How Should We Clean A New Record?



Have you ever listened to a new record a month or so after you’ve cleaned it with a record cleaning fluid (RCF)? Listen closely: it sounds unexpectedly noisy doesn’t it? Many think so and, for this reason, have stopped using RCF on new records! Others insist that cleaning them with an RCF is an absolute must to remove the offending mold release. And then there are those who have always felt that dry brushing is all that new records require. Amazingly, EVERYONE IS RIGHT! If you are interested in how these seemingly contradicting choices can all be valid, please read on.

CAN YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF MOLD RELEASE?

A new record is covered with a thin layer of mold release, unquestionably a contaminant with a sonic character. However, this sound is subtle, a thin veil that’s mostly unobtrusive. The Teflon or Silicone mold release actually acts as a lubricant that protects the grooves without significantly obscuring the Vinyl’s sound. Countless times I compared the sound of new records BEFORE and SHORTLY AFTER cleaning with an RCF. Without Vinyl lubricant or preserver, the difference is ever so slight and seems barely worth the effort and the risk of using an RCF. Still, a mold release is a contaminant and a dust magnet; it makes sense to remove it if this can be done safely.

THE NOISE OF RECORD CLEANING FLUIDS ON NEW RECORDS

Can an RCF make a new record noisier? The surprising answer is yes! A small fraction of all RCF ingredients ALWAYS remains on the Vinyl surface as an adsorbed film after vacuuming (see my primer on RCF from last week). Held to the Vinyl surface by intermolecular forces, this film is only several molecules thick (less than 10 nanometers) but grooves can also be quite fine at high frequencies (about 100 nm). Amazingly, many can hear the sound of this adsorbed layer!

But here’s the tricky part. The cleaned record is quiet shortly after cleaning as the adsorbed film after vacuuming is still wet—a WET FILM dampens noise. But days or weeks later, with all the liquid gone, the DRY FILM becomes audible. It is a background noise akin to the sound of a dirty record, but much fainter. You may even think that your cleaned record has been re-contaminated with dust. It hasn’t. It’s the sound of dry surfactant. If you re-wet the Vinyl (by rinsing or re-cleaning), the noise goes away only to return when the record is dry again.

An alcohol-based RCF—diluted with water!—leaves a less objectionable sound on a new record because the adsorbed alcohol evaporates completely under vacuum and leaves no dry film behind as long as no surfactant is used. (Note: Dry adsorption film has nothing to do with solid residue from the distilled water making up the RCF.). But even an alcohol-based RCF still leaves a very faint background noise behind; this suggests problems in addition to dry adsorption film but that’s a complicated story for another time.

WHAT ARE YOUR CLEANING OPTIONS WITH A NEW RECORD?

1. Given the current RCF technology, I recommend the Hippocratic approach: first, do no harm. Use a dry brush on your new records, keep them clean, and stay away from RCFs.

2. But if you must wet-clean a new record—because it’s noisy or you find the sound of mold release objectionable—use an alcohol-based RCF (diluted alcohol; little or no surfactant) which leaves behind little or no dry film. The residual background noise is minimal and inaudible in many systems.

3. If you must use a surfactant cleaner, rinse well with low-residue water. Repeated rinsing is necessary as some adsorbed material always remains on the Vinyl after each rinsing by chemical equilibrium. The record will be quiet, wet or dry. Alas, many of you will find this rinsing ritual very tedious.

4. Alternatively, you can use a RCF with lubricant or preserver. It leaves behind an “oily” film that keeps the adsorbed layer “wet” and noise-free. Just remember that you are now replacing mold-release sound with lubricant/preserver sound, even though that is usually an improvement.

5. Some of you like the effectiveness of enzyme-based RCFs. I have not used them much. Their impressive cleaning action (by chemical breakdown of organic contaminants) is certainly attractive but the concomitant breakdown of the plasticizer, also an organic compound, remains a concern.

CONCLUSION

While nearly all agree that old records benefit from a good cleaning with an RCF, there is no consensus or easy solution for cleaning new records. Since I do not find the veil of the mold release very objectionable, I feel that a dry brush is the safest thing to use on a new record—until better RCFs are developed.

One alternative is to use an alcohol-based RCF which is free of other additives. You may also use surfactant-based RCFs but most will leave a faint background noise when dry (days or weeks later). To minimize this problem, rinse several times with water to remove the surfactant film. You may also use an RCF with a lubricant/preserver that keeps the adsorbed layer “wet”, a trade-off between mold-release and lubricant sound. The long-term effect of such additive is still unclear. (Note: To identify the type of RCF you are using, please refer to my last week’s primer on RCF.)

For safer and easier cleaning of new records, we need novel RCFs employing surfactants that are inaudible when dry. This is a difficult but not an impossible demand. RCF manufacturers should look beyond common surfactants (alkylaryl ethoxylates or alkylaryl sulfonates) which belong to an ageing technology. There are exotic surfactants out there that can do the job. Some are (very) expensive but surfactant cost should not be a factor since only a minute amount is ever used in any RCF (typically less than one part in 100, literally pennies per quart of RCF).
justin_time
I have used most home brew type cleaners and have a Kieth Monks KMAL machine, two actually.

The alcohol seems to leave a cleaner record but does it. The alcohol will assist in evaporation of the water but most water, contains small amounts of disolved solids. Even super cleaned RO/polished water. Which are left behind. Crunchy granlola suite!!!

The better surfactants, enable the water to lose it's surface tension and spread out. (this means it gets deeper in the grooves, did you ever notice that if you slowly and carefully fill a glass of water the dome, meniscus is taller than the rim of the glass? This is surface tension) Further a combination of those will lift not only dust, but organic and inorganic substances. Grease, oil, release agents, sludge, bacteria and any left over water based solids from other cleaners. (I buy used as well as new)

With the use of a quality vacuum system the surfactant records are clearly the better sounding. In fact I prefer the sound of a cleaned record.

Last, do you really want to gum up that 2K delicate transducer, and allow it to collect mold release and whatever else, and then drag it around in the groove, as for me, thanks but no, I'll clean my records and use a combination of: .15 parts of each: Tergitol 7, and 15, and about 1% common unscented lysol. The ammonia based compound in the lysol kills and keeps the mold and bacteria at bay. It also stabilizes the record cleaning solution which I make up in gallon quantities.

