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.
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:
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".
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.
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.
Step 2: Number 13
OK, here's the caveat. This is going to make some people cringe (like sanding records does), but there is one household cleaner designed specifically for removing gooey, impacted, crud. The same stuff stuck way down deep in your record grooves.
All I know is, it works for me.
Step 3: And One More Thing...
Your needle gets dirty too. I used to cringe whenever I used to brush my needle, thinking what the force of the bristles was doing to it. Now, I dip my needle onto a dab of blue tack. It pulls any dust straight down with almost no force on the needle itself.
I put a small amount into a plastic screw cover and tacked that to the deck of the turntable in a place the needle can conveniently set onto.
As I've stated before. These are the things that work well for me. They may not work the way you expect or hope, but together, I'm able to get exquisite sound out of some pretty bad bargain albums.
And for me, that's what it's all about.
Step 4: Oh, and One More Thing...
What I haven't covered is the dust floating around outside my system. It's everywhere and no sooner than when I have a record spotlessly clean, it's settled back onto the surface, making my labors moot.
We're having a whole-house filtration system installed next month, and I'm surprised this isn't something more vinyl record enthusiasts aren't discussing. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep a record dust-free long enough to play all the way through without hearing those tell-tale "snicks" caused by our dusty environment.