Instructables

Unconventional Record Maintenance

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Convention says: "Anything that touches a record's surface, better be pure, distilled, uncontaminated by human hands and a long list of other do's and dont's.

Bunk.

Vinyl is forever.  Houses are sided with it.  Cars are loaded with it.  Vinyl furniture and vinyl signs covered in vinyl paint stand outside, unharmed, rain or shine for decades.  Vinyl withstands most chemicals, acids, oils and anything else we can throw at it.  It's difficult to find things that'll destroy vinyl.  Vinyl will melt with heat and a few chemicals that harm people as much as it harms plastic, but your records aren't likely to come into contact with any of those things.

Don't get me wrong.  Vinyl can be harmed.  Vinyl is soft.  And soft things can be harmed by hard things.

Some things like water have minerals in them and minerals are hard.   Fingers can have oil on them and oil is sticky.  Sticky things attract hard things, but these are the things cleaning materials are supposed to get rid of.

I've gathered together a few unconventional cleaning materials that work for me:
 
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Step 1: My Stuff

From left to right:

1. Light: It's amazing how dark a record surface is, sitting on top of a turntable, that's stuck in a corner.  I use one of those cheap LED things mounted to a mini tripod.  I set it next to the turntable and aim it so the light skips across the record at a very low angle. Every bit of dust that's resting on the surface shows up like neon.  If you think your record's dust-free, hit it with a bit of light and think again.

2. Lint Roller:  This won't get into the grooves of your album, but the polymer roller is Incredibly sticky, washes off with water and will remove tons of dust and lint off the surface of an album.  I usually use the lint roller before I use the disc washer and carbon fiber brush.

3. Block and Bar cleaner:  There's an Instructable on this, so I won't go into it too much, but the bottom line is, it does the same thing the lint roller does, only deep into the grooves.  I now use 2 bars.  One is pointed for "spot cleaning".

http://www.instructables.com/id/My-Incredible-Vinyl-Record-Block-and-Bar-Cleaner/

4. This is new:  I've been experimenting with sandpaper and this sandpaper block has an extension with a pin that fits into the record's spindle hole.   It keeps the sandpaper all parallel with the disc's grooves.  I'll most likely glue the smallest grit paper I can find to it and use it to polish the surface of the record after I've sanded it.

http://www.instructables.com/id/Bring-Ruined-Records-Back-to-Life/

5. Carbon Fiber Brush:  Ain't technology wonderful?  Carbon fibers are many, many times smaller than a hair, extremely strong and many of them will fit all the way down to the bottom of a record's groove.  Carbon is also conductive, so the manufacturers of these incredible tools make the part your hold out of metal.  When using a carbon fiber brush, it's important to ground yourself to allow static electricity to bleed off.  That's why my thumb is on the metal platter.  I use this brush last, just before I play the record.

6. Sorry, that large thing on top doesn't have anything to do with maintenance.  I grabbed everything next to the turntable and that came with it.  What that is, is a stand to hold my microscope and camera so I can take pretty pictures of record grooves:)

7. Underneath the stand is my microscope:  Mine is  a 30X Micronta that probably came from a scientific house 30 years ago.  It comes in handy for lots of other things as well.  With it, I know what's going on with the grooves in my albums and the needle.  Invaluable.

8. Exactly what you think it is... A lint brush:  My Disc Washer brush is going bald, I've heard new ones don't use the same material, so until I can find a decent used one... It works for me... Material isn't as fine, but the carbon fiber brush does most of the work anyway.

How you use the brush is important.  You don't need a lot of fluid (I picked up some D4 real cheap on ebay).  A few drops along the front edge, spread it out with the bottom of the bottle and lay the front edge of the brush on the playing surface and rotate the platter until all the grooves are wet.  Slowly tilt the brush so the rear (dry part) is doing the work.  Do that once or twice around the record.  Lift the brush off slowly and your record should be clean.  Do this every time you play a record.  The clothes brush isn't as full as a Disc Washer brush is, so you will have to reduce the amount you tilt it.  It's also going to have a curved shape that is more difficult to keep in contact with the record's surface.

9. Sandpaper:  Don't cringe, don't laugh... It really works.  See the Instructable above.

10. RCA D4+:  Some people don't think this is as good as other brands, but it was inexpensive and it works OK for me... Just depends on you.

