5 Do’s and Don’ts of caring for vinyl records
Top tip #1:
Don’t be like Iggy
Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that. But really, if you follow these easy steps, your records will stay in tippy-top shape (just like the White House) for the rest of your life, and probably your children’s, and your children’s children’s lives too.
There are a lot of new collectors out there who have just started digging their greasy little paws into vinyl records, and the wealth of information on the internet about this topic can be a little overwhelming. So I’ve come up with 5 Do’s and Don’ts for storing and caring for your vinyl records to enjoy hours of listening pleasure for years to come. These are important to remember whether you’re buying used or new records!
1. DON’T stack your records on top of one another.
Records are heavy, and they often come packed with little extras such a booklets, or singles. When stacked on top of each other, this can lead to an uneven weight distribution on the records and result in warping of the ones closer to the bottom of the pile. This is definitely no beuno. It also increases ringwear on the outer sleeve which is near impossible to fix. So it’s important to store your records vertically. But you can also run into problems here if you pack your shelves too tight, or you have a large number of records leaning on one at the end. You need to ensure you have enough dividers between your records to reduce the pressure on the ones at the end. That’s why these Ikea Kallax shelves are a go to for any new record collector. They are perfectly sized and wonderfully modular to start your collection off right. If you prefer something with more of a rustic crate digging feel, I like this Crosley record storage crate. Or if you’re more into displaying your vinyl for the world to see, then these wall mounted display racks are sure to impress.
2. DO store your records in high quality plastic jackets and inner sleeves
Decent plastic jackets will protect your sleeves from ringwear and protect your records from dust. I like these polyethylene outer sleeves as they are made from thick plastic to really protect your records, and they are big enough to fit most double albums comfortably.
The inner sleeve of your record is super important. Usually they will come in paper sleeves which over a lifetime of moving records in and out will result in erosion. That’s bad. But you can get inner sleeves lined with plastic to reduce this erosion. That’s good. These MoFi inner sleeves also reduce static leading to less dust accumulation. That’s also good.
3. DON’T put your grimy little fingers all over the surface of the record
This one may seem pretty obvious, but it is really important to remember. The oils and dirt from our hands can result in the accumulation of dust. This will lead to poor sound quality, as well as damage to your stylus over time. If you do accidentally touch the playing surface of the record, be sure to clean it immediately to ensure future you has the best listening experience possible.
4. DO clean your records before playing them…yes, every time
So may sound like a pain, or a bit pedantic, but it’s actually pretty important. We’re not talking about breaking out the high pressure hose and going to town on them. Simply wiping the surface dust off the record before playing, even brand new records, will extend not only their life, but also the life of your stylus. All you have to do is run a velvet brush, or soft carbon fibre brush over the record surface as it spins. For records that might require a bit more attention, you can do a deeper clean with a bit of vinyl cleaning solution on a microfiber cloth. Make sure you wipe in a circular motion with the grooves. Easy to do when the record is spinning. You should also clean your stylus from the back to the front with a special stylus brush. Remember, wipe from the back of the cartridge to the front to ensure you don’t damage the stylus. This record cleaning kit has everything you need to get started, and for a heck of a price too.
Using kits like the one linked above will still leave a small amount of microscopic dust on your records, which will reduce your sound quality and damage your stylus over time. In order to really give your records a good clean, you really need to wet clean them every now and then. This is not exactly a fun activity. It’s laborious, time consuming and pretty messy. But if you can bring yourself to do it once a year or so, you won’t regret it. Most of the time when you hear crackles and pops on the record, it’s just because it’s a little dirty. Check out the electron microscopy images below of before and after a wet clean. You can really see the difference it makes! Give this record washing kit a try as it’s the most affordable one out there with pretty decent reviews. You can of course go all out and spend big with this guy, but in all honesty, it will still be an unpleasant task no matter how much you spend on it.
Something else that will keep your records clean, and your stylus in the best condition possible, is reducing the static charge of your records before playing them. Your records are made from PVC, which is highly prone to building up static electricity. Even just walking across a carpet with your record, or taking them in and out of their paper inner sleeves, can cause a build up of static – which is why you should switch to the MoFi ones above! This build up of static makes your record a literal dust magnet, which turns your stylus into the collector of that dust. This anti-static gun produces ions that essentially neutralise the static. It’s kinda like magic, but it’s science.
5. DON’T let poor upkeep of your stylus and turntable ruin your records!
I’ve mentioned above how dust and grime can damage stylus over time. This is leads to a horrible vortex of sorrow and heartbreak, as a damaged stylus, or a poorly setup/aligned tone-arm, can really damage your records. So care for your equipment, and your equipment will care for you vinyl, and your vinyl will care for your soul. That is the order of things.
The above kit comes with a little carbon fibre brush for removing dust from your stylus, which is a nice little feature. You don’t want to be trying to remove dust with your fingers, hopefully that’s obvious. This will keep your stylus working well until it’s time to be replaced. But as far as balancing and aligning your tone-arm goes…well, that will requires a little more finesse.
Most new turntables come set up with the cartridge pre-fitted and aligned. But if you’ve got a used one on your hands, you might want to check it to ensure it won’t cause damage. I’m not going to advise you on how to do this, you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for details. Or alternatively, speak to a specialist!