In the second of a proposed trio of cleaning Guides, Paul Rigby examines how to clean vinyl using a Record Cleaning Machine (RCM)
Each of the three vinyl cleaning Guides in this series are stand-alone features. This means that a batch of explanatory text will be repeated across all three. The idea was to prevent you from having to bounce around the Guides to seek the information you require. I also didn’t want to assume that anyone reading Part 2 had read Part 1.
USING THIS GUIDE
I have tried to make this Guide modular with lots of sub headings to allow you to skip past the parts you may have already read about in Part 1. That is, anyone who has read Part 1 can skip the bits they may already know so they can focus on the new editorial.
This Guide is divided into two Sections (well three, including this introductory part). Section 1 provides all of the background information and content plus all of the tools and how to use the Disco Antistat. The reason? Because the Disco Antistat will be brought into the testing process later in this Guide. More on that later.
Section 2 gets to the meat of this Guide, the actual testing of the RCM itself. So if you’re a veteran of the Vinyl Cleaning Guide Pt. 1 then, once you’ve read this introductory bit, you might want to skip right to Section 2.
If you’re new to my Guides and Part 2 is your first foray then I’d recommend tackling the whole thing. Take it slowly and at your own pace. Move around the Guide and please take note, take from it what you find of use. I’m not expecting you to follow every piece of advice verbatim (although I can guarantee a great vinyl clean, if you do so). By all means, use this Guide to suit you, your vinyl collection and your own vinyl cleaning aims. I offer you the result of many years of research but it’s up to you if you use all, part or any of it.
In Section Two I will test a RCM on its own. Then I will bring in a Disco Antistat + Surfactant combo to see if the latter proves as a useful assistant to the RCM, in terms of cleaning.
After that I will turn that notion on its head. I will clean a record with a Disco Antistat + Surfactant combo first and then see if you actually need a RCM in the first place. That is, adding a surfactant element to a basic Disco Antistat elevates its cleaning power to such a high level. I now know this after my research for Pt.1 of this Guide.
I wondered if the RCM would be of much use, at that point. That is, for this Guide, I wanted to find out just how important RCM technology is to vinyl cleaning, in basic terms.
The results were very interesting and – to me – surprising. You can find out more yourself as you read this Guide.
In Part 1 of this series, we examined how to clean your vinyl records using a manual process. You can find out more via this link (https://theaudiophileman.com/vinyl-cleaning-guide-part-1-manual-cleaning/)
That feature was aimed at users whose proposed budget spend was relatively low. It was a solution for those vinyl fans who didn’t want to commit a large sum of money to the task of cleaning the records in their collection.
In this feature, the stakes and the prices are rather higher because we’re looking at the Record Cleaning Machine (RCM). That takes the budget from the tens of pounds to the region of hundreds of pounds.
There are a host of RCMs currently for sale and for a variety of prices too. Some of the companies producing their own RCMs include Pro-Ject, VPI, Clearaudio, Loricraft, Moth, Okki Nokki, Record Doctor, SOTA, Nitty Gritty and who know’s what else.
This is not the feature to talk about the pros and cons of individual RCM designs and it’s not the place to rate each and every option out there. Saying that, I did settle on one particular machine for the RCM testing in this feature. More on that later.
As opposed to brand names and their products, this feature is aimed primarily at the technology itself because, despite the design variations, all RCMs follow a very similar template. They behave in a similar fashion and they operate by a similar method.
In broad terms, a RCM tends to look like a turntable. That is, you have the ability to place your grubby record on a movable platter, dowse the record with cleaning liquid, work that liquid into the grooves with a supplied brush and then vacuum the resultant liquid and dirt melange with a vacuum which often bears an uncanny resemblance to a tonearm. Dependant on the individual RCM design, of course.
THE AIMS OF THIS GUIDE
In this Guide, I want to examine a number of questions and their attendant variables.
I want to examine the RCM cleaning system as a system, as a process, as a technology, close at hand or rather, ear.
That is, I want to see just how efficient it is and if it does the job as advertised. Is it fit for purpose? We all take RCM technology as read. We all assume it works and does a great job.
Please correct me if I’m wrong but, as far as I’m aware, no-one has ever done this. No one has ever questioned the basic technology. RCMs are pretty much assumed to be wonderful. HiFi and vinyl users blindly accept it as a method for cleaning vinyl.
Yes, there are lots of RCM reviews out there (many of them my own, I have to say) declaring how well this or that RCM cleans vinyl. How this machine is better than that machine. How this RCM gizmo/tool/liquid enhances the overall clean. But on an intrinsic level, how good is the tech?
