While the music industry in the digital age has evolved into a handful of streaming services that can deliver any song on demand, there’s one area where music fans are going back to basics: vinyl. Old-school LPs are back, and thousands of listeners around the world are buying their favorite modern hits on vinyl to hear them in their analog glory — and collecting the classics from yesteryear, too.
Almost everything about the turntable experience has evolved: It’s now more affordable than ever to get a USB turntable, a stereo receiver, and audiophile-approved speakers, and new LPs can be found at most major box stores. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed since the very first needle dropped on wax — vinyl records are fragile, and prone to getting dirty.
If you’re new to vinyl, or if it’s been a while since you last put a record on, it’s a good time to learn about vinyl care, because there are new, modern ways to clean your LPs that will help them last a lifetime. Read on for our advice on keeping your records collection clean — and check out our favorite gear for making sure it stays that way.
When it comes to restoring old vinyl to its former glory, there are few key rules to keep in mind.
You can’t fix scratches. Cleaning vinyl can remove dust, dirt, and other particles from the grooves of a record, but nothing can fix a bad scratch. The good news: Many times, marks that look like scratches are actually smudges that don’t harm the vinyl underneath, so a good cleaning can do a lot to improve how a record sounds. The bad news: If your favorite record has a nasty scratch that doesn’t come off with cleaning, it’s permanently damaged. As you’re comparing vinyl-cleaning options, remember to keep your expectations in check — there may be some blemishes that can’t be overcome.
You (probably) can’t fix warping. When a record is subjected to extreme heat, it can warp out of shape — and the minute it becomes anything other than flat, the music becomes distorted and unlistenable. While warp-fixing kits exist, they’re very rarely effective — some of them require you to put the record in an oven — and often end up damaging the vinyl even more. While some people swear they can fix warped records, the reality is that in most cases, a warped record will never sound as good as it originally did.
So what are the best ways to restore a vinyl record? The most popular methods have been around for years, but a few new tools are gaining in popularity. Here are our favorite ways to keep our albums sounding click- and pop-free.
Velvet brushes are the most widely accepted tool for keeping dust off of records. Going through the ritual of using a velvet brush — applying cleaning solution to the brush, starting the turntable, and then gently letting it pass over the record as it picks up dust — can be a fun walk down memory lane, or just a simple way to give LPs a once-over. Velvet brushes are great for routine cleaning and maintenance, but if you have a particularly dusty or dirty record, you’ll want to try a more intense method.
Our favorite: NOBBEE Vinyl Record-Cleaning Brush
Wood glue is also commonly used for cleaning records, but it’s a lot riskier. With wood glue, you cover the vinyl (not the label in the center) with a thin layer of glue, let it dry, and then peel the glue off after. Some users swear by this method, as the glue can be very effective at taking dust and dirt with it. If you’re not careful, however, you can permanently damage records with wood glue, and some wood glues can leave behind residue which can harm your turntable needle. If you’ve got old records, and you don’t mind that they could get ruined, using wood glue can be a fun experiment — but if you want your vinyl to last as long as it can, stick to other methods.
Our favorite: Gorilla Glue
Washing kits are probably the biggest advancement in vinyl cleaning from the last 10 years. Washing kits are essentially plastic bathtubs for your records; they come with pieces to cover the label, then use a special holder so you can hold the lower portion of the record in the (totally safe) cleaning fluid and rotate it to wash the entire LP.
Vacuum kits for cleaning records have always been expensive, but in recent years, prices have dropped from the thousands to the hundreds. Vacuum-based kits are designed to be connected to your existing vacuum — and have a special rotating tray for your records that hold them in place while they’re turned around and vacuumed. Vacuum kits are the safest and most effective way to restore old, dirty vinyl — and they use a lot less liquid than any other solution.
Our favorite: Okki Nokki Record-Cleaning Machine Mk II
The method you should use to clean your vinyl will in some part be based on how you listen to your records. Here’s our favorite vinyl maintenance gear for some common scenarios.
For the audiophile
If you need pristine audio quality from your records, consider using multiple approaches for keeping your setup clean.
For cleaning and restoring old records, the Record Doctor V Cleaning Machine is your best bet. It’s built with the same technology that similar vendors charge thousands for, and it’s incredibly simple to use.
For day-to-day maintenance, Record-Happy’s velvet brush will do the trick for your records, and the included stylus cleaner brush will help make sure your needle stays in good shape.
For the casual listener
If you’re just getting into vinyl, or you just need some basic maintenance products that are simple to use, these are your best bets.
For basic cleaning, we recommend getting a Vinyl Buddy, which is sort of like a lint roller for your records. Using a Vinyl Buddy is great for giving your albums a once-over before playing — and it doesn’t use any liquid, making it one of the safest cleaning methods available.
For the ultra hipster
It’s OK to want your vinyl gear to show off your personal style! Here’s the best record-cleaning gear for those who care about style as much as functionality.
For restoring old or dirty records, use a Spin Clean Mk 2. The Spin Clean system does a great job of getting rid of long-term dirt and debris — and it just looks plain cool.