Contrary to popular opinion, if reasonable care is taken of your vinyl LP's, they will last a lifetime without audible deterioration. I am still enjoying discs I bought in the 60's, still being played on discriminating equipment with no audible surface noise. And before you say anything, my hearing is very good thanks!
With the resurgence of interest in vinyl, I thought a few pointers outlining how to take care of your LP's would be useful. It's actually very easy and straight forward to look after your LP's, but some basic care is required. Of course, when handling discs, avoid touching the playing surface or placing the record on a anything which is not a turntable and not likely to be thoroughly clean. Handle the LP with your a finger tip over the centre hole which will support the record, and your thumb on the disc edge which will stabilize it.
LP's should be stored upright and not packed too tightly together. Utilize stiff shelf dividers so that the stored discs are not leaning too heavily against each other, otherwise in time they are likely to warp.
Store discs at room temperature in a dry environment and avoid storage in lofts or garages at all costs. Wild fluctuations of temperature and damp conditions, apart from spoiling the outer sleeve, may cause surface mold to appear on the vinyl.
If you really value your discs, check the surfaces of each one from time to time. I have experienced very bad marking caused by some types of inner sleeves originally used by the record manufacturers. The biggest culprits have been CBS, Decca and EMI including Motown - in other words, virtually all of them. The marking often has a “rippling” appearance which follows the folds of the inner sleeve, dulling the vinyl. Unfortunately, this damage is not removable by any means I have discovered. The effects are audible, most typically with a rhythmic “swishing” sound which is clearly audible on a half decent system. This problem can occur regardless of how carefully records are stored and is caused by some kind of long term reaction between the vinyl and the inner sleeve. If there are any early signs of this occurring on your discs, replace the inner sleeve with a new one. I recommend thick paper ones as, over a long period, these will not react with the vinyl.
Routine record cleaning.
Clean the disc each time before playing it. This needn't be a time consuming exercise, but keep a good quality record cleaning brush handy. I have found one of the best to be a pad with a smart wooden handle manufactured by Discwasher in the USA. Available on Amazon, it's well made and has velvety curved cleaning pad which I've found very effective at lifting off any dust. A small brush is supplied to occasionally clean the pad, together with a preparatory solution. A few drops are applied onto the brush to slightly dampen it. This helps reduce static which results from friction between the brush and the record surface. Static attracts dust which is something we aim to avoid. Carry out the cleaning on the rotating turntable and no more than a couple of rotations will be necessary.
This regular cleaning process shouldn't take more than 10-15 seconds and will preserve the life of your discs. Excessive cleaning is counter-productive as it can lead to the excess build-up of static.
Intensive record cleaning.
It's unlikely that intensive cleaning of records will become necessary if they're looked after from new. You may need to undertake this task for used records bought from second-hand dealers, charity shops, inherited collections and so on.
There are many different approaches to “deep cleaning” of records and, in my experience, a couple of methods yield much more consistent results others. On occasions, no amount of cleaning will lead to an acceptably low level of surface noise, but it's worth trying at least two of the methods especially if it's a disc you really value.
The first and most obvious approach is to take the disc to a Hi-Fi shop who offer a record cleaning service. The charge varies, but it's generally between £2 and £3 per disc. The usual in-house machine they have is the Keith Monks record cleaning machine. First, a preparatory solution is applied to the surface of the disc. An arm then “tracks” the record grooves from the inner to the outer part of the playing surface. The arm tip has a type of disposable cleaning thread which is contact with the record surface and, at the same time as the arm is traversing the disc, excess solution is sucked up. Unfortunately, speaking from personal experience, I've never had too much success with having records “professionally” cleaned. In some cases I think the record has ended up in a worse condition than it was before. This and similar record cleaning machines can be purchased at a cost which varies from a few hundred pound to several thousand, but insist on trying before buying.
There are also much less sophisticated record cleaning "machines" that are available. With some, the disc is washed vertically with the playing surface (but not the label), immersed in liquid. I have no personal experience of these devices but Amazon reviews seem to be reasonably favourable,but my instincts tell me to avoid it for discs I greatly value.
I have tried a Nagoaka cleaning method which involves covering the record playing surface with a liquid which is left to dry for 24 hours. The liquid becomes a film which is then peeled off. I haven't had any success with this approach either, and there's the significant risk of leaving the dried film remnants on the record surface. Obviously bad news for the stylus if the residue isn't spotted in time.
