How to clean vinyl records with soap and water

When I was 12 years old, I received a Christmas gift that changed my perception of music. My dad wheeled out a giant, wrapped rectangle, and two slightly smaller rectangles. I peeled off the paper to find two big speakers, and a stereo system topped with a record player. My middle school years were blessed with a classic rock phase, one that was strongly encouraged by my dad’s CD collection in his car, and my sudden interest in Guitar Hero.

Of course, this gift would not be complete without some records to play on it. My next package was a bundle of vinyl records, including my favorite album at the time: Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic. Excited was an understatement. We immediately plugged everything in and I gently took the Aerosmith vinyl out of its sleeve.

My dad showed me how to place the needle properly onto the record, and the within seconds, I was in awe of the sounds that were travelling out of the speakers. I had listened to this album countless times digitally on the computer or through my iPod, but this was a whole new experience. I was hearing instruments and noises I didn’t know were there. This was music as it should be.

My dad gave me a fair warning not to turn the speakers up past a couple notches, unless I wanted the cops called for a noise complaint. However, that didn’t necessarily stop me from blasting my vinyl records nonstop for the few days following Christmas. My sister and I would sit on my bed and just enjoy the music. We went from Toys in the Attic, to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, to 1984, and then to Who’s Next? I was very careful when switching the record out for the next one, as my dad has explained to me that they were easily damaged and smudged.

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Well, my sister wasn’t as careful as I was, and I watched in horror one day as she grabbed one of the records from its sleeve right on the grooves. I rolled my eyes and told her I would kill her if she damaged my vinyl. She rolled her eyes at me and placed the record on the turntable. When she dropped the needle, I was relieved to hear the music begin to play clearly and flawlessly. That is until about 30 seconds in, when the speakers crackled.

“Kristina! What have you done?” My mellow-dramatic, middle school heart sank into my stomach. I called my dad to see what could be done to save my record, and he giggled on the other end of the phone. As long as my vinyl wasn’t scratched, he explained, then it just needed to be cleaned.

As it turns out, there are a number of methods and products to help keep vinyl records spotless and sounding pristine. There are even machines you can purchase that are specifically designed and manufactured to clean vinyl records. However, my 12-year-old self wasn’t going on Amazon to order one, so I could wait a few days before hearing this record again.

As my dad suggested, and miraculously had a handful of, microfiber cloths were the easiest, at-home tools to clean the vinyl records. First, take a dry, clean microfiber cloth and gently wipe the record in a circular motion a few times. Repeat this step in the opposite direction as well. Using distilled water, soak the microfiber cloth and gently wipe the record again. Once this is done, rinse the record gently and carefully with the distilled water, and place the vinyl record in a safe, upright position to dry.

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Boom, the fingerprints were gone, and my vinyl record was playing beautifully again. This is, of course, the most cost-efficient and convenient way to clean vinyl records. Luckily, mine were still generally new at the time and only had some fingerprints on them. There was a lack of any serious dirt, dust or grime that had built up over time.

Fast-forward to 10 years later, and now my collection has expanded. Although digital music platforms have certainly taken over, many artists, bands, and producers continue to release their work on vinyl records. My music taste has evolved to consist primarily of electronic dance music; however, I still own all of my classic rock records in addition to these newer albums. After 10 years of constant playing and traveling back and forth to college with me, my classic rock albums swept up plenty of particles along the way.

Because I have invested in my collection through out the years and still listen to them daily, I invested in a pretty little tool to keep them in top shape. This tool is a carbon-fiber brush, specifically designed to sweep dust off of vinyl records. This type of brush is made with anti-static protection, and requires a careful, light touch in order to not damage the record or make the problem worse.

For serious record enthusiasts, there are record-cleaning machines that remove the likelihood of human error and do the best job of cleaning your records. These are usually priced around a few hundred dollars, so I have yet to invest in one.

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There are several ways that I keep my records clean without having to pay a pretty penny for a machine. The first of these: do not touch the record with your fingers, as we have learned to not do, thanks to my sister. I also store my records in plastic dust jackets, and keep my entire collection in a closed cabinet. Make sure you are also keeping your turntable and stylus clean. The more often you give your records a quick cleaning, the less likely you’ll build up serious dirt that can damage them.

Although this might seem like a lot of work, the unmatched sound of a vinyl record is well worth the TLC that each one requires. Especially if you’re lucky enough to come across a rare one hidden at your local record store. Vinyl records are the treasure of the music industry.