sounding and dead silent with very black backgrounds. The results have been just perfect with the Last cleaner and I believe even better than when I used the Nitty Gritty product. The alcohol was clearly beaten and it does not work nearly as well. I have not tried to re-clean them to see if it is too late for a change, but if I do I will post the results.

As I am not the type to jump brands to save a dime and Last products have always worked for me, especially this one, I recommend using it. You are free to use what you wish at your own peril or success, however I can guarantee this product does work. It too can be had cheaper at music direct

NOTE: After some discussions with other audiophiles I tried Record Research products. I used their super cleaner in place of the Last and it seems to be nearly as good. I say it that way because I have not done really stringent A B comparisons, but my feeling is that while this is a very good product, the Last gets the record just a tad blacker and quieter. However, I could be wrong and at worst this product does work as well.

Record Cleaning Fluid - Like I said before, there are many products and home brew recipies for this, and you are of course free to use what you will. I have always used the formula made by Nitty Gritty and while it appears a half gallon is the smallest amount you can get anymore, that will last many, many years. It cleans, de-greases and neutralizes static. Is there a better product? Maybe, maybe not, but I know this works and I trust it.

NOTE 2: As with the super cleaner above I got a bottle of super record wash when my Nitty Gritty fluid ran out. Aside from seeming slightly more watery with less of the surface tension grabbing qualitites the NG fluid has, it appears to do the job as well. It seems you'll do all right with either, so make your own choice here.

Last Record Preservative - There is no alternative here. Last record preservative, created, patented and sold by the Last company, changes the structure of the record at the molecular level when you apply it. (to a level of about 10 molecules deep they say, making it much harder) It is not a wax or coating as many people wrongly believe, but rather causes an organic chemical reaction whereupon it and the vinyl become one. As Art Linkletter used to say, "I heartily endorse this product".

THE CLEANING PROCESS

Step 1 - The record goes on the work turntable first. (fig. 1) The platter is started, and as it comes up to speed I apply a very fine line of the Last power cleaner to the brush. You can see it wet the bristles,(and it's thicker than water) so be careful to use a very small amount, then apply with even pressure to the record. (fig. 2) After a few good revolutions, I waggle the brush a bit to ensure it got all around. Done right it ought to leave the slightest wet sheen. Do the other side. The mold release has now been "released" from the vinyl. Now it's time to get it off

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Step 2 - From here the record goes to the nitty gritty machine and cleaning fluid is applied. The first record may require a bit more fluid as the scrubbing brush is dry to start, but figure three shows my "dispersal" pattern and amount used once you're going and the brush is wet. Any more is waste. It should not be dripping wet when scrubbing, but rather a nice, even layer of wetness. You will find the nitty grity fluid will congeal into puddles when you stop scubbing, and when it does it should appear to leave spots in between barely wet. This is how it ought to look. If it is wetter you are wasting fluid, dryer and you need to apply more. It's common sense really. (you can see the 'dry looking' patches on the edge in fig. 4)

First I spread the fluid evenly, then go into a long stroke (about 2" back and forth) moving with the curve of the record. After one revolution this way, I use a much shorter stroke (half inch) and apply slightly more pressure. (the "get in there and dig" scrub) I also make a point of scrubbing over the suction pad to provide support. After this, I tend to go one or two more revolutions using the longer stroke, and when satisfied, I turn it over and vacuum it clean. You may also note in fig. 4 that I use a Last applicator brush to scrub with. I find them far superior to the stock brush that comes with the machine and recommend you use one as well. As with all the brushes you use, NEVER swap them about. Use one brush for ONE job, and one job only, until it is no longer fit for use, and then discard it. I mark them so I know what they get used for so there is no chance of cross contamination.

I also refill and use the small applicator bottle that comes with the nitty gritty machine to apply the fluid, as it is the easiest and intended way.

Fig. 3
Fig. 4

As we are involved in a cleaning process, do not overlook the machine itself. As I turn the record to do each side, I always check to see if fuzz has collected on the sides of the intake chute. (this is common) If so, I start the machine, and use the supplied brush to clean it away. (fig. 5) It is also common for the fluid to make "flakes" which tend to congregate on the record support platter. Every now and then it should be removed and run over the suction pad to be cleaned off. (Which I did right after the pic was taken. I only let it get this bad for instructional purposes only, really!)


Fig. 5

As you can see, doing it is a lot faster than explaining it as we are now done with the mold release treatment, the scrubbing and vacuuming, and are back at the work turntable for the final step.