As with you this is subjective. So the beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

I'll take any small amount of left over surfactant, over the bacteria and mold chewing up my vinyl.

cheers, and just my less than humble opinion.

loony
Wow, controversy here. Still, I appreciate your thoughtful insights and before I give you my thoughts on what you've written I've believed for over two decades that the ultimate cleaning method for records would be ultra pure water in conjunction with ultrasonic action. This would require a total redesign of cleaning machines and would be a slow process and therefore would need to be totally automatic and hugely expensive.

I can't take direct issue with anything you've posted except in a practical sense. To explain fully I offer real world experience collecting and playing vinyl for 40+ years. Born in 1950 and beginning my active collecting of records with the British invasion in 1962, I was fortunate to have a family friend in the radio business teach me the proper handling of my records and instilled in me the fear of allowing others to even touch them. My family respected this. This friend also introduced me to the original Watts record care products at the time and later to inner and outer record sleeves as they emerged on the market. So, my original purchases enjoyed every opportunity to remain in as good a condition as possible without being left sealed, stored and rotated on a regular basis.

My wife and I married in 1973 and on our honeymoon purchased a generic pressing of Duane Allman's "Laid Back" which has proven to be one of our most played records. Without exaggeration it has been played at least 1500 times. At least side "A" at any rate. I've gone through Watts, Discwasher and just about every other cleaning product through the years and in the late 70's paid a fairly hefty price to my local audio salon to clean all my albums with a Kieth Monks machine, the chemistry of which I havn't a clue. Since buying my own RCM I've experimented with numerous cleaners until I found those products I'm most happy with. Many of my LP's have been exposed to nearly every product I've ever used. I've drawn heavily upon my experience as a mechanical designer for the industrial food industry. No chemical background here, just the application of good common sense through experience gained. My superiors were all PHD's in chemical engineering and would explain anything I asked about my desire to properly care for my vinyl and they introduced me to the cleaning action of pure water, the universal solvent, and its aggressive action. This was in the early to mid 80's. I've given thoughtful consideration to the proper use of current production RCM's and my practices are somewhat different than the ones recommended by the manufacturers. Simply put, I vacuum more and use more steps as well as greater amounts of fluid.

I cannot take issue with your comments about alcohol and enzymes in a scientific sense. You're probably right. But in a practical sense I liken their use to driving a car past some plutonium laying in the median of the interstate. Pass it by at 75 mph (yeah, that's legal here in Idaho) and the exposure is minimal and will be unlikely to cause you any harm. Stop, pick it up and fondle it for too long and you can certainly predict the harm that will occur. The exposure times used in cleaning a record are short and if done correctly the chemistry, IMHO, is totally removed, or to an extent which is so minimal as to be totally removed.

Back to the Greg Allman album. It's dead silent and in spite of the generally held belief that records wear out through repeat playings, to my ears, in my system, I hear every nuance it has to offer. Remember, it, as well as a lot of my collection has been cleaned numerous times by various products. Nearly all of my records are similar in their condition, even records bought used and very, very old. There is NO crackling, additional surface noise or sonic degradation that I can detect. Even these are remarkably quiet. Not to brag, just to state a fact, many folks having SOTA digital systems have been exposed to my records, listening to a mixed bag of their choice of recordings, from early pressings, through domestic generics and current audiophile pressings. Many have subsequently entered the world of analog through the experience BECAUSE it dusts the best of even the finest SACD's and the lack of surface noise is what pushed them over the edge.

Without cleaning the boulders that are left to be pushed around by the stylus cause great harm since the mold release compounds do not allow them to be removed by simple brushing. Vinyl experiences a near melt down on playing because of forces approaching two tons per square inch. It doesn't take much imagination to visualize rocks being pushed around by a diamond in a soft compound and the real world damage potential. An unclean stylus can cause even worse damage. I cannot emphasize how much I do not agree with your post here. It simply doesn't apply in the real world and your suggestion, based on my seasoned "real world" experience, is not serving this community well at all.

My record collection represents a huge investment on my part and if I were to sell it one at a time for market value now I would have zero, I repeat, zero returns based on a NM description. I never purchased this music for investment purposes, only for my own personal enjoyment and I paid retail for the vast majority of what I own. If the possible degradation eventually shows up years down the road I don't care one whit and just like so many theories versus empirical evidence, no one will ever know if degradation occurs from the cleanings as you advise against or whether it's the result of the natural aging process of vinyl. These discussions, if they are ever held, will happen long after we both have left this planet irrespective of how young YOU are. This software has remainded faithful to me and shows no evidence of the fears that may be instilled here.

The science behind your post is without issue in IMO. But, if only taken to an illogical extreme. The real world again differs from the fears of the theorists as is so often the case in this life. I clearly hear the benefits of cleaning new pressings and will continue to do so without any worry whatsoever. There will be posters to this thread that differ with my opinion. That's okay. I don't care. What I do care about is those that are relatively new to analog and may take your advice. My offer is for anyone that wants to hear the so called damage done to my vinly is welcome to drop by and listen to its absence.
Loontoon, I generally agree with you. I'd like to point out that there is much better quality water to be had over the R/O polished water to which your refer. I'm lucky to live in an area that manufacuters products used in the computer industry and have enjoyed access to the water they make on site and have a large quantity on hand. There's no crunchy granola suite left on microchips. I've also acquired lab grade water from from a local lab source and can hear no difference between the two different waters. I do use a commercial multi-step concentrate which contain surfactants without which the water would bead up. We agree.
Lugnut, thank you for a very thoughtful response. That’s what I was hoping for but never expected to get when I wrote this piece. I enjoy this thoughtful exchange of ideas very much even if we disagree on many points. Actually, besides being almost the same age—I am a year older—and having a similar penchant for tinkering, you and I may share more common views about records than you think. The most important thing is our obvious desire to take care of our records and getting wonderful music out of them the best way that we know how.

