A few questions about vinyl records
October 11, 2020 11:29 AM   Subscribe

After asking this question, I was able to get my dad's turntable up and running. I'm kind of into my new "hobby," but I'm back with a few questions about listening to old(er) vinyl records a) how to clean them properly and b) how to repairing albums.

I have about 10 albums from my dad's extensive collection on repeat because I found cleaning them to be too tedious!! What is a good routine for this? I'm afraid of scratching or ruining the albums while I clean them. On the flipside, I think I might be out of control when it comes to cleaning them.

In retrospect, I can understand why CDs replaced vinyl so quickly and why my father was more than happy with his mp3s and never returned to vinyl! But I'm also enjoying uncovering his record collection!

Here are my questions:

1) Most of these records haven't been played for probably 30 to 25 years, at least. As a result they all have varying degrees of dust. At first I was spraying them with a special spray and microfibre cloth I bought at a record store. Then I became afraid I was just moving dust around and scratching them, so I bought a Spin Clean. The Spin Wash has been working well, and it's amazing how much dust I'm removing. Is using the Spin Clean fine? Is there something else I should be doing to clean the records?

Should I just use the Spin Clean and ditch the spray/microfibre cloth?

2) I also bought an anti-static brush, but I'm confused about when to use it. Should I clean the records first, get the platter spinning and use the anti-static brush, then play the records?

3) What's the best way to repair album seams that have split? I find the advice online to be a bit... much. I guess some of his records are "first pressings," should I be worried about their valuation when repairing them? I've repaired tons of books in my life, and I'm wondering if I should just buy hinge tape? Is there some sort of glue I should be using?

4) Last but not least, a good number of records in the collection don't have paper sleeves and are just in the cardboard album sleeve without one. Should I be buying paper (or plastic?) sleeves for them? Is there a place I can buy decent quality ones online (Canada)? I have purchased a few used records and the store I bought them from puts the records in new sleeves, but those paper sleeves in the used records seem oddly lower quality (and have already ripped!!!) compared to the paper sleeves that are in my father's records. In short, is there a special type of paper sleeve to be on the look out for?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Spin Clean is a great way to bring old, dirty records back to life. I don't use mine much anymore but when I was acquiring lots of records via Craigslist and tag sales it was the only way to bring filthy records back to playable condition.

Once your record is nice & clean, you should still use the spray/microfiber before playing a record to remove any dust that has accumulated since the last play. I have cats and a lax vacuuming habit; every record gets a quick clean before playing and usually gives up some dust or cat hair. (Stylus too! I have a mini brush and cleaning fluid for the stylus, but most times I just give it a pass with my record brush.)

I don't use a separate anti-static brush and I generally don't repair my split sleeves, so I can't help there. I do keep a stack of new paper sleeves on hand to replace ones that are missing or torn - you definitely don't want to keep your records in plain cardboard. You can get premium inner sleeves if you're handling valuable records, and as you've seen there are dirt cheap ones not much better than tissue, but you should be able to find sturdy inner sleeves for a reasonable price.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 12:39 PM on October 11, 2020

I keep mine in the paper inner sleeve for the extra protection and so that, if the record slips out of the album cover itself, it'll slide out with the sleeve. (This works if you don't put the inner sleeve in with the open end facing out of the album cover.) Inner sleeves are easy to find - such as this Amazon (US) link - but just be careful to get the inner ones, and not the poly bag type that you put the entire record, cover and all, into. There are a bunch of different styles and which you get is mostly a matter of personal preference, IMHO. I like the ones that are paper but for a bit around the middle, so the label on the record shows but is still protected, but it really doesn't matter that much.

Antistatic brush for each play as records are staticky and will pick up stuff just from handling (and some are worse than others; I definitely have a couple new records that you'd think I had deep carpeting and lived in a perpetual thunderstorm with how much crap they pull out of the air). Apply brush before setting the needle down on the record. That should get stuff off of the surface of the record before the needle grinds it into the groove, where the actual music is.
posted by mrg at 12:46 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lots of places that sell records also sell sleeves, like Dusty Groove and Turntable Lab.

