Photo by brett sayles
A Side-by-Side Test of the Best Vinyl Record Cleaners
Vinyl record cleaning solutions are one of the most highly debated topics among collectors. The importance of maintaining clean records is undeniable. The benefits are numerous: extending vinyl life, improving playback, preventing needle wear. You can even increase the value of some records with a good clean.
However, there is no clear consensus on which method is best. There’s certainly something to be said about dry cleaning with a brush or microfiber cloth and no solution. But there comes a time in almost every record’s life when a more intense approach is necessary.
Even the most careful among us are prone to touching the vinyl surface, which leaves deposits of oil that can wear away at the material over time. Mildew can form in humid rooms, and unless you store vinyl properly, your records can become afflicted. Not to mention those records you dig through at thrift stores or garage sales! Record cleaning solutions help to combat these and other vinyl ailments.
We’ve given some guidelines on an efficient process to clean vinyl records, but we stopped short of prescribing a specific cleaning solution. We simply didn’t feel confident in recommending one over the rest. With so many fervent defenders in different cleaning solution camps, how could we without a proper test? This brings us here to the Discogs labs. We tested popular cleaning solutions on some of the dirtiest records we could find.
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Homemade Vinyl Record Cleaning Solutions
We will be covering only a few of the many homespun cleaning solutions you can find across the web. We provided a basic control group using tap water. We iterated on this using the commonly suggested solution of distilled water, dishwashing soap, and isopropyl alcohol. We also wanted to try one of the most anxiety-inducing but passionately defended methods: wood glue.
Control: Tap Water
- Score: 2/5
- Summary: Quick, but lazy. Step up your cleaning with a better solution.
As far as solutions go, there is nothing simpler or cheaper than turning on the faucet and giving your records a rinse.
This method was very quick. However, as you might expect, water by itself was not effective at removing the tougher stains on this record. It did remove some of the lighter marks after some pressure was applied with a microfiber cloth, ultimately leaving the record looking somewhat better than it had before. That being said, we would never recommend this method. If you are going to take the time to clean the records, you might as well do it better than this.
Isopropyl Alcohol, Distilled Water, and Dishwashing Soap
- Score: 3/5
- Summary: An affordable surface clean, but it’s not going to remove the tougher spots.
The exact mixture is one part isopropyl alcohol, one part distilled water, and one to two drops of dishwashing soap. This combination of fluids is widely recommended as an efficient mixture to clean records using what are household materials. The three ingredients were easy to measure and easy to mix. To apply, we ordered a cheap spray bottle online. This makes for a simple application but might not be necessary if you’re looking to save money. Once we sprayed the solution onto the vinyl, we applied light pressure, in a circular motion, to a microfiber cloth to work on the stains.
The record needed a good rinse after application because there was a shiny film left on the vinyl surface. We found that the solution did remove quite a lot of grime, as evidenced by the before and after. However, it was not great at removing some of the tougher spots of the exceptionally dirty record we used. Not shown in the pictures are the copious amounts of time and elbow grease required. We re-cleaned this record with professional solutions later and easily removed more grime.
- Score: 2.5/5
- Summary: Remarkable effectiveness, but too expensive and cumbersome to be used outside of rare occurrences.
Coming out of left-field is the recommendation of wood glue. We thought this was a kind of sick joke that persisted through vinyl forums, but it turns out some collectors swear by wood glue for heavy-duty vinyl stain removal.
This process is cumbersome. You’re going to want to consider gloves and a surface that you won’t mind tossing out when done. As you can see from the image, wood glue was hard to apply in an even layer on the vinyl surface. You’ll also need a lot of the stuff. We used about one-fifth of a bottle just for a single side of a record. You’d probably end up going through a bottle in less than 10 records, though perhaps we could get more efficient over time.
It also takes longer than any other method tested. For wood glue to be effective, you need to let it dry, then peel it off, then rinse, then dry again. Drying out the wood glue also takes up a good amount of space. I’ve got to say though, the peel was pretty rewarding.
In what was probably the biggest surprise of the entire experiment, the results were fantastic. We deliberately used one of the dirtiest records for the solution and it removed the vast majority of grime in one application.
