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How to Safely Clean Vinyl Records

CleanerVinyl SystemAudiophiles are turning away from CDs in favor of vinyl LP and 45 RPM recordings. And for collectors or dealers offering vintage vinyl, restoring and preserving fidelity is critical, whether the disc is new or dating from the 1950s. This post describes how to clean vinyl records with results far surpassing those you'll read from most Google searches.

But first some background.

Vinyl Record Sales Trends

A January 17,2020, posting by Statista on vinyl album sales in the United States from 1993 to 2019 shows consistent growth since 2006, and in 2019 a total of 18.84 million vinyl albums were sold. The article goes on to say "LPs have been enjoying a comeback in recent years, and the vinyl record is the only format of music available that has recorded positive sales growth from 2009 to 2017."

It's not just new pressings. Collectors are looking for and paying for vintage vinyl as reported in this CNBC report noting "vinyl records lying around in your garage could be worth thousands." Paying big bucks for classic vinyl will have collectors looking for a safe but efficient instructions on how to clean vinyl records.

This post describes why ultrasonic record cleaning is so effective, and how a system incorporating an ultrasonic cleaner does the job.

Why Ultrasonic Energy Solves How to Clean Vinyl Records

If you check out postings on the net, you'll see a common method is hand washing the records using a sponge or soft brush in a sink with a dishwashing liquid. Chances are results will be entirely unsatisfactory because of remaining dirt and incomplete rinsing. Not only this, hand washing most likely will result in damaging the records' labels.

In contrast, ultrasonic energy has been proven a safe and effective way to remove dust, dirt, oils and other contaminants from extremely fine record grooves that produce the high-fidelity sound demanded by audiophiles.

The microscopic vacuum bubbles produced in an ultrasonic record cleaning system implode with great force to loosen and carry away these contaminants. But the process is so fast there is no damage to your valuable records.

Or their labels, which are kept free of the cleaning action.

As an added benefit, record collectors who perform ultrasonic cleaning operations on a regular basis will enjoy better sound, preserve the value of their collections and extend stylus life. Another group of users is record store owners who clean vintage vinyl before selling it.

How Ultrasonic Vinyl Record Cleaning Systems Work

How Ultrasonic Cleaning WorksUltrasonic energy is created by generator-powered transducers bonded to the bottom of a tank containing a cleaning solution. When activated, transducers vibrate at ultrasonic frequencies causing the bottom of the tank to vibrate as a membrane. This causes vacuum bubbles to form that implode when contacting the records' surfaces thereby loosening and carrying away the contaminants.

The process is called ultrasonic cavitation.

Ultrasonic frequency is defined as sound above the range of human hearing - typically >20,000 cycles per second (20 kilohertz or 20 kHz). The higher the frequency the smaller the bubbles and the more capability they have to penetrate constricted space such as fine, high-fidelity record grooves.

An Ultrasonic System to Safely Clean Vinyl Records

Here we describe a system devised by CleanerVinyl Systems.

The Elmasonic P60H unit offered by iUltrasonic and incorporated in the CleanerVinyl Pro system operates at user selected 37 and 80 kHz ultrasonic frequencies. The lower frequency is employed for particularly contaminated records. This is then followed by finer cleaning at 80 kHz.

Adjustable power on the Elma P60H also lets you set a cleaning cycle that maximizes cleaning efficiency while restoring the fidelity of the records.

In other words the Elma P60H CleanerVinyl Pro system can be tailored to the task at hand.

How to Set Up your Ultrasonic Record Cleaning Cycle

First Step, Getting Started:

A suggested first step is to add the cleaning solution to the ultrasonic cleaner tank. While there are several formulations available on the market for this type of application a recommendation is adding approximately 2-4 drops of a wetting agent (surfactant such as a liquid used for washing dishes) per gallon of distilled water.

The wetting agent enhances the cleaning power of water by breaking the surface tension, and it prevents droplet formation on the records.

The benchmark for the 'right' amount of wetting agent is that the records are coated with a smooth fluid film while they rotate through the fluid during the cleaning process. If you get droplets, just add another drop of the wetting agent until the film is smooth.

Another recommendation is to operate the ultrasound for a few minutes prior to using a fresh cleaning solution. This degasifies the solution by driving out trapped air that inhibits the ultrasonic cleaning action. The Elma P60H has a Pulse/Degas mode that accomplishes this in an efficient manner. 

Next Step - Cleaning

Follow the instructions that come with your CleanerVinyl Pro System.

  1. Stack the records on the shaft of the drive motor, alternating with spacers. With the Pro System you can clean up to 12 LPs or 45s per bath.
  2. Slip the end cap over the last record with slight pressure and tighten. This will hold the records in a fixed position as they rotate through the solution.
  3. Slip the bearing support over the drive shaft end and position the unit on the cleaning tank rims.
  4. Clamp the drying fan assembly on the short dimension of the tank.
  5. Activate the variable speed motor to rotate the records through the cleaning solution.

Next Step - Drying

Cleaning time varies based on the condition and number of records being cleaned. You'll establish a routine and can use cleaning time to attend to other matters.

At the end of the cleaning cycle, either

  • Turn off the drive motor
  • Drain the tank solution into a container for later use if not using the Lift-Pro assembly

Or

  • Raise the optional Lift-Pro assembly and records above the level of the cleaning solution.
  • Turn on the drive motor and activate the fan
  • When all droplets have evaporated your cleaning operation is completed.

Disassemble the unit, and enjoy the improved sound of your clean classic records!

Where Does the Dirt Go?

Ultrasonic cleaners are used in applications ranging from cleaning automobile transmission gears to surgical and medical instruments. Whatever the application, including how to clean vinyl records, contaminants accumulate in the ultrasonic cleaning solution.

To extend the useful life of your ultrasonic record cleaning solution an option is a 1-micron particle filtration option that continuously recycles the solution while the unit is in operation. Periodically examining the filter will alert the user when it's time for a replacement.

The Basic CleanerVinyl Pro Record Cleaning System from iUltrasonic

Basic CleanerVinyl Pro

The 1.5 gallon capacity Elmasonic P60H Ultrasonic Cleaner with operating instructions

The Record Cleaning System comprises

  • a power cable
  • a motor/drive unit and drive shaft
  • record spacers
  • an end cap to tighten the records on the drive shaft
  • an end bearing
  • a drying fan and power cable
  • a tube to drain the cleaning solution prior to the drying cycle
    As an alternative, audiophiles and record store owners can opt for the Lift-Pro accessory allowing the user to raise the entire assembly above the level of the cleaning solution. With this there is no need to drain the tank for the drying cycle.

The motor/drive unit, end cap and the drying fan are designed to slip over the rims of the 1.5 gallon capacity Elma P60H ultrasonic cleaner.

For more information and pricing on the CleanerVinyl ultrasonic record cleaning system and optional accessories contact the iUltrasonic vinyl cleaning experts. 

FREE GUIDE TO ULTRASONIC CLEANING APPLICATIONS

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