I have talked a lot about why records sound better, and about some of my favorite albums, but I have never talked about how to clean and care for your vinyl albums(UPDATE: I have talked about it, check out how to Make Your Own Block and Bar Record Cleaner). The main reason most people don’t like the sound of vinyl is because they have only listened to dirty records. Dirt and dust get in the grooves and that’s what causes the pops and clicks that are associated with vinyl records.
The above picture is from an electron microscope from the University of Rochester. It shows the dirt and grim that collect on the grooves of records. You don’t want this.
The best way to clean a vinyl record is to buy a record cleaning machine. The Moth MKII is a good one to use, as it is a vacuum powered cleaner.
You can find the Moth record cleaner at Juno.co.uk. Using a record cleaner is the best and most effective way to clean a vinyl album. However, it is a bit expensive for the casual listener. So there are more options for those not willing to spend the money, however, the quality of cleaning goes down from here.
The next option is to use a solution and brush to remove the junk from the records. You can use homemade solutions, such as water and a tiny bit of gentle dish soap (with no moisturizer); or you can use 90% isopropyl alcohol, NOT rubbing alcohol. You can usually find some cleaner at your local record shop too. Use this with a clean dry fabric preferably a cloth diaper. Rub the record with the grooves a few times in both directions to get the junk out. Make sure that the record is completely dry before you play it. Also make sure that you do not get the label wet.
While doing all of this, handle the record by the edges, and don’t touch the grooves with your fingers. Touching the records wrong is one of the biggest reasons why they get dirty.
Another important item to have is the proper sleeve for your records. Whenever I buy old records, especially if they are at a flea market or something, they are usually missing the inner sleeve. Or they have one made of paper. Paper degrades over time and leaves dust in the grooves. You can get a pack of 50 inner sleeves for about $15-$18. These will not degrade and also help in reducing static.
I also use an anti static cleaning brush every time I play a record. This doesn’t take the place of a good cleaning, but it helps keep off surface dust and can keep cleaned records cleaner a lot longer.
I love the sound of vinyl, but I don’t love the pops and crackles that come with dirty records. I have read comments of people on the internet say that they like the cracks and pops, and I think that many of them have no idea what a good, clean vinyl record should sound like.