The downside is we used around $1 in wood glue for just one side of one record, so if you do the math with more than a few records, this is easily the most expensive solution tested. If you’re looking for a way to clean an exceptionally dirty record or just want to impress your friends, wood glue might be for you.
Professional Vinyl Record Cleaning Solutions
There are numerous companies that offer vinyl record cleaning solutions that are both easy to use and relatively affordable. We put a few of the most common ones to the test to see if their claims of providing superior cleaning ring true.
- Score: 4.5/5
- Summary: All around solid cleaner that looks nice on your shelf.
Near Mint cleaning solution was developed in the United Kingdom by DJs and record collectors Russ Ryan and Mo Fingaz. (Full disclosure: Russ Ryan is now an employee of Discogs.)
According to the website, Near Mint is the “most effective, chemically balanced, and premium record cleaning solution on the market to date, boasting a double-strength attitude.” Ryan and Fingaz collaborate with record shops, labels, and others in the industry to create limited-edition bottles, which makes them stand out.
The solution was easy to apply. An additional microfiber white cloth allowed us to clean a record without needing any additional materials. Near Mint removed a lot of grime and dirt — even stuff that our homemade concoction did not. The white cloth shows the grime you remove right away, which visually reinforces the work. The solution leaves a nice shine after.
- Score: 5/5
- Summary: Everything you need to keep your records clean, with an added bonus of the best microfiber system we tested.
GrooveWasher was inspired by a former professor of microbiology named Dr. Bruce Meier. His famed Discwasher kit was one of the first in the market in the 1970s. GrooveWasher is an attempt to honor his Discwasher invention. They strive to provide a consumer record cleaning tool and method that cleans the microgrooves so the honest sound can be heard without doing harm to the record or the stylus.
Functionally, the GrooveWasher kit is complete. With other solutions, you might need to purchase distilled water or a microfiber cloth to start cleaning. It’s convenient to have everything you need in one package. The display kit is an aesthetically pleasing nice touch and helpful for keeping everything in one place.
We were very impressed by the microfiber cloth with the handle. It distributed pressure well and kept our grimy hands far away from the clean surface. GrooveWasher wiped away stains that looked tough nearly instantly. It would also last pretty long given how little is needed to clean a record.
TergiKleen Tergitol-based Fluid Concentrate
- Score: 4/5 if manually cleaning just a few records but 4.5/5 if you have a machine or a bunch of records to clean.
- Summary: An incredibly effective cleaner. Better for vinyl record cleaning machines than hand washes.
I initially wanted to test the Library of Congress-approved mixture of deionized water and .5% Tergitol 15-S-7. I quickly learned that Tergitol 15-S-7 is not available from any local shops and must be ordered online in amounts that are both expensive and too large for this experiment. Since this method requires diluting the Tergitol, the amounts I came across were enough to last most collectors a lifetime. Then a coworker mentioned his solution of choice, TergiKleen. Derived from Tergitol, the concentrate can be diluted with distilled water to create a near-match to the original solution.
With the warnings on the box, we decided to use precaution in handling this solution. The concentrate didn’t come with distilled water, so that was another item we had to purchase, which bumps up the cost a bit. They recommend using a cake pan to soak the record. Since we didn’t have this in the office, a tin bucket was used.
As a manual solution, it is probably not your best option. You need additional materials (bucket or cake pan, distilled water, potentially gloves, etc.) to use as described. However, we can see this being the best solution we tested for vinyl record cleaning machines, such as Spin-Clean or Okki Nokki. It’s certainly the cheapest per volume after diluting it in distilled water. TergiKleen is undeniably powerful. We cleaned one of the dirtiest records with little elbow grease and the record was left in pristine condition.
It should last most collectors the full two-year shelf life, just a few drops should make enough solution for hundreds of records. For collectors who have hundreds, if not thousands, of dirty records to clean and absolute purists, TergiKleen is a great vinyl record cleaning solution. If we do an experiment on cleaning solutions to use with a cleaning machine, we’ll test this one again.
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