Dust is the silver-tarnished bread crumb of record collecting. Although we love it to some degree, the aural mischief lurks in between the grooves and wall-rides the ebony corridors of you records, causing a handful of playback issues. If you want to learn how to prolong the livelihood of your record collection, dig no further. I have a wealth of knowledge on how to revitalize your cherished music medium, but today I’ll keep it simple and provide a few easy upkeep methods. All you need is a short list of supplies.
- Magic Eraser
- Microfiber cloth
- DIY cleaning solution (distilled water, isopropyl alcohol, rinse agent)
- Carbon fiber brush
The maze of record grooves is the ultimate “John Hancock” of an artist’s mark on creativity. Look at what you are holding. It’s the finger-printed black phantom image of sound, branded like a snowflake. It’s delicate, and foreign particles (dust, dirt, and mold) will inevitably interfere with your playback quality – your audible fix delivered by a needle. We call it a stylus, and like any diamond-studded specimen, you should treat it with care.
Vinyl records are like semi-portable black holes. They engulf everything that comes in their proximity. It’s important to avoid touching the surface of the record. Think “finger-friendly” not “Frisbee”. The grooves will entrap even the smallest of particles. Keep in mind, dust and grime are not the only culprits of poor record maintenance.
The most important component on your record player can also slowly kill off your vinyl if not properly maintained. It’s a slow death.
Your record stylus needs to be kept clean as much as possible. Do you remember that scene from Jarhead starring Jake Gyllenhaal? Well…
This is my stylus. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My stylus is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without records, my stylus is useless. Without my stylus, my records are useless.
A record stylus dressed in a checkered bouquet of dust will soil the grooves and ruin sound quality.
Think of your turntable stylus like a translator. It’s your diamond key to the analog realm. The subtle movements of the cantilever are captured by the small microphone located in the cartridge. Did you spin a record with fingers covered in orange Cheeto residue? Well, now Chester Cheeto has a shaker solo on side B of Led Zeppelin IV, and he’s there to stay.
The stylus will track through the record grooves, picking up dust, dirt, mold, and anything else you can imagine. This is all because you didn’t clean your stylus! Luckily for all of us vinyl heads, there is a cheap and effective method to keeping your stylus crystal clear.
For a few dollars, you can run up the street and grab a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. These little micro-sponges are made up of a complex network of ‘spider web’ fibers that will carefully lift and remove gunk accumulated on your stylus. All it takes is 3-5 vertical drops onto the surface of the sponge without water. Water will active the detergent in the eraser and can potentially ruin the stylus. A single eraser will last you for months. This is the cheapest and most effective cleaning method to clean a stylus.
The stylus is only half the battle.
There is an overwhelming selection of record cleaning products out in the void, but not all of them are efficient. As a general rule of thumb, don’t be quick trust them all. Allow me to recommend this easy formula. There are several variations of this online. I just find that this solution works best for me.
- Spray bottle
- Distilled water
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Rise agent
The general idea is to mix 1/4 cup of alcohol to every 3/4 of distilled water with 2-3 drops of the rinse agent. Mix the solution in a spray bottle, and you’re good to go. It’s best to use the solution with a soft microfiber cloth. Matter of fact, you shouldn’t clean your vinyl with anything that isn’t a microfiber cloth. FYI, don’t let the cleaning solution come in contact with the labels!
Let’s Talk Static
Static is definitely caught in a love/hate relationship with most record collectors. It comes with the territory. It gives vinyl records a lovable, unforgettable demeanor. Of course, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t grow overwhelming from time to time.The best tool for eliminating static is your friendly neighborhood carbon fiber brush.
Carbon fiber brushes are designed to lift static charge from the record surface. They’re affordable and effective; however research before you buy. I highly recommend investing in a quality brush with well-secured fibers and a sturdy handle. The drawback to cheaper brushes is the chance that loose fibers will slip between the record grooves. Be careful and choose your toolkit wisely.
The method behind carbon fiber brushes is simple. Allow the record to spin on the platter and carefully let the brush rest over the surface just slightly. If you press too hard, you risk ruining the brush and possibly the record. Less is more.
Storing Your Record Collection
I hate when shoppers carelessly fumble through a long stack of records and let them collapse over one another! Call me a control-freak if you want. This is how records warp and lose their shape. Warped records make it difficult for the stylus to track through the grooves evenly.
Properly storing your collection will ensure that your records play true time after time. It doesn’t take much TLC. All you need to do is keep your records facing upright. Your records will warp over time if you stack them like pancakes. As always, keep them stored in a crate or on a shelf.
You gotta protect what you love. There is a lot we can learn from appreciating and respecting the medium. In general, find what works for you and your wallet. Enjoy your records with a nice cocktail and remember, “Without records your stylus is useless.”