ALL OPTIONS ARE TECHNICAL VALID

Please allow me to re-emphasize the two most important points of my threat. I was addressing only NEW records and all the choices I presented (dry-brushing, cleaning with dilute alcohol and using a surfactant-based cleaner followed by multiple rinsing) are all TECHNICALLY VALID CHOICES, and none is science “[…] taken to an illogical extreme.” Each option is a balance between cleaning and side effect and no one method is a panacea. I just happen to prefer dry-brushing for safety, but this choice applies ONLY to new records. For old records, I found that deep cleaning with a surfactant-based cleaner followed by multiple rinsing is the best method—and unfortunately the most tedious by far. I assume that the “boulders” you referred to are either dust particles or vinyl debris present in OLD records. If such boulders were present on a new record, they would be clearly and unmistakably heard and would definitely give me the reason to deep-clean a new record. That’s usually the only time that I do it.

DRY SURFACTANT FILM IS NOT A PERMANENT DAMAGE

I apologize for not making some technical points absolutely clear. I have worked as a research scientist in surfactant technology for over 25 years—perhaps too long—and tend to take many complicated concepts for granted. I should have made one point very clear: the formation of a dry surfactant film from an RCF in the record grooves IS NOT A PERMANENT “degradation” or “damage” as you may have feared. Certainly, it causes a FAINT background noise on a new record several days or weeks after cleaning that I find disappointing and unacceptable after putting in all the effort to clean it.

This adsorption film is held to the Vinyl surface loosely by intermolecular forces (van der waals attraction, London dispersion, and hydrogen bonding), the same forces of that loosely hold liquid molecules together. Upon repeated playing, the immense pressure of the stylus against the grooves—up to a couple thousand psi as you mentioned—will easily tear apart this film leaving extremely fine particles (less than 10 nanometers thick) which is usually not visible to the naked eye or optical microscope. The noise gradually goes away and no permanent damage is done. (The same erosion happens to mold release—that’s partly why used records lose their shine.) You can also immediately remove the faint background noise of the dry surfactant film by simply rinsing with low-residue water. In short, the presence of a dry surfactant film is not a permanent damage, real or implied. It’s just a temporary penalty for using surfactant without rinsing.

FINAL COMMENTS

I am not sure whether you mentioned anything about rinsing your records after using a cleaner or not. If you did, this would go a long way toward eliminating the adsorption film in the first place. I personally find this ritual of cleaning, vacuuming, rinsing, vacuuming, rinsing and vacuuming again tedious and would use it only when I absolutely have to: with old records and new records that are noisy.

Having made a living studying surfactants all these years, it is ironic that I may have given the impression that I am anti-surfactant. Of course I am not. But I do want to emphasize the fact that surfactant is not a magic bullet in record cleaning—not yet anyway. It can provide excellent cleaning, but it can also extract plasticizer or leave a noisy film behind when used improperly. With most new records, many would be safer with a dry brush and a clean storage.

Once again, thank you for this wonderful chance to exchange idea.
I find it cool that we are about the same age with the same passion for our precious recordings. And, again I'm not taking any issue with the technical aspects you presented. My point about boulders in the grooves being held in place by the mold release agents has to do with particles percipitating out of the air and not being able to be removed by a dry brush. That's one reason I defy conventional audiophile wisdom and retain my dust cover. It's just an added measure of protection. Since my suspended table was designed with a dustcover and I can hear no benefit by it's removal I leave it in place. Yes, I do rinse and find the multi-step proceedure a pain. You mention that you can hear the residue for a time after cleaning a new record. My experience is just the opposite. My new recordings have proven to be quieter with cleaning. For the sake of full disclosure I no longer even play a new recording without first cleaning it. This concept has been proven to my satisfaction some time ago so I've adhered to it. Maybe one of us has a more revealing analog front end I guess or better hearing. For the record, mine is a Linn LP12/Ittok/Valhalla/ZYX Airy3 S SB/Supratek Syrah. My hearing seems to be fine although I'm sure I've lost the high frequency extremes that fortunately lie outside of most of the information contained in the grooves. Funny though, I do hear the benefits of a super tweeter. Go figure.

Also, I dry brush after each play. I figure it can't hurt and only takes a second.

I respect your sharing this information and appreciate it. Someday somebody will finally introduce an ultrasonic record cleaner that uses only the best water as a cleaning agent and everyone will be on the same page. Hold onto your wallets because it'll be expensive.

I appreciate all of the information you've given this community and hope you continue with this tradition. Your many years in research is respected by this A'goner. No insult intended and none taken.
My experience is similar to Lugnut's and Loontoon's. I've tried playing new records with only dry brushing. Those records are now ruined. Whatever particulates or contaminates the mold release grabbed onto got ground into/against the vinyl by the stylus. This damage has proved irreversible by cleaning with any means at my disposal - which include a Loricraft, highly purified, deionized water and solutions with surfactants, with alchohol and with enzymes.

Based on those experiences, I will never again play a record before wet cleaning. Mold release itself may or may not be harmful, though as Loontoon said I don't fancy dragging the stylus of my $7K cartridge through it, but its tendency to attract things that the stylus will scrape against the groovewalls under great pressure makes removing it essential IME.

My preferred RCFs (based on achieving the best results) are the ones made by Record Research Labs. Brian Weitzel is also a chemist BTW, so I'm sure he considered many of the issues Justin_Time has raised. Presumably this explains why RRL contains far lower surfactant levels than other RCFs and no alchohol at all. If RRL leaves any residue or sonic signature I've never heard it. That is not true of the other products I've tried.

Because of its very low surfactant levels, just enough to allow it to flow around and suspend, dissolve or bond with contaminants, RRL works without much scrubbing. This probably helps reduce damage from over-zealous brushing. Low surfactant levels also make it easy for the vacuum to remove. RRL doesn't "want" to leave a film on the vinyl surface that can be adsorbed. (Sorry for the non-scientific language - obviously I am NOT a chemist.)

For most records (80% or so) RRL is about all that's required. The stubborn ones which don't respond to a second RRL cleaning get treated with enzymes, alchohol or higher doses of surfactants, depending on our guess as to the problem. The success rate for these is about 2/3.

Justin_Time's knowledgeable observations seem to lead to this conclusion: there is no perfect RCF, we must choose an optimal compromise. RRL's low level of surfactants and easy rinsability make it exactly that for me.
NOONTOON: Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my thread. In an effort to keep my answers brief, I will not necessarily respond to your comments in the order they were presented.

