Cleaning records by washing

FAQ #2821 Updated October 20, 2017


How does one wash a record?


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78 RPM records are 50 or more years old and they should always be washed before copying. These discs are made from shellac which dissolves in alcohol so it's absolutely essential that no alcohol is used to clean them!

Both 78 and 33 discs can be washed by hand using a fine bristle brush or a "paint pad" (a pad with fine bristles) and diluted dish washing detergent (NOT dish WASHER detergent) or rug shampoo (make use the label says "safe for all synthetics"). Scrub the disc to get the grime out of the groves, rinse in tap water and then in distilled water. The distilled water rinse is especially important if your tap water contains a lot of dissolved minerals. Dry both sides with a CLEAN, soft cloth such as a bath towel or diaper and then place the disc on edge in a dish rack to finish drying. When it's dry place it in a NEW sleve [1]. They are inexpensive and won't recontaminate the clean surfaces.

A method that works well if you have only a few 78's to wash is to buy a new 1 or 1-1/2 inch paint brush. Use a sharp knife or new single edge razor blade to cut the bristles off leaving about a half inch. This makes the brush rigid enough to scrub. Add about a teaspoon of dish washing detergent to four ounces of warm water and stir well. Dip the brush in this solution and scrub one side of the disc back and forth in the direction of the grooves. Go all the way around and then all the way around again. Turn the disc over and repeat. If you are carefull, this will keep the record label dry. (With a really dirty disc you'll see the suds turn gray or brown.) Rinse in warm tap water and then in distilled water and put the disc on edge in a dish rack to dry. Rinsing does get the label wet but it's for such a short time that no harm is done.

If you have several records to clean you may want to buy a "Spin-Clean Record Washing System" [2]. For about $50 you get a reservoir with a pair of built-in brushes that scrub both sides of the record at the same time. You put some diluted proprietary cleaning solution in the reservoir and rotate the record through the solution between the brushes. Then you remove the record and wipe it dry with one of their washable drying clothes. This system has some advantages over hand washing: it cleans both sides of the disk at the same time and it mostly keeps the record label dry.

Or you can go first class with a "Nitty Gritty" vacuum cleaning machine [3]. The cost is a couple of hundred dollars up for either a manual or automatic system that applies a cleaning solution and scrubs the surface with a fine bristle brush. Then it vacuums the solution and dirt out of the groves. I have heard these machines work VERY well.

1. For example, Hawthorn's Antique Audio sells 10 and 12 inch sleves made from heavy kraft paper. 77 Columbus Ave., Roseville, CA 95678. 916-773-4727. or email to

2. The phone number for "Nitty Gritty" has been disconnected so they have apparently moved. Their products are available from Audio Advisor, 225 Oakes St SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. 800-942-0220. You can also request a copy of their printed catalog by phone or on their web site.

Other references on record cleaning:

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