Cleaning Records

Ronsonol lighter fluid...a record collector's/seller's friend.
My VPI record cleaner. A perfect machine for cleaining records if you have $500 to spend.

One of the most frequent questions I receive at my shop is how to clean records.

I use a VPI record cleaner, which I recommend to anyone with a sizable collection or resale business. A vacuum- based cleaner like the VPI costs more than $500, so it’s probably not the best option for someone who only has 100 records sitting in the dusty basement.

There are many record cleaning kits that cost $20-$40. I don’t care for kits that use hand-held brushes that require you to use your arm as the fulcrum. In my experience, these brushes just redistribute dust and dirt on the record surface. They also can increase static electricity, which will attract more dust to the dry playing surface. I recommend using a soft cloth like the kind you would use to clean eye glasses. Dirtier records always will require more attention, but I find this method is at least as effective as using a brush.

For any cleaning method, you should use a liquid cleaning solution. There are commercial products available, but many collectors and dealers mix their own. They often recommend a mixture of 50 percent rubbing alcohol and 50 percent distilled water, along with a few drops of Photo Flo or non-abrasive soap (like shampoo or dish soap.) As with any cleaning method, a little trial and error should get you a process that you like. Practice on a few records you don’t care much about.

What about an album jacket or 45 label with an old price tag or radio station sticker that you don’t dare trying to peel off? Believe it or not, these remove easily with a little lighter fluid. Yes, lighter fluid! (I use Ronsonol).

Here’s how you do it: Saturate the sticker and the area around it. Don’t stress about the lighter fluid staining the jacket or label – it won’t. Give it a few seconds and then carefully start picking at the corners of the sticker with your fingernail. In most cases, the sticker will peel off quite easily. If not, be patient and let the lighter fluid dissolve the old adhesive.

This method does not work on all stickers/tape, including those that use water-based glues, but my success rate has been excellent. Words can’t explain the joy of removing old medical tape from a rare Fifties rockabilly 45 and leaving almost no trace of it ever having been there. Once the sticker and glue residue have been removed, allow about 15 minutes for the lighter fluid to evaporate. Again, practice with some records you don’t care about.

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