YOU WROTE: "The better surfactants, enable the water to lose it's surface tension and spread out. (this means it gets deeper in the grooves, did you ever notice that if you slowly and carefully fill a glass of water the dome, meniscus is taller than the rim of the glass? This is surface tension) Further a combination of those will lift not only dust, but organic and inorganic substances. Grease, oil, release agents, sludge, bacteria and any left over water based solids from other cleaners. (I buy used as well as new)"

My main point was not to compare the cleaning effectiveness of various RCFs. It is obvious that surfactant-based RCFs are by far the best cleaners. I already went through the chemistry of record cleaning and the way surfactant works in excruciating details in a very long primer on RCF I posted last week. This threat is about new records, which in my opinion do not usually require deep cleaning. If the main goal was to avoid leaving any background noise behind on a new record which had none to begin with, and for this restricted case only, I find that dry brushing is the safest method and that alcohol-based RCF leaves behind less background noise than surfactant-based RCF.

YOU WROTE:…“The alcohol seems to leave a cleaner record but does it. The alcohol will assist in evaporation of the water but most water, contains small amounts of disolved solids. Even super cleaned RO/polished water. Which are left behind. Crunchy granlola suite!!!”

Alcohol-based RCF leaves behind less residues and less background noise than surfactant-based RCFs (if you do not rinse several times after cleaning and do not use lubricant to dampen the noise) regardless of the quality of the deionized/distilled water (D/D) used. Actually, the topic of residues from D/D is one of the most misunderstood areas of record cleaning. Beyond listening tests (with dry record), a crude material balance easily shows why we have less residues with alcohol-base RCF than with surfactant-based RCF.

I assume here that we use D/D water to make up the alcohol-based RCF. The level of total dissolved solid or TDS (potentially left as residues on vinyl) varies from about 100 ppm in the worse quality of D/D to less than 10 ppm in triple D/D water or triple filtered reverse osmosis water—that’s a mouthful. (I personally use HPLC water which contains less than 0.1 ppm residues.) Now compare that to a surfactant-based RCF, such as the one you make yourself, which typically contains about 1,000 to 5,000 ppm (0.1 to 0.5%) of surfactant dissolved in water (I will ignore the residues from the makeup water for simplicity sake) compared to 10 to 100 ppm TDS in alcohol-based RCF. So which RCF will leave more residues on vinyl after cleaning and vacuum? The surfactant-based RCF of course, by 10 to 500 fold! And we have not yet included the amount of surfactant that is preferentially attracted to the vinyl surface by physical adsorption forces.

In short, a surfactant-based RCF will leave behind far more residues (evaporated and adsorbed) than an alcohol-based RCF, regardless of the quality of the D/D water used in both RCFs. Again, this in no way implies that alcohol-based RCF is a better cleaner; it just leaves less residues, that’s all.

YOU WROTE: “I'll take any small amount of left over surfactant, over the bacteria and mold chewing up my vinyl."

My thread was never meant to be an indictment of surfactant. That would be truly ironic since I make my living designing, studying and using surfactants. Surfactants can be an outstanding cleaners but are not without side effects. Surfactant-based RCF leaves behind surfactant residues from adsorption and evaporation which is far more abundant than water residues from alcohol-based RCF because of the higher surfactant concentration. But, as I pointed out in my thread, you do not have to put up with this. All you have to do is follow each cleaning by rinsing the same way you do your laundry and your record will be perfectly quiet.

In a nutshell, I main hope was to present potential complications arising for each cleaning method. As long as you are aware of them, any method you chose to clean your new records with will the applied with the best possible effectiveness.

Cheers.
Dougdeacon: Thank you for the many interesting points you made.

YOU WROTE: “… I've tried playing new records with only dry brushing. Those records are now ruined. Whatever particulates or contaminates the mold release grabbed onto got ground into/against the vinyl by the stylus. This damage has proved irreversible by cleaning with any means at my disposal - which include a Loricraft, highly purified, deionized water and solutions with surfactants, with alchohol and with enzymes.”

I am sorry to hear about your bad experience with dry brushing. I have not had a comparable experience: I brush a new record carefully before and after each play and store it in a new sleeve free of dust. I know of a well known person in record mastering who flatly refuses to use RCF on ANY record period, so annoyed is he by the background noise created by these cleaners. I am not nearly that extreme because the problem isn’t permanent and can be easily rectified.

Being a surfactant specialist, I used to clean every single new record I bought with surfactant RCF until one day, quite by accident I am ashamed to admit, I played a record that I cleaned about a month earlier and played once without any problems. I was shocked to hear a faint background noise that wasn’t there before. And to my complete horror, I found that ALL my new records cleaned by surfactant RCF had the same faint noise unless they have been played a lot. I figured out what the problem was (dry surfactant film) and promptly proceeded to rinse every previously cleaned record with HPLC water: they are all dead quiet now. I can’t emphasize this point enough: you don’t hear any noise if you play the record immediately after cleaning or with if any lubricant/preserver is present in the RCF.

YOU WROTE: “…My preferred RCFs (based on achieving the best results) are the ones made by Record Research Labs. Brian Weitzel is also a chemist BTW, so I'm sure he considered many of the issues Justin_Time has raised. Presumably this explains why RRL contains far lower surfactant levels than other RCFs and no alchohol at all. If RRL leaves any residue or sonic signature I've never heard it. That is not true of the other products I've tried.”

I agree with you. RRL makes some of the best if not the best RCFs out there. And yes, RRL is probably aware of the problems with surfactant noise. Using less surfactant certainly helps reduce the surfactant residue but unfortunately also reduces the cleaning power as well, thus the need for two cleaners (the Super Deep Cleaner and the Super Vinyl Wash). The lighter-duty SVW also uses a lubricant (carboglycinate) which dampens any noise that the surfactant film might create; this lubricant seems to have little or no signature of its own. Overall, an effective solution if not a simple one.

If you worry about the mold release (Teflon/silicone lubricant) attracting dust and gumming up your expensive stylus—aren’t they all ridiculously expensive these days?—I think the same concern should apply to any lubricant used in the RCF until the manufacturers explain to us how theirs are different and why we shouldn’t worry.

I have played around some with formulating new surfactants for RCF. It is possible to design a surfactant that works very well—actually better than most—at very low concentration, doesn’t adsorb much, and does not create any audible noise after drying. As the market for such experimental surfactants expands to a commercial level, we will be able to use them to make simple and safely effective RCF. I am sure smart RCF manufacturers will figure out what these surfactants are soon enough, if they haven’t already.
LUGNUT: Thanks for the clarifications.