Step 3 - Last has supplied its' preservative in a variety of containers over the years, from glass to plastic and back to glass. The newest version is the amber bottle seen in fig. 6. Next to it is a plastic bottle from their "all purpose" record cleaner. (their equivalent to discwasher, only better) Why show both? Well, in another inexplicable application technique, Last expected you to draw the fluid out with a supplied eye dropper, (since changed to a cheap, long plastic "pipette") and apply it to the pad with this, and then apply the pad to the record. (they also expect you to apply it with the record flat on a desk as mentioned before as well) HA! It's truly madness.

For the un-initiated, Last record preservative must be the most volatile substance on earth. If I poured the contents of that bottle onto the table it would be gone within seconds, literally. (I think this volatility is why they stopped using plastic bottles. New packages on the shelf often turned up empty I heard, but that could be an urban audio legend :)

Last claims you can treat 50-75 records per bottle, and given their method, I don't doubt it. A LOT is wasted. I discovered long ago that the empty record cleaner bottles, which have a fine spout top, work supremely well. Before the session, I fill the plastic bottle from the glass one with about 25% more than I anticipate using, then quickly close both bottles. (better over than under when doing this, as small amounts in the "work" bottle seem to lose content from evaporation. If you aren't sure, fill it more) I don't however think this route is even avialable anymore as the tops of the new bottles do not unscrew, so you must look to see if you can find something elsewhere. The top on bottles of nasal sprays are very similar. Just be sure you can unscrew the top, and be sure to clean it very well before use. The fact that this Last bottle is see thru helps as well.

After starting the table (I do both this step and the mold release at 45 rpm) I apply the fluid to the brush beginning at the end near me in one quick stroke, and I apply it with the brush over the record. This way should any miss the pad (which can happen) it hits the record at least. This fluid runs like mercury, and evaporates faster than a new paycheck as I said. You can see the brush get wet when you apply it, and if not apply it from just slightly above the brush so you can see it drop onto it. Do one very deliberate but not overdone application of fluid and go right to the record. After the first few revolutions, move the brush slightly both across the grooves, and by tilting the brush angle forward and backward. Don't rush, and let the brush stay in contact a good 10-15 seconds. This will ensure you get all the product off the pad. As long as you saw the whole pad get wet when you applied it, even if the entire record didn't seem to get wet, trust me, it worked. A close up of the application technique can be seen in fig. 7. (the record had already been done, and look at it glow)

I find that doing it this way, I can treat about 200+ records per bottle. This was a new bottle, and I did about a dozen records this day (always try to clean at least 10 at a time, it makes all the fluids go farther, and YES, I will sit on records for months even until I have enough to clean) and when done I pour the remaining unused preservative back in the glass bottle. When I did, it was nearly at the level it was before I first opened it. Works out to about .15 cents a record, and you can't beat that. In my heydey when I did a lot I know I got close to 300 per bottle. When you do it that often you get in a very good rhythm applying it.

Fig. 6
Fig. 7

The only thing left to do at this point is put it on the table and enjoy, while you go back to cleaning the next candidate. (fig. 8) And as if it needed saying, never, NEVER play any record that has not had this done to it. That first play does irreperable damage, to the record and your stylus.


Fig. 8 - enjoying the ride

The final act is to place the album jacket in a poly sleeve, and replace the record inner sleeve with a plastic lined one. (If the original inner sleeve is a picture one I try to fit the lined sleeve inside it. It often goes) Both can be had at Bags Unlimited, the S12P being the inner sleeve I use. Most of my records are UK pressings and they use a far better grade sleeve than the already acid faded generic sleeve US records tend to come in, still I tend to fit one of the plastic lined sleeves inside them. It's just better.

At this point you are DONE. I find that I do not need to use any cleaner before playing, nor do I think it is a good idea. (and you must never use discwasher anyway, it is garbage) The record will stay clean if you are not a slob, and if there is the odd bit of dust, I use an old Last brush (usually one used to apply preservative) and a quick, light dry wipe as it spins does the trick. The record need not ever see the cleaning machine again either unless an accident befalls it or you feel it sounds not as good as it once did. (I would look to how well you are treating them, or how clean your house is, if this happens a lot) I do clean the stylus with Last stylus cleaner, but as the records are so clean this does not need to be done often at all. In fact my cartridge is 16 years old (An Adcom XC Micro Ridge II moving coil) and going strong. It never played a record not treated this way.

I am only now just reaching the point that I think a couple of the things I did 20 years ago might need a new cleaning, from aquired dust over the years. However, the vast majority remain as good and quiet sounding as the day I first cleaned and played them, and that is pricelss compensation for an act that takes really little time, and if embraced, actually becomes an enjoyable part of your audio pleasure. You can't make bad pressings better, but you can make good ones all they can be while preserving them in that state indefinetly. A worthy goal if there was one.