Vinyl records are nostalgic and a whole lot of fun to collect. Plus, any audiophile would tell you they give the best sound quality of any format and provide a superior listening experience—assuming they’re properly cared for and not covered in dust, that is. If your own record collection needs a little TLC, our expert-approved guide on how to clean vinyl records is a good place to start. Read on for the full scoop.
How to Clean Vinyl Records without Doing Any Damage
Meet the Expert:
- Nathaneal Stark is a vinyl expert and buyer at Academy Record Annex, one of NYC’s longest-running and most reputable record shops.
How to Clean Vinyl Records
There are cleaning sprays and cleaning kits designed specifically for this purpose (and should be used according to the instructions they come with), but Stark tells us that a simple DIY method using a solution of alcohol and water is equally effective for regular, light cleanings. Here’s how to do it.
What You’ll Need
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Filtered water
- Spray bottle
- Microfiber cleaning cloth
- Remove the record from its jacket and paper inner sleeve and lay it flat on top of the inner sleeve.
- Create a very dilute solution of alcohol and water by combining one part isopropyl alcohol with three parts water in a spray bottle. (Note: Never use undiluted alcohol on your records, as this will damage the protective coating.)
- Spritz just enough of the solution onto the LP to give it a light cover. It should look as though it’s been misted, not soaked.
- Use a microfiber cleaning cloth—Stark recommends the thinner kind used for eyeglasses—to wipe down the record, applying just enough force to ensure that the dust and grime is wiped away.
- Flip the record over and repeat.
How to Deep Clean Vinyl Records
The above method is excellent for regular maintenance cleanings and for records that are only slightly dusty or dirty, but the expert says you’ll have to bring in the big guns if you want to restore a seriously grimy record (like one that’s been sitting in your parents’ basement for 30 years, for example). Whenever a deep cleaning is in order, Stark recommends applying Tuff Stuff, a vinyl upholstery cleaner, to the record according to the steps described below.
What You’ll Need:
- Tuff Stuff Vinyl Cleaning Spray
- Paper towel
- Regular cleaning solution (either a store-bought cleaner designed for records or the 25 percent alcohol solution described above).
- Microfiber cleaning cloth
- Take the record out of its jacket and inner sleeve and lay it flat on top of the inner sleeve.
- Evenly spray a layer of Tuff Stuff onto the surface of the record and briefly let it set.
- Wipe the record down with a paper towel to remove most of the Tuff Stuff (and the grime).
- Spray the record with your regular cleaning spray (i.e., the alcohol and water solution described above) and wipe it down with a clean microfiber cloth to remove any Tuff Stuff and dirt left behind.
- Flip the record over and repeat on the other side.
How to Properly Handle Vinyl Records
If your favorite LP has started skipping, it’s entirely possible that a quick cleaning will resolve the problem. That said, vinyl records are quite delicate and highly susceptible to damage that can be difficult, if not impossible, to undo. As such, Stark emphasizes the importance of proper handling to prevent smudging, scuffing or scratching of a record—specifically, the expert recommends “using your thumb and other fingers to hold a record by its outer edge and label,” but nowhere in between. In other words, the only place you should make contact with the flat surface of the record is on the label.
How to Properly Store Vinyl Records
Careless handling isn’t the only thing that can compromise the quality of a vinyl record. Indeed, Stark tells us that proper storage is just as important, because “leaving records for extended periods of time on top of each other, under something or leaning loosely can lead to storage warps.” So how should vinyl records be kept? Per the expert, “you typically want to keep your vinyl stored on a shelf with the spine facing out at you and compact enough to keep them tight, but loose enough so you can take them out easily.”