YOU WROTE: “You mention that you can hear the residue for a time after cleaning a new record. My experience is just the opposite. My new recordings have proven to be quieter with cleaning.

Please let me attempt to re-clarify the point: if you clean a new record with an RCF and play this record immediately after cleaning, you don’t hear any noise at all—the surfactant film is still slightly wet. And yes, there is absolutely no doubt the record is quieter after cleaning.

Now put the record away for a month or so. Then play it again: you’ll hear a faint background noise (from dry surfactant film) that wasn’t there before! As a double check, you can simply rinse & vacuum the record a few times: the background noise will disappear.

If you played the cleaned record repeatedly, the noise will also fade away. If you always rinse your new records after cleaning or if your RCF contains a lubricant or preserver, you won’t hear the surfactant noise either.

YOU WROTE: “…Someday somebody will finally introduce an ultrasonic record cleaner that uses only the best water as a cleaning agent and everyone will be on the same page. Hold onto your wallets because it'll be expensive.”

It’s curious that you mentioned ultrasonic cleaners. I have some big ones in the lab that easily accommodate LPs. I tried them. They work better than anything else out there at dislodging dust particles that even my best RCF couldn’t touch. Still, one problem remains. In order to better remove mold release and organic contaminants, I found it necessary to use a little surfactant to better solubilize these materials and also to penetrate deeply into all the nooks and crannies. Unfortunately, the surfactant also caused a not insignificant amount of plasticizer to leach out (as emulsions). Still some more work to be done!
Justin time,

Obviously surfractants, HPLC water and ultrasonic action is too aggressive. Still, I believe even a conventionally applied approach as a first step to remove the mold release compounds followed by an ultrasonic bath using only HPLC water is a sound idea.

Another point which needs to be brought up is cartridge selection. I do rinse with pure, lab grade water as a final cleaning step and that may be partly why I'm satisfied with my cleaning ritual. Through the years I've also found that there are a few cartridge manufacturers whose products seem nearly immune to the surface noises of which we are discussing while other cartridges seem to enhance these artifacts. That is one reason I left the moving magnet camp in the 70's, especially the Shure V15 that is a fine piece in every other regard. My current cartridge is the most quiet in the groove moving coil I've ever heard while still bringing out all of the inner details I love.

Tone arms, tables and phono stages also contribute to what we are discussing even though, to a certain extent, this seems illogical. At least that is what my ears have discoverd through the years. Linear tracking arms are by far the best in my experience but good ones are clearly outside of any budget consideration for me. - Side note here. I'm a strong mechanical guy and a real lightweight with electronics. I've been very lucky being able to hear components in other systems that didn't enhance surface noise and chose those within my budget to great effect. I enjoy great synergy from stylus to amps.

A decade or so ago a CFC cleaner was banned from use. I've never used this product but understand it really removed the mold release compounds and nasty fingerprints quite easily. In one of the many audio catalogs I receive and promptly give away there was a reintroduction to an evironmentally friendly replacement product. Are you familiar with this first step? Any reason not to use them?

For sure, proper cleaning of records is a very time consuming process and one which takes a lot of experimenting to get right. I honestly believe that many folks just don't take the time to experiment and get it right. I intentionally pulled records I cleaned last month for a repeat play last night just to see if I could hear any traces of dried surfactants you mention. My final rinse with lab grade water must make a difference because all of these examples are as quiet as I've ever heard.

I'm surprised that there haven't been more posts to this thread. Mind sharing how many hits it's gotten?
Hello again Lugnut. Once again your response is thought-provoking.

YOU WROTE: “Obviously surfractants, HPLC water and ultrasonic action is too aggressive. Still, I believe even a conventionally applied approach as a first step to remove the mold release compounds followed by an ultrasonic bath using only HPLC water is a sound idea.”
— ABOUT ULTRASONIC. This is actually a rather difficult problem because the cleaning requirements are so fundamentally different: embedded solid particles require mechanical actions, which the ultrasonic machine provides but mold release and even organic contaminants (finger prints, glue and other Unidentified Drying Objects—UDOs?) strongly adhere to the vinyl surface and are surprisingly resistant to ultrasonic action. They require chemical intervention to initially “lift” them off the surface first before ultrasonic can do its work. It is difficult to find a gentler cleaner for Vinyl than surfactant—ammonia, acid, bleach, enzymes are all considerably harsher cleaners. I am looking for a surfactant that provides low surface tension but with a limited ability to solubilize and emulsify. That’s like asking a vampire to only bite but not drink blood. But I still have a few candidates to test if I can find the time.

You WROTE: “A decade or so ago a CFC cleaner was banned from use. I've never used this product but understand it really removed the mold release compounds and nasty fingerprints quite easily. In one of the many audio catalogs I receive and promptly give away there was a reintroduction to an evironmentally friendly replacement product. Are you familiar with this first step? Any reason not to use them?”
— ON CFC CLEANERS. Yes, I am quite familiar with the product. The first one was called…FIRST. As you said, it is a CFC, but it has a longer molecular chain-length than the more familiar Freon. I used many isomers of the trichlorotrifluoroethane from the lab and achieve essentially the same amazing results. They work based on a familiar principle in chemistry: things that are alike prefer to stay together. And Teflon or Silicone mold releases are molecularly similar to CFC and thus easily removed by the latters. I would imagine that if you use a longer-chain CFC, the environmental impact would be dramatically reduced. I am not familiar with the CFC replacement so I can’t be sure what they might do but, if they work like CFCs and if you keep the contact time brief, the plasticizer within the vinyl matrix should be quite safe from these products.

