Vinyl already has many flaws, like warps and scratches. You can’t really fix all of the problems your disc might have had before it comes into your very careful guardianship, but one thing is for sure — Dust and dirt will cause a problem once it comes to record. You can’t fix scratches – they are usually permanent damage, but dust and dirt is something you can fix, and a simple cleaning will make your recordings sound noticeably better.
If you have endless amounts of money and an incessant need for the perfect tool for every job, buy a fully automatic vinyl cleaner like the Nitty Gritty. These machines are super cool and do a great job, but they’re completely unnecessary imho. You can get very good results with commercial cleaning solutions and a good brush. I’ve had the same two vinyl brushes for almost 30 years and they still work perfectly.
The trick to good cleaning is using the right amount of fluid and a light hand with the cleaning brush. A lot of times, you’ll see applicator brush and cleaning solutions sold together. If you don’t already have one get the set. Discwasher has a nice combo available.
Spray the cleaning fluid across the top *once* across and then *once* back , then gently wipe the brush on a clean cloth (or your jeans). This will give you a nice, dense amount of fluid but not so much that it will leave fluid marks. While those stains are not harmful, they’re just extra fluid that you are wasting, and leaves unsightly marks that remain on the disc. Bleech!
I like to clean the record right on the turntable platter. It can’t fall on the floor and it rotates the disc for you – how convenient. Place one edge of the cleaning brush on the disc, starting at the center and then pulling toward you until you reach the edge of the disc. Set the tonearm into playing position, but next to the disc (not on it). This will activate the motor, but the stylus is not touching the record while you are cleaning the disc.
If you have a lot of dirt to clean, then set the speed to 45RPM and clean the surface a few times. You can also put the tone arm in neutral position so that the motor is not on and wipe the disc clockwise and counter-clockwise to work on a stubborn spot. Wipe back and forth with the groove, not pulling toward you. Also, make sure that you don’t bump the tonearm, which will then swing wildly and slam on the disc and damage the stylus. Make sure that you are pressing the brush down only slightly – if you use too much pressure, you can damage the turntable or scratch the vinyl.
After you’ve made a first pass on the surface, just turn the brush over to see if you have a lot of lint/dust/spunk, or just a little bit. Have another go at it if there is a lot, and you will rinse, lather and repeat until you see no schmutz at all. Surface dirt is something you can control, and the grooves of your vinyl can hide a lot of schmutz. As the needle hits the gunk, it will usually mean that the real sound fidelity that was on the disc is covered up and then lost in your recording (if you failed to clean). Friends don’t let friends play dirty records.
One small hint in regard to workflow — Start by cleaning the B-Side. After you’ve got that nice and clean, then flip to the A-Side and start your recording. You might want to give the B-Side a minor wipe after you flip it, but you won’t be spending a bunch of time cleaning after you’ve started the recording.
One other note — Store your records in sleeves, in the vertical position and in cases with doors to reduce the overall amount of dust exposure. Clean discs have less noise, and that is a good thing when it comes time to record them.
One other small hint – turn the cleaning brush upside down so you are looking at the cleaning surface. Brush the stylus back and forth on the brush very gently to remove any dirt or schmutz that has accumulated on the needle. It’s surprising how much build up can get trapped there, especially after cleaning a really dirty disc. Once the needle gets covered in gunk, it won’t work properly and it sounds like gunk. A couple quick little gentle wipes will usually eliminate this potential problem.