11.  My balding Disc Washer brush:  Getting old can be tough.

12.  My new best friend:  Tightbond II wood glue.  This does work, and it works well.  If you find yourself with a record that's more dirt than vinyl, you may want to try this.  I was disappointed when I wasn't able to add the link for an Instructable here.  If you know of one, please tell me.  It's not my idea, but maybe I'll make one myself.  The process is not as easy as washing, but the results are amazing.  I wouldn't do it for every dirty album, but certainly for those that don't respond to anything else.



ellisgl2 years ago
Is this the link that you are looking for? http://www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?t=99837
bfk (author)  ellisgl2 years ago
Thanks... There are tons of videos and descriptions about this technique out there, but alas, I wasn't able to hit on any "Instructables" about it. I should have linked to an outside source. I'll add one after the Superbowl.

I thought wood glue was a joke at first myself, but after thinking about it, I attempted it on a trashed disc (fail). I analyzed my mistakes and tried again. What a difference. It really grabs hold of that embedded material and pulls it out.
ellisgl bfk2 years ago
And it's fun to pull off your fingers!
bfk (author)  ellisgl2 years ago
lol :)
bfk (author) 2 years ago
I'm sorry I have to have to defend my previous comment about the power of a 30x microscope, but it needs to be addressed. If you have a more powerful device (one that allows you to move about conveniently), by all means use it, but I find that 30x is more than enough for my needs:

This image below shows the detail 30x is able to provide. I don't know exactly what is sitting at the bottom of those grooves, but I know the bottom should be smooth, so whatever those are, they have to go:
Screen shot 2012-02-04 at 9.19.53 AM.jpg
dosadi2 years ago
The reason records are supposed to be handled carefully is NOT because vinyl is fragile. It's because a record has millions of tiny little places where contaminants can lodge themselves permanently. It isn't just dust. Some of the suggestions here will leave MORE junk on the record that will be harder to remove than dust. You won't be able to inspect the inside of grooves .001" wide at 30x. Merely seeing the surface of the record isn't enough. It's what is inside the grooves that counts. The junk in the grooves then alters the sound that LPs are so prized for. This is a great way to permanently ruin a record.
bfk (author)  dosadi2 years ago
Wow! Sorry if I offended you. You've brought up several good arguments that would have been absolutely true 40 years ago when we didn't have the ability to reach into a .001 wide groove with a million .0003 dia. carbon fiber bristles.

I agree with you 100% that "It's what is inside the grooves that counts."

Today, there are only two ways I know of how a contaminant can become lodged inside a groove:
1. When it's chemically dissolved into the vinyl, and
2. When it's mechanically embedded into the vinyl.

Chemicals capable of dissolving vinyl have no business being near records. And the most common way something can become mechanically embedded is via the needle. The tools and methods I use are able to "un-embed" most, if not all of those contaminants.

Everything else can be removed by modern cleaning compounds and brushing, all the way down to the very bottom where even the smallest, most expensive needles don't go. Residual chemicals from cleaners left on the groove walls play no part in effecting the sound, nor do they, after evaporation, play any great roll in attracting new contaminants.

Groove walls are cut at 90 degrees to each other. Looking at them from above is like looking into a corner. Everything's exposed and anything effecting the needle's track can be seen, even at 30x. It may not show you what the object is, but you'll certainly be able to see it's abnormal shape and reflection inside the groove.

On old, pre-used records, most problems aren't caused by contaminants at all, but by the vinyl itself, deformed by carelessness, needle wear (old needles) or abuse. The only way to repair that is by removing the vinyl that's impinging on the grooves... And that doesn't take rocket science to do... Just micro grit sandpaper and guts. If the deformed vinyl goes deep into the groove, you're out of luck, but most scratches and dings are at the upper edges. Sandpaper doesn't effect the walls, only the lands and the edge between them and the groove.

Less than 1/4 of the albums I pick up have been cared for properly. Those will be fine with a single initial cleaning, a brushed on cleaning agent and a carbon fiber brushing before every play. The rest require more agressive, unconventional techniques.

Nothing here, save for sanding the substrate itself, will change anything about the vinyl. The entire goal is to expose everything BUT the vinyl and the technology we have today allows us to do that.

What I propose, is that we use it.
I believe the author, in a previous post, mentioned the sanding method and using an inexpensive pressure washer to clean the record.