YOU WROTE: “For sure, proper cleaning of records is a very time consuming process and one which takes a lot of experimenting to get right. I honestly believe that many folks just don't take the time to experiment and get it right. I intentionally pulled records I cleaned last month for a repeat play last night just to see if I could hear any traces of dried surfactants you mention. My final rinse with lab grade water must make a difference because all of these examples are as quiet as I've ever heard.”
— ON RINSING. You did the right thing by rinsing your records with distilled water after cleaning. Imagine what would happen to your clothes if you did the laundry without using the rinse cycle! It is such a trivial thing that I am puzzled why so many people do not automatically rinse their records after cleaning.
— A SMALL EXPERIMENT. Are you curious enough to conduct a small experiment? First only dry-brush a brand new record and then play it once. Next, clean the record with a surfactant-based cleaner—no lubricant or preserver please!—and vacuum it thoroughly to remove the excess liquid but skip the rinsing step. Now play the record again immediately. If you used a good RCF, you’d notice that the record is dead quiet, an improvement over the un-cleaned new record. Next store the record for about a month or two (the length depends on the humidity in your house). Finally, play the record again: you’ll hear a very faint background noise that sounds like a dusty record but with ultra-fine dust particles! Don’t worry; you haven’t damaged your record. Just rinse it a couple of times, et voila, the noise will not come back.

YOU WROTE: “I'm surprised that there haven't been more posts to this thread. Mind sharing how many hits it's gotten?”
— HITS OR MISSHITS? So far, this thread has 288 hits. My previous RCF thread, a long primer—an oxymoron?—received 1188 hits and 33 responses. I can only guess the reasons why threads like mine have relatively few hits. First, my threads are much longer than the average threads which immediately puts many people off and even angered a few. Second, I tend to present or discuss basic concepts in the hope that people will use the knowledge to make their own decisions in specific situations. Apparently, this is not a very popular approach—people prefer instant gratifications and quick fixes. My approach may even appear condescending to some people. Finally, Chemistry is a notoriously unpopular topic with audiophiles who much prefer talking about mechanical or electronic issues perhaps because many have those backgrounds. But that’s all just wild guesses. Perhaps my verbosity and pontification put people to sleep. For this, I am amused and strangely unrepentant.
Justin_time,

I'm one of those quiet readers who have very much enjoyed reading your posts and following the dialog. The time and effort you've contributed to sharing so much good technical information and experience is valued in this corner - THANK YOU.

At the same time, I find myself, based on my experiences over the years as a non-technically trained vinyl enthusiast, very much following the same process and philosophy as Lugnut, Loontoon and Dougdeacon: everything here gets cleaned with one of the commercial fluids, thoroughly rinsed with distilled water and vac'd before the stylus ever touches 'em. Dry brushing with a carbon fiber brush is then mandatory before playing.

Still, your explanations have been most helpful and educational. Thanks once again.

Regards,
Rushton, thank you very much for your words of appreciation.

Your choice to clean all new records with an RCF and then rinse them with distilled water is completely valid. You should have no trouble with the "dry surfactant" noise that I discussed because you get that problem only when you use a surfactant cleaner without rinsing.

I am getting lazy in my old age. I reserve wet-cleaning with RCF and multiple rinsing for the few new records that I really treasure for sonic and/or musical reasons. The rest gets only the dry-brush treatment.

Once again thank you for taking the time to read my thread and for sharing your views.
I was wondering about the water to be used for rinsing. I use RRL products for record cleaning but do not rinse. I was told, and have read that one uses a two step application, the stronger Super Deep Cleaner then the Super Vinyl wash and vacuum. Then play. Though for new records I only use the latter wash. I thought the vacuuming was supposed to remove the residue. I figured that would do it or it would evaporate. However if I were to rinse, what water would be best and where would I get it? Would typical distilled water work or is there something more pure?

Thanks, this has been an interesting discussion with a lot information.....
Letch,

Check in your phone book's yellow pages under Laboratories-testing. Find a lab that is a Certified Laboratory Service. They make their own lab grade water. This water has less than 0.1 ppm total disolved solids and is ideal for a final rinse.

The local lab here is so kind about giving the water away. Since discovering their existence I've shared the news with a small group of other vinyl enthusiasts that also get the water free. I would suggest that you buy a 2 1/2 gallon container of drinking water at the grocery store and after consuming it have it filled with the good stuff. That way you have a lot on hand and don't make a pest out of yourself by stopping by too often.

Expect the lab grade water to bead up on the record like the RRL Super Vinyl Wash although this somewhat depends on the vinyl's composition. I use a cheap foam paint brush to gently work the rinse water into the record surface for a couple of rotations and immediately vaccuum.
A few answers for Letch about rinsing and vacuuming.

YOU WROTE: “I was wondering about the water to be used for rinsing. I use RRL products for record cleaning but do not rinse. I was told, and have read that one uses a two step application, the stronger Super Deep Cleaner then the Super Vinyl wash and vacuum. Then play. Though for new records I only use the latter wash….”

If you use RRL SVW on your records, you do not have to rinse them after cleaning. The point of rinsing is to remove the surfactant left on the vinyl after vacuuming that can be noisy when dry (weeks later). But RRL SVW contains a lubricant (carboglycinate) which will keep the left-over surfactant wet and will also dampen the noise. You can rinse with water if you like, but this action will remove not only most of the surfactant, which is a good thing, but some of the lubricant as well, though not all.

YOU WROTE: “…I thought the vacuuming was supposed to remove the residue. I figured that would do it or it would evaporate...”

Vacuum physically removes the bulk of the fluid from the vinyl surface and evaporates the rest. But some surfactant will stay behind on the vinyl surface by adsorption or simply because it is a heavy liquid or a solid that does not evaporate under vacuum. Surfactants, and other materials dissolved in the RCF will remain on the vinyl after vacuum to make up what we loosely call residue.

Good luck with the water (you may also want to check my response to Lugnut about water source).
Lugnut, thanks for the suggestion on the water source. Lab water is plenty good for rinsing records. Due to the high volume required, instead of distilled water, most laboratories use de-ionized water, which is much more than adequate for our purpose. Some health-food stores are starting to use the same system to produce drinking water.

The storage container is absolutely critical. It is essential that you use a container that is free of contaminants and completely inert. The safest storage containers are those gallon jugs made of amber glass (to minimize UV-related problem) with a plastic cap. Of course you should first clean all storage bottles with a mild detergent and rinse them thoroughly with tap water and one final time with your pure water. If you use a plastic bottle, make absolutely sure that it is made of polyethylene or polypropylene (pure polymers) and not PVC or other plastics that contain plasticizers, which will slowly leach into your pure water and ruin it. Of course they should be thoroughly and similarly cleaned before use.