The next two cleaning methods are the ones I most favour. I have personal experience of both which have yielded exceptional results.
The easiest record cleaner to use and is a delight to operate is an ultrasonic cleaner I have recently tried at a friend's house. A few ultrasonic record cleaners are available on the market, but the one I have experience of is manufactured by KL Audio, a company based in the USA. At £4000 it's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have a large record collection, it's so easy to use on a regular basis that you can keep your collection in near pristine condition.
The machine is well-made but a bit noisy in use. Each disc takes between 5-10 minutes to clean, depending on the time setting you choose. The model I had access to used just de-ionised water to vibrate/wash the rotating disc which is held vertically, with only the playing surface immersed. It has a tank which contains a couple of litres of de-ioised water requiring replacement after 25 or so discs.
After cleaning, the surfaces were visibly very clean and significantly quieter. Strangely enough, on replay the sound reproduction seemed smoother and more detailed. A friend mentioned that this was because a chemical residue left on the record surface at the time of manufacture had been washed away. An interesting thought...
This following method for intensive cleaning is much cheaper, but still very effective. In a perfect world, the ideal is to use this technique followed by the ultrasonic cleaner. I have utilized this particular method for a long while now, and despite the seemingly drastic action of spraying the record surface with a powerful chemical spray, myself and others have noticed absolutely no adverse effects to us or the record.
You will need a decent quality record cleaning brush. The Discwasher one mentioned above is ideal. You will also need a tin of Servisol IPA 170 aerosol spray. This is pure, pressurized Isopropyl Alcohol and contains NO lubricants, even though it's intended use is as a switch cleaner. Please don't use an alternative spray unless you are absolutely certain it contains no lubricants or any other ingredients other than Isopropyl alcohol. The Servisol one is available in the UK from Maplin.
It's a good idea to have to hand a new inner sleeve to hand to avoid replacing the record in a less than clean old one.
The next stage is to ensure the room is adequately ventilated, especially if you plan on cleaning several discs. Ensure there are no naked flames or other strong sources of heat nearby, as Isopropyl Alcohol is a flammable liquid. From now on you'll have to work reasonably speedily as the solution evaporates quickly. Use the spray away from furniture, pets and children!
Hold the record as shown above and spray the surface of the record. Aim for the playing surface about 20 cms away from the end of the aerosol extended nozzle, and 10 cms or so from the outer edge of the record. Spray quickly in a circular motion no more than 2 or 3 times around and on the disc playing surface. This should take no more than a couple of seconds.
Immediately place the wet record on the turntable platter and switch it on. Use the edge of the cleaning brush to smear the liquid to cover the record surface evenly. Hold the now wet edge of the brush, with light pressure, against the record surface on the same spot as it rotates for about 30 seconds. Gradually begin to turn the brush so that the dry edge comes in contact with the record surface. By this time the Isopropyl Alcohol would have begun to evaporate and the disc dry off. Keep the dry edge of the brush in contact with the disc for about 20 seconds, by which time the record should be completely dry.
And that's basically it! Repeat for the other side, of course. The record can be played immediately after cleaning, and you will see that the surface is noticeably cleaner and hopefully hear that it's quieter.
I should say that I have never had a record label marked by the spray, even though it does get spluttered by the jet bouncing off the record surface.
If any of the liquid spills on the turntable unit toplate whilst the disc is rotating, wipe it off quickly. If this happens, I would suggest that a bit too much solution was sprayed on the record.
As I've previously mentioned, neither myself nor my friends who have given this a go have experienced any adverse effects. We have had some excellent results with this simple and effective method, but it's not guaranteed to improve record surface noise every time.
As with the ultrasonic record cleaning machine, on replay you may notice smoother high frequencies and greater detail, presumably for the same reasons as before regarding the removal of chemical residue on the record surface.
Watch the video. A simple and effective way to intensively clean vinyl. Make sure the correct spray is used and take the precautions mentioned above.
A summary of the process is available here. Feel free to send the link to friends.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the available record cleaning methods, but it's a good start. There are some wild methods on You Tube worth exploring. Please contact me if you know of a good alternative to my recommendations.