Written by our Staff Editor
Okay, here goes one of those discussions where there is no right answer but everyone with an opinion thinks they’re right.
Cleaning of 78 rpm records.
I know from my own personal experience that I have been cleaning 78s in the kitchen sink using a mild detergent and fairly hot water for years without harm or damage to any record.
I use a smooth cloth to wash both sides of the record – once they have been “dipped” into the hot water – cleaning in the direction of the grooves (i.e.. circular motion) and then immediately rinsed clean in hot running water.
Removes dirt and grim quickly from records and then the record dries quicker than cold water through evaporation.
After doing this for over two decades – I have not lost one record to water damage or deterioration due to the very mild (and low quantity) of detergent. The important point here is that cleaning and drying of record must occur quickly and the record must be left vertical for drying so that the air can circulate around the record. Strangely enough, I offered the above information to the 78 list some years back when a similar discussion arose. At the time I can remember being derided for my obvious lack of carefulness and stupidity for doing the above. Interestingly, however, the suggestions below somewhat mirror my process some five years later and seem to well accepted now… My, how things change!
You can view our video on this cleaning method below:
Other record cleaning suggestions from the 78-L list include:
For me it used to be the kitchen sink, some dish soap, warm water and a small paint brush plus a towel. However now I use the Keith Monks record cleaning machine with excellent results. What I learned was DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN IT WITH ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL! Everywhere the alcohol touched left a dull rough surface. This lovely record now has about 1 square inch of damaged surface. Should have done a test patch on the blank backside first. Rats!
And another suggestion:
For over 18 years, following 10 years of development and evaluation, we have offered applicators, fluid and a suggested procedure that can safely and thoroughly clean shellac, lacquer, acetate, Diamond Disc and vinyl disc recordings. This process can be used with either manual or vacuum-assisted removal of fluids; used as directed the result is the same regardless of how the fluids are removed. Common household soaps and detergents leave residues that simple rinsing does not thoroughly remove. These residuals can affect playback, support the growth of mould and mildew and contrary to the view of many are simply not thorough. The integrity of the record surface is obviously of concern but this approach has never been shown to harm intact laminated surfaces.
The following suggestion talks about using dish-racks to dry records. I personally use the same system for drying as the air circulates around the record and helps to dry it out quickly…
This is why God invented Dish Racks! You older guyz, like ME remember hand washing dishes (Gasp!) and setting them in the rack. They can be had at Wal*Mart and other cheapo, Chinezy stuff stores everywhere. Set it in the sun, or warm place and your records will dry, just fine! Ya MIGHT need several for a wash session? They nest nicely for storage. too.Because they hold the records apart the label gets to dry, too.
A drying cloth is also important – preferably cotton based!
I used my drying cloth from washing other records so it’s only mildly damp. I slowly go over the record avoiding any splits or edges and gently wipe off dirt. Takes a few minutes per record. There’s no residual drops of water so little chance it will get soaked into the record. I then let them sit in racks to completely air dry or lie flat on table. Never had an issue with them getting ruined, more warped, etc.
DO NOT use alcohol of ANY variety to “clean” shellac-based 78’s! The shellac compound is soluble in ANY alcohol! Long-term exposure to water can damage a record. Normal cleaning involved very short-term exposure, and will do no damage at all.
I’ve cleaned my records for decades with Dawn. After putting the disc to be cleaned on a paper towel on a large bread board on my kitchen counter, I apply a few drops of Dawn to an old dish sponge and lightly wet it. Once the record surface is evenly soaped, I then use a soft toothbrush to clean the grooves. Starting at the outer edge, I work my way in and repeat this going counter clockwise, turning the record as I go so I clean the entire playing surface. In doing so, I apply very little pressure and control the amount of soap used so there is no slick or film. I then dry my hands so as not to get any wet on the label and rinse the record with luke – warm sink water. I then dry it with two soft towels: one to get off the water; the second to make sure the surfaces are absolutely dry. It’s simple and it works: By cleaning each and every record I intend to collect, I improve the appearance and upgrade the playability by at least a half-step (for example, from E to E+).
Years ago, I used to use a product called something like Antique Toy Cleaner. It was formulated for use on pre-War model trains and other toys. I met the guy who formulated it at a trade show. I asked if the solution worked on old 78s. He said he had never tried it. He gave me a few bottles to use as tests. I did, and found it worked beautifully. The ingredients were entirely organic: no alcohol, no oils, no nothing harmful. Another big plus: A full bottle seemed to last forever, making it quite economical for record cleaning. I told him in detail what I had done and how it worked. He then began to market the same product as a record cleaner. I would still be using it to this day if he hadn’t gone out of business. I clean every record before playing it for the first time, and make sure my hands are washed to minimize any oils being transferred from my hands to the record surfaces. When I have told some collectors I clean every record, they look at me incredulously and ask “Why do you do that?” When I provided Jack Towers with vintage 78s for dubbing, he usually commented that mine were always the cleanest records he worked with, and the results were in the playback. For LPs, both Capitol and Columbia recommended using a damp cloth.. and we all know the results of records “cleaned” that way. No permanent damage, just visible mud tracks.
I use Ajax dish soap, close to the same thing. I mix about 1 teaspoon if dish soap in a small can, or cup. Add 1 or 2 ounces. Warm water, not too warm. I use tap water because it has chlorine in it. I dip a fine bristle tooth brush in this solution and work it around the record, first one direction then the other. If the record has a fibre core I do not wash it. I rinse and pat them dry with paper towels, and stack them with paper towels between them. I take and assemble 2 USPS large flat rate boxes. I place a quarter inch (.25 inch) metal rod between them. A stainless steel rod would be best, but I have handy a .25 inch brass brazing rod. Make sure the rod does not have a coating, or threads on it. I place the records about one inch apart, so the grooves don’t touch during drying. I can get 20 records on the rod before it bends too much. I tested a few 78s before doing this. It reduced the hiss. In all cases. I also plowed a couple of 78s after cleaning with a .7 mill (33 RPM) Needle. The needle after the play was clean, and there was no improvement in noise. Also washing a record does not seem to improve pops, and clicks.
And a suggestion from the esteemed David Hall…
I just looked through David Hall’s 1941 “Record Book” to find out what cleaning procedures he’d suggest. I couldn’t find any reference to cleaning records beyond using a record brush. He writes more about how to handle records so that they don’t get dirty in the first place, (handle them by their edges, keep them in their sleeves, etc). Of course, when he wrote that book, you’d have a hard time finding a record which was over 40 years old, today you’d have just as hard a time finding a 78 which is under 50 years old.