Do you think there is a need for more information on the water purity required, where you can get it, how to store it? I think I can put something together if there is a real need for it.
I'm satisfied with my sources for water. There is probably a need for folks that are not in the know for some more information.

Thanks for all your effort.
Thanks for the info guys. Justin, I wouldn't mind more information on the water situation. I always think it's good to err on the side of more information. People can do with as they will........
Having read through this thread, something from my own record cleaning experience comes to mind. My current cleaning regime includes the use of Vinyl Zyme and L' Art du Son cleaners (though I have used the Microcare products which are environmentally safe plastic cleaners similar to the CFC mentioned).

The difference in wetting the grooves seems to vary, sometimes drastically, from one record to another. Some records seem to bead up the solution no matter what, while other records wet very thoroughly. I had been wondering if this was related to the vinyl formulation. It doesn't seem to be related to whether the record is new or used.

Any thoughts?
Willster, a valid diagnosis is nearly impossible without specific information on each and every case. All I can do is give you some general concepts which may help you identify the problem yourself.

Whether the RCF will spread or bead up on a Vinyl surface depends both on the RCF and the Vinyl surface (not the vinyl). The contact angle between the RCF droplet and the surface must be favorable for the liquid droplet to spread. Part of the requirement is for the surface tension of the RCF to be low, the lower the better (pure water has a surface tension of about 60-70 dyne/cm; good surfactants will reduce the surface tension by a factor of three, to around 20 dyne/cm). The other parameter is the wettability of the Vinyl surface.

With different RCFs, you may have different surface tensions which lead to different spreading tendencies. With the same RCF, the surface tension will tend to increase if the RCF is diluted with too much water.

The vinyl itself is pretty much an invariant. The polymer molecular structure is ALWAYS the same, a polyvinylchloride or (—CH2—CHCl—)n. The amount of plasticizer (phthalate ester or 1,2 benzenedicarboxylate) used to soften the vinyl may vary slightly from record to record but this is unlikely to fundamentally change the wettability of the Vinyl surface. The type or amount of mold release (Teflon or silicone product) covering the Vinyl surface is also likely to vary from record to record. This will alter the wettability of the Vinyl surface.

So in a nutshell, either the surface tension varies with different brands of RCF and different levels of dilution or the wettability of the Vinyl surface varies with different types or amounts of mold release. The important thing is you can’t clean what you can’t touch: if your RCF does not completely wet the Vinyl surface, you cannot clean it well. Apply the full-strength RCF a couple of times to ensure intimate contact for better results.
Justin time wrote "So in a nutshell, either the surface tension varies with different brands of RCF and different levels of dilution or the wettability of the Vinyl surface varies with different types or amounts of mold release."

The RCF is constant in this case so that would leave me to conclude that the mold release or other contaminant on the record surface is to blame. I've seen this effect with relatively old used records as well as newer ones. Mold release must be very durable stuff to last so long.
Willster: unless I could get data that tell me otherwise, that would also be the only conclusion I could draw.

The mold release is a lubricant that is applied to the mold; each record may get a different amount as it is pressed. The number of times you play the record--each play removes a small fraction of the mold release--and not chronological age determines the amount of mold release left. Yes, teflon or silicone mold release is extremely stable, chemically. Mechanically, is gets chewed up by friction against the stylus the same way that your engine oil gets broken down by shear and heat.

The other possiblity, though remote, is the various amounts of plasticizer lost due to extremely slow evaporation--remember the white haze on the windshield of early Datsun? That's phthalate deposit--which could affect the wettability of the vinyl surface.

I forgot one other variable: the amount of high-frequency information on the particular record. The more high-frequency info the record has, the more tiny grooves it contains--in the oder of 0.1 micron around 15 kHz--and the harder it is for the RCF to penetrate and wet these tight spaces, everything elese being the same (same RCF, same wettability).

I hope this helps a little more. Cheers.
I noticed you neglecled to mention LAST record presevative. I clean my new records with Disc Doctor RCF on a VPI 16.5 After thay I apply Last and I've had records I've played hundreds of times. It fact I have a MoFi copy Of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars that I've played more times that I can recall. NO wear, no clicks and pops, no loss of fidelity. Oh by the way I use Stylast every play. I took my cartridge to my dealer who still has a stylus microscope and the first words out of lips were"You use Stylast". I've since upgraded to a Benz Ruby 3, but my habits haven't changed. It it true alcohol damages vinyl by removing polymers and other oils and that constant contact will make the vinyl brittle?
Alephman-I assume that your post was addressed to me (it is hard to tell in this forum).

YOU WROTE: "I noticed you neglecled to mention LAST record preservative. "

As a general rule, I try not to comment on commercial RCFs; my main objective is to provide general information and discuss basic concepts, not to praise or badmouth any particular commercial product. I understand that this often makes it difficult for reader to evaluate some of the ideas that I proposed but this shortcoming is unavoidable. You have to look elsewhere for specific recommendation/opinion about commercial products.

YOU WROTE: "It it true alcohol damages vinyl by removing polymers and other oils and that constant contact will make the vinyl brittle?"

For a longer discussion on the effect of alcohol on vinyl, please check my older thread: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?eanlg&1124989009&read&3&4&

Strictly speaking, vinyl or PVC is a completely inert polymer that is susceptible only to very strong acids or bases, powerful oxidizers, and strong UV exposure. PURE alcohols, however, can extract out the plasticizer (phthalate esters), which was ADDED to the vinyl to soften it. The danger of extracting the plasticizer from vinyl is reduced as the alcohol is diluted in water. The reason is simple but long to explain.

The plasticizer, an organic compound with low to medium dielectric constant--I don't recall its exact value--is soluble in any liquid (organic solvent) with a similar dielectric constant like alcohols (dielectric constant around 20 to 30. By the way, you should never use ammonia or vinegar on vinyl for the same reason: low dielectric constants). But when an alcohol is diluted with a lot of water, which has a very high dielectric constant (around 78), the resulting fluid acquires a higher dielectric constant and loses most of its ability to dissolve the plasticizer.

The contact time between any RCF and vinyl should ALWAYS be minimized. Even surfactant-based RCF will extract out the plasticizer given enough contact time (by a mechanism called micellar solubilization, which is different from that of alcohol).