Before now, I don’t think RCMs have had a competitor to worry them. I think they have now.
Some may scoff but the Disco Antistat is a giant-killing cleaning machine. No, let me rephrase that. The Disco Antistat + Surfactant Package is a giant-killing vinyl-cleaning system.
It’s a system that offers a unique blend of surfactant-sourced efficiency (that is, the cleaning action can now get closer to the groove walls to do its job) with that essential extra cleaning process, abrasion. No one in the HiFi industry or the HiFi community (again, to my knowledge as I write these words) talks about abrasion in vinyl-cleaning terms. No one.
The issue is this. RCMs offer no abrasive qualities. None. Zero. To me, that could be an issue. A problem.
And I wonder if that is the RCM technology’s achilles heel. We will see.
METHODOLOGY & MISSION
With the above in mind then, how do I propose to test the RCM as a cleaning technology?
Firstly, I wanted to look again at the RCM on its own, using liquid formulations that I have already discussed within Part 1 of this Guide.
Using the same treated vinyl, I then wanted to bring in a surfactant package to see if that enhanced the RCM’s cleaning abilities.
After that, my intention was to then bring in a Disco Antistat to see if its abrasive qualities could lift the cleaning quality still further.
That should cover one set of variables.
Next? I wanted to swing that entire process around. I wanted to do a 180 degree cleaning regime. Instead of starting my vinyl clean with the RCM and ending with the Antistat I wanted to start with the Antistat and end with the RCM.
Hence, I wanted to clean a different disc with the Disco Antistat plus surfactant and then, after that clean was complete, move to the RCM.
After completing the manual cleaning tests of Part 1 of this Guide, I’m convinced that teaming the surfactant process to the Disco Antistat boosts its cleaning efficiency enormously. It essentially offers a turboboost to the basic (yet still good) cleaning abilities of the Disco Antistat.
What I wanted to know was, by how much? That is, is the cleaning boost large enough to suggest that a typical RCM is now redundant? Has the Disco Antistat + Surfactant package caught up enough ground to make RCM technology over-priced and less efficient? That a RCM is no longer needed? That the large sums of money demanded for a typical RCM purchase are just no longer worth it? Squeezed by this turbo-boosted Disco Antistat + Surfactant Package on the bottom end and superior ultrasonic technologies on the top end, I wondered if the RCM was being squeezed to death.
One of the questions I ask during this test is this: is RCM technology moribund? Has RCM technology failed to move with the times? Because ultrasonic technology has knocked the RCM off its perch – and it has – and replaced it as the No.1 vinyl cleaning tech currently on the market and because the Disco Antistat + Surfactant package offers improved performance for manual cleaners at an amazingly low price has the RCM – which is now squeezed between the two – had its day? Is the RCM, in tech terms, obsolescent?
ROOTS OF THE SYSTEM
Before I get to the meat of the text, some context. If you’re new to these Guides then I consider this bit important. It adds context as to why I decided upon this method.
After all, you’re being asked to use this Vinyl Cleaning Guide on your precious vinyl. To have confidence in the system itself, via a bit of background and an explanation of the system itself, should be in order I reckon.
I haven’t come to this point in isolation and I haven’t just picked it out of thin air because it sounds good or a chap told me about it down the pub. There’s been years of application and research behind it.
This Vinyl Cleaning Guide was the result of ongoing and exhaustive testing. If new technologies or techniques presented themselves, I experimented with those and either discarded or adopted them as part of the ongoing evolution.
In that quest I was aided tremendously by my job. That is, as a full time HiFi journalist I have been very fortunate to be able to call upon new products, of varying types and price points, to test on a regular basis. Whether they be low cost tools, elaborate cleaning machines, liquids, brushes and more. Having the opportunity to compare and contrast a host of products, I was able to undertake a broad comparison with most of the products out there, currently on the market.
Hence, there have been numerous occasions over the past years where I thought I’d found ‘the answer’. The final cleaning system. The One. Only to be presented with a new cleaning liquid or new technology or new technique. That’s then opened new doors to further tests and possible improvements.
Hence, I realise that the Vinyl Cleaning Guide I offer here will, I have no doubt, be improved and enhanced in the future sometime.
As such, there is no ultimate cleaning system. And don’t be fooled by the person that says that such a system exists. There’s only the best system you have, thus far. Improvements will be lurking around the next corner. Or should be. I know that I never rest and am always testing new hardware, liquids and techniques.
