How to Clean Vinyl Records with Windex
Whether you are new to playing to playing records or not, it is important to start with a fresh, clean vinyl. After all, dirt, dust and other debris can not only dilute the sound quality, it can also lead to permanent damages to your vinyl record. In fact, dirt and dust are some of the leading causes of those clicks, crackles and pops that may occur while playing your record.
Learning how to clean your records, as well as any new ones you may acquire, is very important when it comes to maintaining your vinyl collection. Below, we discuss whether you should use Windex to clean your albums, as well as some other cleaning solutions you may want to try.
Vinyl Cleaning Myths
Before we talk about the best way to clean, let us talk about some common myths that can actually harm your vinyl records.
First and foremost, despite some contentious debate, you should avoid any cleaner that includes pure isopropyl alcohol. Alcohol is a great way to remove a lot of the stuck on dirt and gunk on many different items, including a vinyl record. However, the issue is not that it cleans so well. Alcohol is so potent that it also strips away the protective coating applied during the manufacturing of your record. This means that, as the layer erodes more and more, the damages and sound quality impairments will actually become worse, eventually being unable to be salvaged.
Commercial Cleaning Products
Most commercial cleaners, like Windex, Comet or Borax, are not suitable for cleaning records. Not only do they often have harsh chemicals that can damage your record’s protective coating or paper label, they also contain additives that leave horrendous residue. This includes dyes, chemical stains, and other such elements. (So, is Windex good for cleaning your records? Absolutely not. A cheap, often damaging solution, Windex will likely destroy your records after repeated usage. Will you notice the damage after your first use? Probably not. However, after four or five cleaning sessions, you may notice serious, permanent issues.)
Tap water contains impurities, such as chlorine and fluoride. These impurities can damage your records and leave built up. As with the commercial cleaners, tap water can also cause damage to your record labels as well.
A Solution That Works
A record cleaning machine is ideal; however, they are often too expensive for a hobbyist to justify investing in. (If you can afford one, though, they are certainly great for cleaning your vinyl records safely.) We have ruled out Windex as a viable cleaning option when it comes to your vinyl records. So now, let us take a look at a solution that works without breaking your budget.
Tools for Daily Cleaning
As stated above, you should clean your records before and after each use. If you do this, a deep cleaning may not be necessary for quite a long time. This means having the right tools for your “daily” cleanings.
Microfiber cleaning cloths are sold in plenty of stores. They are cheap and easy to obtain. They are also ideal for record cleaning because they are non-abrasive and known for their ability to absorb oils and cling to dirt and dust.
An anti-static carbon fiber LP cleaning brush is another wise investment choice. A bit more expensive than the microfiber cloth, the carbon fiber LP cleaning brush is better able to get deep into the grooves of your record without damaging them. They also naturally neutralize static, which helps to reduce how quickly dust is attracted to your records. (In fact, some experts recommend you clean your record before and after playing with a carbon fiber cleaning brush to ensure they are properly preserved and cleaned every time.)
Step 1: Gathering the Cleaning Supplies
If buying a record cleaning solution is not for you, creating a simple cleaning solution from dish soap and warm, distilled, de-ionized water is your next best thing.
However, before we get into how to use these ingredients, we first need to warn you: soap leaves residue. If you can avoid cleaning with anything stronger than water, you should. However, dish soap does not contain abrasive chemicals that can erode the protective layer on your record. This makes it better than alcohol and chemical cleaners.
In addition to your dish soap and warm distilled water, you will also need a bowl, lint-free cloth and a carbon fiber brush or microfiber cloth.
Step 2: Pre-Cleaning Your Vinyl Records
Removing loose particles from your record before you deep clean it is important. Why? These particles may be easily pushed into the grooves and crevices of your record, making them harder to clean and lodging them deeply into the surface. Depending on the type of particle, this can make the album harder to clean or even lead to damages.
Whether you are using a carbon fiber LP cleaning brush or a microfiber cloth, you need to be gentle as you wipe away these loose particles. After all, the goal is not to push particles into crevices, but lightly wipe them away.
Step 3: Prepare the Solution
We recommend you try cleaning with just warm water at first. Using distilled and de-ionized warm water will leave as little residue behind as possible. However, you can add a few drops of dish soap to the warm water in a bowl if needed. (Some collectors recommend hot water instead of warm. However, we find it pointless to use water that is too hot to comfortably handle. The water should be just warm enough to dissolve the soap easily without creating a lot of suds.)
Step 4: Cleaning the Records
Wrap your lint-free cloth around your finger and lightly dip it in the bowl of cleaning solution. (You do not want to saturate the cloth or your record.) Lightly rub the tip of your finger with the cloth over your vinyl record. You should rub in a circular motion, following the grooves of your record. Start in the center of your record and work your way outward. Once you have finished, work in the opposite direction, spiraling from the outside inward.
Do not use your nails. If water drips onto the paper label, gently dab away the liquid with a dry piece of your cleaning cloth. Rubbing may scrape away wet parts of the label, damaging them forever.
When your cloth or bowl of water becomes dirty, it is time for a new bowl and a new cleaning cloth.
Step 5: Rinse
Using only distilled water, do a final pass that helps to remove any remaining residue. As with cleaning, you do not want to saturate your record. You simply want to reduce the amount of residue left behind if possible.
A Note on Handling Your Vinyl Records
Whenever you handle your records, you should do your best to avoid touching any surface used to create music. That means not directly grabbing ahold of the record surfaces. Experts recommend that you always use two hands to pick up your record. If possible, only pick your record up from the sides, using your hands to gently lift and lay your records. (The oils and acids on your fingers are actually very damaging to your vinyl records. They chemically eat away at the protective layer on your vinyl.)
Maintaining Your Record Player Matters Too!
In addition to cleaning your vinyl records, you should also continue to maintain your record player as well.
Ensure your cartridge and stylus remain clean and free of dust and debris. As your stylus drags across the surface of your record, it actually helps to clean out the grooves. However, that also makes it more likely to become dirty faster should your record not be cleaned.
Should you notice an issue with the stylus becoming dirty or skipping repeatedly, you may need to replace this. (A diamond tipped stylus is ideal; however, some manufacturers may also use sapphire.)
A dust cover can help keep your entire record player free of dust. However, regular cleanings and dusting should be a part of your home maintenance plan if you want to prolong the life of your vinyl records and the actual record player.
Taking Care of Your Vinyl Records Prolongs Their Playability
It is undeniable that properly maintaining your vinyl records can help ensure they last for many years. Cleaning your vinyl records the right way is vital to this.
Not only should you clean your records before and after use, but you should also clean any new records you have added to your collection. This is true of brand new records and those pre-owned ones you may find along your journeys. (New records come with a special mold release compound that should be removed before use.)
Damaged records may or may not benefit from a deep cleaning. Deep scratches or damages may not be able to be cleaned or restored back to working condition. However, light scuffs or slight scratches that are cleaned may no longer affect your vinyl record’s playability.