I hope this helps.
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Here is another Justin Gem revisited.
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Rgds,
Larry
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Hello, I have recently started to dip my fit into Vinyl playback just because I was curious. I purchased a turntable and then a couple of days later came across the world of record cleaning. Needless to say I am quite overwhelmed.

Anyway, I ended up purchasing a VPI 16.5. So far I have only used the RCF and brush that came with the machine.

What I am confused about what happened with a new record. I had played it a couple of times without any cleaning other then the carbon fiber brush (I didn't have the VPI at the time). The record was very quite other then a couple of pops. I was very happy.

This morning I cleaned the very same record according to the instructions and also what my Dealer had shown me. I did not rinse the record, as I was not aware that I needed to do this. I vacuumed the record for just 2 rotations.

I played the record right away and my earlier happiness vanished. :)
The record was far noisier, with many more pops and clicks all the time. I haven't figured out what I did wrong. Or what I didn't do.

Maybe I didn't vacuum enough?

I tried later in the day again and did the cleaning steps again, only after the vacuuming I let the record air dry further for an hour. This time the pops and clicks were much less but there was still more obvious surface noise on the quieter passages compared to before cleaning this record.

Any ideas what could be causing this? Should I do the rinsing? Should I try the RRL RCF. The VPI RCF is apparently alcohol based according to the dealer (distilled water, alcohol, a few drops of windex, a few drops of photo flo).

Thanks,

-- Sanjay
Sanjay,
Apparently, you've dug up a very old thread, in which much of what was written back then can almost be called void now in 2008.

You've most certainly not made a mistake purchasing the VPI 16.5 RCM. I strongly doubt that the info your dealer gave you about VPI's cleaner containing such frankenstein lab products as Windex, Photo-Flo, and such is true.

None the less, today, I feel there are better cleaning systems than a one step VPI Cleaning Fluid, and other highly knowledgeable folks here will tell you, products from AIVS, and Lloyd Walker are vastly superior to what was available just a few years back.

There's plenty here written about them, just do a search. I think you will then find yourself on the right path. Even with such state of the art cleaners of today, proper rinsing with the purest waters-rinses avaliable will be of great benefit, and without them, even the best cleaners will fall short of successfully making your vinyl sound its best. Mark
Agree completely with Markd51. There are more effective fluids than VPI's (specifically, the two he named) and yes you should be rinsing after cleaning, with very pure water.

Would you wash your dishes (or yourself) with soapy water and not rinse? The residue left behind would grab onto any loose dust or dirt that came along. The surface would quickly get even dirtier than it was before. That's probably what you're hearing.
According to mastering engineer Stan Ricker, record presses are not sprayed with Teflon or silicone or anything else. Do a search on YouTube on "how records are made" and you'll find several videos showing the process such as this one. You won't see anything being sprayed in the press.
I made this post back in May of 2002 and still stand behind it 100%!

Benefits of Proper Vinyl Record Cleaning

This web site has been an excellent source of information and knowledge sharing for audiophile’s worldwide. This analog thread has been created as a product testimonial and instructional guideline based upon my personal experience in cleaning vinyl. I started researching this subject approximately a year ago. Please keep in mind this thread is for the budget minded, and requires a time commitment as well as patience. I ultimately purchased a record cleaning system called “The Disc Doctor” (thedoctor@discdoc.com), along with a manual operated vacuum machine called “The Record Doctor II” from Audio Advisor. The instructions for both products are easy to follow and understand. Do not utilize the needle bearing provided with the vacuum machine, it does not function as advertised. Following is the procedure I followed/developed for cleaning my collection of vinyl. Patience is required. It took me 16 hours to clean 105 albums, or 210 sides.

Materials required: Card table, one gallon distilled water, two stainless steel cereal sized bowls with folded over lip, two white terry cloth bath towels with no fabric softener used during laundering, cleaning solution, vacuum machine, new rice paper anti-static record sleeves.

Process sequence: Place one towel onto table. Place vacuum machine on towel on the right side. Fill one stainless bowl half way with distilled water. Add four ounces of cleaning solution to two ounces of distilled water into other bowl. Place both bowls in front of vacuum machine. Place both cleaning pads in front of bowls. Place record on towel, to the left. Dip one pad into cleaning solution; gently scrap on lip of bowl to remove excess. Place pad onto record, and under its own weight, make one revolution. Then in an arc, following the radius of the record, gently sweep the cleaning pad back and forth in approx. 90-degree increments. Perform the “scrubbing” procedure for three revolutions. Place cleaning pad in cleaning solution bowl. Place second towel on record and pat dry only. Dip second cleaning pad into bowl of distilled water, and gently scrap off excess on bowl lip. Follow same procedure as cleaning. Place pad into water bowl. Place record onto vacuum machine, wet side down, per instructions. Four slow revolutions are sufficient to remove all spent solution. Repeat procedure to the other side. Once completed, place record into a new sleeve, and return to its cover. After about 15 to 20 record cleanings, replace both spent solutions with fresh solutions. Its best to call it a day after 30/40 record cleanings.

Results: You will be astounded by the results! Over 95% of ticks and pops will be removed. All frequency ranges will drastically improve. You will be shocked at the new sound quality and very, very pleased. It is well worth your time and effort to perform this cleaning procedure. Note: This procedure will not repair damaged vinyl. Manufacturing defects will not be erased. Good news: This is a one shot process. Future cleaning is not required. Just gently brush record one revolution with dry carbon fiber brush; Hunt makes a nice one.

Total investment: $ 150.00. Monies well spent.
You should not perpetuate the myth that phthalate esters are used as plasticizers in LPs if you want anyone to seriously consider anything else you may write which might just contain a grain of truth. And could someone please list those record companies who added silicones or teflon to their vinyl mixes as "mold release"? Plus some evidence of authentication.

My researches suggest that "mold release", last widely used in shellac 78s, might be yet another urban myth. I'd appreciate confirmation or otherwise from someone who has direct experience.
Maybe it is an urban myth, maybe it is not. I have read Stan's comments and others on this. There seems to be no evidence that mold release agents were used with modern pressings, but there is also no evidence that proves these agents were never used. For me this issue in the "better-safe-than-sorry" category. It takes less than a minute to use something like Premier on a new LP so that's what I do. Everyone is, of course, free to do what ever they want to their own records but I can't see how an additional cleaning step is going to cause any harm.