Cover Story: Cleaning & Caring For Your Vinyl Collection
This week's feature, "Playing for Keeps," takes a look at the resurgence of the vinyl record. When you think about it, vinyl is probably the most enduring musical format in the history of home audio. How many people's record collections were started with hand-me-downs from their parents?
Photo by Flickr user Demin Dave
But it's not just old records that need TLC. When you buy that special edition LP on Record Store Day this weekend, you'll want to do a few things to it to ensure you'll be able to pass it down to your future offspring, or at least listen to it for as many years as you want.
For this advice, I turned to the biggest audiophile I know, my own husband Christopher, who has something like 700 records, nearly all of them vintage, and most purchased for under $2.
Step 1 -- Buy some records
Christopher likes to shop at garage sales and estate sales, "places where you can get people's private collections, which are often better cared for." He says he won't buy anything over $2 unless it's in pristine condition and it's something he's been searching for for a long time.
"Look for scratches and mold on the record. If you want to be a real nerd, you can bring a portable record player to listen for quality. Sometimes mold can be removed by cleaning." (See Step 2.)
"I also look for the "parrot marks" -- where the corners are roughed up, because that usually means the record hasn't been carefully cared for. If there's an imprint of the record on the sleeve, you can tell immediately it hasn't been cared for correctly."
Step 2 -- Clean your records
Christopher uses two products to clean his records before they even touch the turntable. The first is called the Spin Clean. It's kind of like a gentle car wash for your record, and uses velvet brushes to get into the grooves of an album without damaging the vinyl. The special soap used with the Spin Clean contains a surfactant, so the water rinses clean from the record and leaves no residue.
After the Spin Clean, Christopher uses another device called a Nitty Gritty which is a kind a vacuum that will give the record a final deep cleaning. Some people use a special solution for this, but distilled water works just fine, and rinses the record completely clean.
Heights Vinyl sells both cleaning products, and uses then to restore the vintage records that come into the shop. The Spin Clean is about $80 for the full kit, and the basic model of the Nitty Gritty is about $415.
One thing that makes Heights Vinyl unique is that they store restores pretty much every album that comes their their doors using the Nitty Gritty.
"I've taken records where they've been under water, in dirt, where the cover was wet and is, like, glues to the album, and run it through the Nitty Gritty. It might take two runs, but it'll play like brand new," says Heights Vinyl owner Craig Brown. "Scratches you can't do anything about, but anything organic, it'll take it off. They're not cheap, but its the best investment you can make for your collection."
Note that even brand-new, freshly-opened records should be cleaned before the first play. This will help get rid of residue from the pressing process, and can prevent static buildup from those crinkly plastic wrapping most records come in.