The Importance of Record Cleaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of record cleaning. Recently I picked a record off my stock shelves, thinking I’d like to try it. It was a record I’d graded Near Mint, as it looked perfect. But I soon gave up playing it as it sounded terrible, a very noisy surface, and, I felt, an un-appealing performance. I deleted it from my list, but thought I’d try cleaning it on my Keith Monks machine before throwing it away. When I played it after cleaning I couldn’t believe it was the same record. A lovely quiet surface, and now the performance sounds magical. That’s focussed my mind on how dirt on a record not only gives noise but can mask the true beauty of the recording.

When I started Spiral Classics over 30 years ago, I soon realised that I needed a way of cleaning records. My first cleaning “machine" was a Disco-Antistat, which I see are still available. It certainly helped though time consuming, and left a residue to clean off my stylus. But I’d heard that Keith Monks machines were the best way of cleaning records and were used by the BBC Sound Archive. So I was delighted to acquire a secondhand and somewhat battered Keith Monks machine. I was very fortunate that, in those days, the original engineer who designed and built Keith Monks machines was still working for the company, and he overhauled my machine, adding some new parts. With the aid of my excellent assistant, Francis, the machine is still going strong. I had a new pump many years ago, and he’s just renovated that for me with parts from the pump manufacturer.

Nowdays of course, there are many different record cleaning machines on the market. Some years ago I asked my customers what machines they used and what would they recommend, and I asked them again recently. So the rest of this page has the varied responses I've had from customers.

If you don't have a cleaning machine, I'm happy to clean your purchases for you for £3.50 per LP.

Record Cleaning Machines

Spiral Classics customers’ opinions about their machines

Barry:

"I purchased a MOTH kit several years ago which I assembled myself and which I have found very effective. The vacuum is noisy but very powerful. I find two or three revolutions with my cleaning fluid applied using a Parastat brush adequate to remove all but the most stubborn debris - in any case I will not purchase very dirty LPs. I make my own fluid from 80% purified water + 20% Isopropyl Alcohol with a couple of drops of wetting agent or Fairy liquid fine. Re-sleeve the LP and hey presto! Hope that helps."

Ray:

"I’ve been using a Project RCM for 2 yrs. Best upgrade I’ve ever made. Simple to use with what I think are excellent results."

Robin:

"Mine is a Moth RCM. I think it must be the Mk1 version. I’ve had it 20 or so years. It’s never let me down and to date I’ve never had to hunt down spare parts either (I’m still using the original velvet pad!). I think its fair to say therefore it’s robust. Although it says various proprietary record cleaning fluids are available, I’ve stuck to the formula of a ‘witches’ brew’ they recommend of 20% Isopropyl Alcohol, 80% Purified Water, and a tiny amount of photographic wetting agent (the anti-static component of the mix, I think).

Operation is straightforward. The only points I need to pay particular attention to are:

  • to ensure the record is firmly clamped to the machine (by tightly screwing the locking nut so it doesn’t loosen while the machine rotates the record against the plush pad/velvet covered barrel).
  • The second point is to ensure the velvet covered barrel does make contact with the whole record surface - an easy adjustment on my machine. The vacuum pretty quickly removes the solvent, provided the velvet pad is in contact with the whole of the record surface.

One additional tool is needed - an old fashioned traditional clothes brush which I find perfectly effective in sweeping away the detritus that’s captured on the velvet after a side of a record has had its cleaning.

Mine cost (if memory serves) about £200 - but I see now they’re more like £600. Not exactly cheap, but I’d say an absolute essential bit of kit for a record collector. It transformed my enjoyment of listening to records - and indeed has magically restored a few records that appeared to be irretrievably grime-laden into a listening pleasure."

Robin added:

"Equally important is keeping the stylus as clean and free of deposits and grime as possible. I have a Lyra cartridge and Lyra strongly recommend regular (though exceedingly sparing) use of their Stylus Performance Treatment, which I presume acts as a very gentle solvent - 98.2% purified water, 1.8% surfactants. I’ve read accounts online that others have found this is one of the least expensive but most effective “upgrades" available for vinyl enthusiasts. That does makes perfect sense to me; optimising extraction of the information in the groove can only benefit from having both a clean groove and a clean stylus."

Bruce “from the Beeb (the BBC)" tells me that he has a Nessie VinylMaster, which he’s very happy with.

Jeff:

"I have 2 record cleaning machines, both in use currently. One is a VPI 16.5 from the US, purchased more than 20 years ago. The other is an Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaner from Germany bought about 3 years ago. I find each has an important place in getting the best from vintage LPs. The ultrasonic is perfect for lightly soiled records and for deep groove cleaning (and noise reduction) of all LPs. But it won't remove anything sticky or not readily water soluble. For old LPs with such problems (and there are quite a few), I find some physical effort with the plastic brush and vacuum suction that VPI uses, to often be what's needed. Also, I've found the fine fiber plush pads (available from MoFi or Record Doctor) can do a remarkable noise reduction job on the VPI when used together with an alcoholic detergent and with some moderate force to scrub the grooves, moving parallel with them so the fibers penetrate the grooves well. When I go through all this on the VPI, I always finish up on the Audio Desk. Sorry for the long tale but you asked..."

And from Stephen at Audio Consultants who helped me put together my first really fine HiFi system:

"One on my better commercial decisions about 4/5 years ago was to take on the UK distribution of an ultrasonic LP cleaner from the German manufacture called audiodesksysteme. This works exceptionally well and cleans LPs (and now 7"singles) better than any other conventional cleaner based on vacuum suction. They are not cheap but compete with the Keith Monks and Loricraft machines in price. The result that convinced me about how good this cleaner is was that it produced significantly better results with previously cleaned LPs. It does more than remove noise, the sound changes dramatically."

Daryll tells me that he’s very pleased with his Degritter ultrasonic cleaning machine. “It’s been almost two years since I bought the machine and I remain delighted with its performance." If you would like the full information you can find his article here: https://parttimeaudiophile.com/2020/07/05/degritter-ultrasonic-record-cleaning-machine-review/

Dag says:

"I always clean the records with my VPI HW-17 machine that I bought in 2006, and I use this non-alcoholic cleaning fluid:

https://www.ttvjaudio.com/TTVJ-Vinyl-Zyme-p/aat0000169.htm

I am very pleased with the results and have, like you, experienced LPs that have completely changed sound quality before and after cleaning. It's almost like "music archaeology"."

Jonathan tells me he's just cleaned his entire collection using his new Pro-Ject VC-S2 machine. "The difference is amazing - some records sound like new; much nicer than CD"

Home Made Record Cleaning Machine

Luca:

“For the cleaning I ordered from China an ultrasonic cleaning machine with 6 x 80 Khz units. 10 liters of capacity

I have built a quite simple mechanisms and I can wash 8 lp's per cycle, 8 minutes each . I use a long spindle and the rotation is made by a very slow DC motor. I use a mix of 60-70% of distilled water and isopropilic alchool and 2-3 drops of Kodak Photo-flo 200. I have a filtering unit as well and use it every 10-15 cycles or so, depending on the dirt I find great results. a very long job indeed.

Too bad I did not replace the original sleeves, and therefore I still find some where light dust signs that I remove with the Nagaoka roller before playing."

Sophia's comments

I don’t agree with with the opinions that can be found on the web, which say alcohol damages vinyl. My Keith Monks machine uses denatured alcohol much diluted with purified water and a small addition of surfactant. I’ve been cleaning my own records with it for 30 years and have never found a problem of deterioration. And nor I believe has the BBC Sound Archive!

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