10 tips on how to keep your records clean and tidy

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Record collectors come in various types and ways. Some do it for the quantity, others enjoy the hustling. There are those who prefer specializing, hunting for limited editions or completing the discography of their favorite artist. And of course you can just be an amateur - who needs the biggest anyway - or a rookie. But whatever your degree of collecting is, we all share the same love for the black gold and we want to take good care of our goods. In order to do so, we turned to a few Belgian vinyl collectors for their advice about how to keep your records clean and tidy.

1. Your hands

A few simple rules will make your life as a vinyl collector easier. As you probably already now, a vinyl record is made of grooves. It’s an analog sound storage medium based on an inscribed modulated groove that can be “read” by the turntable needle. This means that anything that comes in between these grooves and the needle can affect what you hear from the speakers. Once a vinyl records leaves its sleeve, the only other thing that it will be touched by next to the needle are your very own hands. Onda Sonora’s Bart Sibiel states the obvious but often forgotten piece of advice: “Always make sure to have clean hands. So don’t eat chips or fries while playing records. And always avoid to put your fingers on the grooves, because even washed hands will still be full of natural oils and leave stains.” 

2. Fight the dust

The second thing that can come between the grooves and the needle is dust, the biggest enemy of any vinyl record. But with a few simple tricks, you can prevent your record from become a dusty moon landscape. Everything starts with how you store them, since it’s in storage they’ll eat most of the dust. Bart Sibiel again with the words of wisdom: “Never leave your turntable behind with a record on it, otherwise it’ll be naked and unprotected. And when you store it, turn the inner sleeve a quart of a revolution before you insert it in the outer sleeve, to close it. Put it sideways in your record cabinet.”

3. Protect the cover

Vinyl records usually come with a cardboard cover. To make sure these age well, a plastic sleeve is recommended. Harde Smart dj Richard De Muijnck buys sleeves for both his 7 inch and 12 inch records. He also sticks small stickers on them with the bpm of each record written on. If you share a collection with others, this can be practical to avoid discussions. Bart Sibiel recommends seamless plastic sleeves for dj’s or rougher use, they last longer and are stronger, while the ones with a seam are prettier and the plastic brighter. Most record shops sell plastic sleeves. 

Plastic sleeves at Crevette Records, Music Mania or Bax-shop.  

4. Store your records vertically

Bart Sibiel: “Because if you pile them up horizontally, the weight will crush and deform your records.”  

5. Go anti-static

Better to prevent than to cure, but at a certain point you will want to clean your vinyl records, the war on dust will never be 100% victorious. And when you buy second hand vinyl, you might have to deal with dust and dirt collected by the previous owner. Much appreciated among vinyl collectors is a simple anti-static brush. It enters the grooves and removes dirt that lies within and it drains static electricity which attracts dust in the first place. For Bart Sibiel using the anti-static brush has become a reflex: “It’s essential in my daily routine. These brushes exist in many sizes and weights, as long as the brush is soft enough in order not to damage the record you’re all good.”  

6. Do the dishes: the simple way

The cheapest and easiest way to clean your records is to use a non-abrasive microfibre cleaning cloth, which is good at absorbing oils and removing dust and grime. This can be used in combination with a fluid, but don’t use anything from your kitchen cleaning gamma, these often do more bad than good. Even tap water isn’t ideal, since this also has plenty of impurities that can re-infect the grooves. A whole range of record cleaning fluids exists. Mieke Pauwels from SupAfly Collective is a fan of the Vinyl Styl solutions, while Bart Van Neste (dj Red D) prefers Rodec. Plenty more are available, most record shops have them in stock. Bart Sibiel also tips cotton wool in combination with a fluid.

Record cleaning fluid at Crevette Records, Music Mania, Bax-shop or Vinylstyl.

7. Do the dishes: the deep clean

Nicolas Geysens aka San Soda is an expert when it comes to deep cleaning your records. When we visited the Belgian dj and producer at his home in Berlin for our collectors series a few years ago, he proudly showed us his Okki Nokki cleaning machine. This machine is rather expensive, but is worth the investment when second hand vinyl is what makes your heart beat faster. 

More info about Okki Nokki at official dealer Widescreenaudio.be

Nowadays Nicolas is experimenting with a new cleaning technique called ultrasonic cleaning. In his own words: “It’s a process that was already used for jewelry or industrial parts, but only just recently was discovered by vinyl collectors. Because of recent research and development the price of the system is dropping, I got a set-up for about 400 euro at The Vinyl Stack plus a cleaner tank at Amazon for 200 euro. This allows me to clean 4 records at the time in about 15 minute per session and the result is really mind blowing.

8. Check your needle

Both Bart Sibiel and Richard De Muijnck point out that taking good care of your records also means taking good care of your turntable needle. Richard replaces the stylus of his needles every six months, while Bart also advices to take good care of the adjustment of the needle and tonearm. When this isn’t properly configured, the needle risks to become too heavy and thus harm you records.

9. Brief your flatmate or family

Bart Sibiel: “Records and turntables are delicate items, so make sure to brief your family members, friends or janitor. Especially with children or pets in the same room, make sure to put your records aloft.

10. Don’t treat them as porcelain

You can probably put a record collector on a scale with on the one side those who treat their records as museum pieces, while on the other side those who prefer chaos over order and have lack of any of the above tips and tricks. Bart Van Neste doesn’t want to see his records as if they were made of porcelain: “Anything you use thoroughly in life will eventually become used and damaged. In my opinion some people go over the top, just use the damn thing!”

Images by Thomas Sweertvaegher & Marco Di Stefano.