Vinyl music gets a lot of flack for the crackly, popping noise people now associate with it. The fact is that vinyls actually don’t sound like that when they are properly maintained and aren’t damaged.
The popping you hear on old vinyls is actually the noise introduced by dust in the grooves. As I explained in my article on vinyl maintenance, the dust deforms the physical representation of the soundwave, causing artifacts.
While it’s always best to prevent or slow down the buildup of dust in your vinyl’s grooves in the first place, eventually you will have to clean them. In fact, it’s the records you love and listen to the most that will need cleaning first and most often.
Here I’ve put together some popular cleaning products that can help you get rid of the dust and restore the sound to what it’s supposed to be.
I’ve listed the ones that I think are the best at the top and the rest are in no particular order.
The pinnacle of record cleaning systems has always been the record vacuum system. The problem is that they are so expensive that only the very wealthiest enthusiasts can afford them, but the Record Doctor promises to give us some of that high-end performance for a relatively low price.
The main advantage of a machine like this is that it removes a lot of the risk of cleaning an LP. While there’s not that much that can go wrong with a traditional washer, you can still accidentally wet the label or otherwise scratch or harm the LP if you aren’t paying attention. The Record Doctor is supposed to not only take that minor risk away but also to perform better than a washer can.
Is it worth the money? Absolutely. Those who have one all agree on the cleaning performance. There are, however, some tradeoffs. The main issue seems to be that some units have motors that get a little hot with repeated use. Not everyone complains about it, but it’s easily solved by just waiting a bit should it happen.
I can’t stress how good a deal this is. I’m not going to expect perfection at this price point, but for us normal mortals this is probably the best deal out there.
Best Vinyl Washer:
Vinyl Styl Deep Groove Record Washer
This liquid washer system bills itself as an all-in-one solution that both washes and dries. The entire system is self-contained, which is a good thing since it can be a little messy to work with a fluid washer system.
It’s a really smart design. There’s a special clamp that makes sure that the label stays dry during washing, so you don’t have to be nervous about it.
It has a built-in drying rack; it also comes with filters to reuse the fluid, although personally it seems like quite a hassle and I’d probably just buy more fluid. If you are into recycling though, this is a neat feature.
Still, this is the most complete liquid washer system I’ve seen and it comes at a pretty decent price. In my opinion this is the best liquid washer for the money you can get.
Spin-Clean – Starter Kit Record Washer System MK2
Spin Clean is a name that comes up a lot when you search for Vinyl washers. It seems that while everyone forgot about the format for a few decades they were ready with the right thing at the right time.
You can also get this cleaner in a clear model, which is a limited edition. Personally I like this bright yellow. It has a very construction-utility feel to it. After all, a vinyl washer is not something that you put on display. It only gets taken out when you actually use it.
This is the starter kit, which comes with the basin unit, 4 oz. of fluid, a pair of brushes, and a pair of rollers. You also get two cloths to dry the record; with that you won’t cause damage to it or get it dirty again. Just don’t use them for anything else.
Spin Clean claims that the included fluid is enough to wash 400 records. This may or may not be a lot, depending on your collection and how hard you are on your vinyls. For most people this kit will be all you need for quite some time.
For most people who have bought one of these cleaners, the satisfaction level is quite high. You fill the basin, you spin the vinyl, and the dust gets taken off along with the fingerprints and grease.
Interestingly, some buyers say it starts to work better after a while; after things have bedded in, so to speak.
The only issue that I really have is the slightly high price. Other than that, it’s a pretty good deal.
Best Starter Pick:
RCA RD1006 Discwasher Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit
This cleaning kit is one of the best-selling items of its kind, if you look at the online rankings. One of the reasons is certainly the low asking price. For only a few dollars you can get started on your cleaning equipment. This is an especially good idea if you’ve recently started getting into vinyl and don’t have that many records yet.
The kit includes a microfiber pad and cleaning fluid. The point of both these items is to remove dust without causing additional scratches to the record. For the occasional cleaning this is enough for most people.
Since the price is so low and you can in theory use only this for maintenance cleaning, I can recommend this kit as a place to start things off.
Vinyl Vac Record Cleaner Vacuum Wand
The Record Doctor machine got my nod as the best deal for the rest of us, but there’s an even cheaper way – to vacuum instead of wash your vinyls. With this cheap little gizmo you only need to add the vacuum cleaner. With the help of an o-ring adapter to make sure it fits your vacuum snugly, you can clean the grooves of dust directly.
It comes with a felt washer to protect the labels and adapters to reduce the amount of suction, since not all vacuums are made equal. If you use this with a wet and dry vacuum you can add cleaning fluid to the record and vacuum it all away in one go.
There are quite a few skeptics who think this is too rough and simple, even if it is a good idea in principle. For all the negative sentiment some people express about this, the actual performance is reportedly pretty good. If you combine this with your existing liquid washer system it’s a pretty complete cleaning solution.
I’m a little too skeptical to recommend it outright, but at the price it may be worth trying with some older records that are going to be junked anyway. In this case, your mileage may really vary.
TechPlay Anti Static Carbon Fiber Record and LP Cleaner
This carbon fiber brush from TechPlay is priced pretty well and comes with a good number of extras that make it a compelling option for the money.
In the kit you’ll find the carbon brush itself, which is meant to clean out the grooves of the record without damaging it in any way. It will also remove the static that increases the amount of dust that makes it into the grooves in the first place. They’ve also thrown in a brush for the stylus (or “needle”) itself. So that covers the two main items that should not have dust on them.
It’s not just dry cleaning brushes either. There’s cleaning solution in the box too.
People who have bought this kit have nothing bad to say about it, so really what have you got to lose?
Record Cleaning Brush Kit, Ultimate LP Vinyl Maintenance Set
While you can find quite a few carbon fiber or carbon fiber-like brushes for not much money, there is something to be said for doing it the right way. As with any product, there’s always a premium version to take a few more of your dollars in exchange for just a bit more quality.
This brush kit from “Record-Happy” comes with much nicer packaging than I usually see, which is a good start.
You get a velvet brush, a carbon fiber brush, a microfiber cloth, and a small amount of cleaning fluid.
The asking price is pretty steep, so this may be something to get for the loving treatment of a few especially valuable or favored records.
The majority of people who have bought this and had something to say about it seem to think that the price is worth it. Whether that’s true for you is only something that you can decide.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.