Friday, 13 February 2009

Mold on my gold

That's how some of my old vinyl records looked like after years in the store room: mold and dirt on the surface. Condition looks bad but luckily, they can be rescued with a spot of wet cleaning. Dry cleaning doesn't work so don't be fooled by websites that promote dry cleaners like carbon fibre bristle brushes. At best, they are good enough only to loosen the grit from the bottom of the grooves. You need to remove the grit and grime, not drive them deeper into the grooves and for this, only wet cleaning is possible.

I don't use any of these expensive modern record-cleaning contraptions to clean my soiled records. They are supposed to work very well in removing the dirt as well as the pops and crackles on the record. But they are darn expensive. I would suppose a unit like this will easily set me back by at least RM2,000. And all I'll get is a motorised turntable, an applicator for the wash solution and a vacuum arm to suck up all the grimy dirt. That's all it's meant to do.

Since I don't have a need for one of these VPI, Nitty Gritty or AcousTech machines, what can I do to clean my records as an alternative? I make my own from stuff that you can find from any hardware store, supermarket and some pharmacies. The revolving base for my record is just a circular cut-out piece of car rubber mat resting on a round wooden chopping board and a lazy susan. You know the lazy susan? Restaurants employ it a lot to revolve the dishes in the centre of the dining table. Very useful. Anyway, this is how my revolving base looks like. The rubber mat grips the record perfectly.

Where previously I used to run my records through the tap and cleaning them with a wet rag, I now use a home-made cleaning kit that consists of a bottle of wash solution, a broad brush with fine soft bristles, cotton swabs and a velvet drying cloth.

First, I make my own wash solution from a 1:3 mix of iso-propyl alcohol and distilled water to which I add several drops of dishwasher surfactant. Then, after spraying a thin layer of this solution on the surface of a record, I'd gently scrub the surface with the broad brush to loosen the dirt in the grooves. Next, using some non-woven cotton swabs, I would carefully clean the surface as I rotate the record manually on my revolving base. The dirt gets picked up and you can see the fine grime on the swab. Finally, I use a piece of velvet cloth to dry the record thoroughly. Repeat for the other side and ta-dah....I now get a perfectly cleaned record for my Rega Planar 3 turntable!

The cotton swab works like a charm and you'll be surprised how much dirt can be removed with it. Here's a picture from one of my attempts. Don't get me wrong...this IS the dirt on the cotton swab, not a used sanitary pad.

As a final word, I always transfer my cleaned records to a new plastic anti-static inner sleeve. It's always a good habit to do this. I wouldn't want to transfer the dirt, dust and spores from the old inner sleeve to the record again.

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