It's probably overkill for your use case, but, if you want full-on archival stuff, Gaylord has you covered.
posted by box at 12:49 PM on October 11, 2020

Paper sleeves at Bags Unlimited (Canadian shipping info). Looks like $20 will get you a lifetime supply (50).

Spin Clean is perfectly fine. I basically use window spray (~10:1 rubbing alcohol with a drop of dish soap in purified water) and a microfiber towel.

Technically, the best way to repair a split cover is to buy a worse record in an unsplit sleeve and combine the best of each and sell/rummage the other. If it's just flaps whose glue has gone brittle or otherwise come loose, I like adhesive rollers. If it's an older record constructed from two pieces of cardboard wrapped in paper ("tip-on" and friends), just use Scotch tape if they aren't collectible.

Static doesn't damage vinyl, use the a-s brush if you hear some pops just to make sure that's not the cause. Here's a pleonastic blog post on the topic.
posted by rhizome at 1:00 PM on October 11, 2020

An Anti-Static brush will not remove any existing static, it's purpose is simply to allow removing dust without adding any more static, unlike many record cleaning cloths which are often quite poor at this job.

To remove existing static pops you can either use an antistatic gun (milty) or just file the record away undisturbed for about 5 or 6 days by which time the static will have dispersed by itself.

It's worth mentioning that if the records have been played with a worn out or misaligned stylus then no amount of cleaning will restore the sound.
Most manufacturers recommend changing your stylus at around 1000 hours of record playing time. If you play one LP record every day, that's about 3 years.
posted by Lanark at 2:00 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's definitely worth buying inner sleeves that have a poly lining - they're much more effective at keeping dust off, especially paper fibres from the cover and the sleeve itself. They're readily available on eBay and not much more expensive than plain paper; I bought 100 for £22 ($28) when I needed some last year. (Here in the UK, only the very cheapest LPs would have come with a plain paper sleeve originally - most labels used poly-lined sleeves.)

A wet cleaning machine like the Spin Clean should do a decent job of sorting out a mucky second-hand record; I wouldn't expect wiping it down beforehand to make much difference. Once the record's been cleaned, if you're keeping it in the sleeve between plays, it shouldn't need more than a couple of rotations on the turntable with your brush to get rid of any dust it's picked up since the last play.
posted by offog at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Damage to records from badly set up styli or tonearms is permanently engraved onto their surfaces; there's no way to remove that.

So use a diamond stylus rather than a sapphire one, preferably with an elliptical or parabolic tip rather than a spherical (conical) tip, and replace it every 1000 hours of playing time. Make sure that the turntable's tracking weight is set according to the cartridge and/or stylus manufacturer's recommendation, and that the anti-skate correction is set correctly for the tracking weight. Tracking weight recommendations are usually given as a range; sound quality will be better at the higher end of that range, especially on loud and/or 45rpm recordings.

I used to use an anti-static brush on its own little arm, but stopped when I noticed background noise that stopped when I lifted the brush off the surface. What I think was happening is that the bristles on the anti-static brush got activated by the grooves they were tracking in much the same way as a stylus does, coupled the resulting vibrations into the surface of the record, and the stylus then picked those vibrations up as well as the intentional ones from its own tracking action in its groove.

Then I got one of those full-width conductive-fibre antistatic brushes that you're supposed to hold radially onto the surface for a couple of revolutions before cueing the tonearm. And I stopped using that as well after noticing that it would actually leave the occasional bristle behind on the surface of the record, causing audible crackle; kind of defeats the purpose. So now I just keep my records as clean as possible when they're off the turntable and don't try to clean them when they're on it.

The only places fingers should ever touch a record are on the edges and on the label. Never never never touch the playing surface. And if you need to clean visible fluff off your stylus, use a proper stylus cleaner and not your fingerprint ridges.

The best way to get dust off records is to prevent it landing on them in the first place. Once a record is on the turntable, the lid goes down and stays down until the side has finished playing. When it has, the record does not stay on the turntable - it goes straight back into its liner and then the liner goes into the cardboard sleeve, preferably with the liner opening at right angles to the sleeve opening.

The second best way is with a wet cleaner.
posted by flabdablet at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

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