The final parts of the puzzle for this Guide (well, thus far) began to be applied almost two year’s ago. At that time, I began to undertake the testing of a range of ultrasonic machines. This began around September 2018 and finished during the Summer of 2020. I then began to build a Guide from that point.
During that time, I took it upon myself to seek out and interview a host of professionals who might be better able to shed light on the vinyl product itself, its make up and behaviour. The idea was to better understand thus stuff called ‘vinyl’.
That involved a range of interviews with the vinyl industry itself. And when I say vinyl industry I mean people who are involved in actually creating the raw material, those who use it in pressing plants and recording studios.
Hence, I talked to two UK companies who create vinyl pellets (i.e. INEOS and Dugdale). Two of the most important outfits currently in operation in the world, actually. Vinyl pellets are the raw material that’s bought in by vinyl pressing plants and is used to make vinyl records.
I also talked to a lady, based in Canada. A chemist, she is employed as a consultant to Abbey Road and has an excellent knowledge of vinyl.
Similarly, I talked to the MD of a company, based in the UK this time, who create blank acetate discs and cutting stylii for the recording industry called Micro-Point, formerly Transco-blanx. Both products were and are used by Abbey Road during the creation of demo discs. Micro-Point’s products have been in use since the 50s. Again, their knowledge was invaluable.
As was the information I received by the General Manager of the current Vinyl Factory vinyl pressing plant, the old EMI Hayes site. The same one used to press all of those old Beatles records of yore and one that originally swore by its original ‘kite’ marks of excellence, I recall. In fact I myself once paid a visit to the place and was shown the thick ‘kite’ standards document they used, when the plant was still in EMI hands. Oh and by a man in a white lab coat, would you believe. Yes, they still existed, even then. I think this was around the year 2000. Possibly a bit later.
So you can see. I ran around collecting as much information as possible, over the months, in my quest to find the best possible method of cleaning vinyl discs.
I repeat though, the Vinyl Cleaning Guide I present here is not perfect. It can’t be. Such a thing doesn’t exist. It remains the best system I have to hand for now. Who knows, next week, I might change and improve upon it.
The Vinyl Cleaning Guide I use is based on three elements:
The first is the use of alcohol. Depending on the advancement of my own research, I have rejected, adopted, rejected and have now adopted it again. My initial caution in its use related to the fact that alcohol can be aggressive when used in direct contact with vinyl and in high concentration. It can soften the material leading to groove wall distortion and even brittleness in extreme cases, if used over long period of time.
Used judiciously and in small concentrations though, it can be highly beneficial in terms of vinyl cleaning. It took me a while to find that out. I eventually found the correct proportions over months of testing.
I have produced a more in-depth study of alcohol in video form. You can find the link below. This video also talks about the nature of vinyl itself. A subject that is also important when cleaning the stuff is being considered.
Most people think that vinyl is made purely from PVC. More knowledgable people realise that other substances are used in its creation. To say that a vinyl disc is made from PVC is like saying a car is made from metal. Both substances form a large part of the final construction but if that’s all they were about then neither would perform. Neither would work properly – or at all.
In fact, a vinyl disc is an amalgamation of a dozen or so different chemicals (the quantities and chemical types vary depending on the individual pellet company producing the recipe). All of which are useful in terms of vinyl production and sound quality.
What many don’t know though is that the recipe for vinyl itself is not fixed or constant. Each vinyl pellet company has their own recipe (well recipes, six variants are on hand every single working day) while that recipe can change multiple times over the years via modifications and tweaks.
Which means, if you add up the multiple recipes used on a daily basis by each company, that there’s a 40-50 pellet companies currently operating in the world and hundreds more have gone to the wall over the past several decades, the history of vinyl consists of possibly thousands of different vinyl recipes, all of which hold their own chemical properties and behave differently when faced with stress, pressures, heat and yes, cleaning products.
This also means that, quite possibly, and especially if you hold older examples, every vinyl disc in your current collection may very well be chemically unique.
You can find more via the link below:
Alcohol is one of the main points of this cleaning regime but surfactants is another. Finding out about surfactants was a revelation to me in terms of vinyl cleaning. Its use took the standard of my cleaned vinyl discs onto another level. I only came across the technique when ultrasonic technology entered my professional life a few years back but I soon found that surfactants could be applied to any sort of of vinyl cleaning.
I have written a Guide to surfactants HERE which will explain what they’re all about, what surfactants are currently out there and my preferred product. I won’t repeat myself here so please check out the link for more on that. Suffice to say that surfactants play a part in this cleaning guide. IF you’d rather watch a video version – check that out here…
Finally, one of the most neglected parts of vinyl cleaning is abrasion. I haven’t talked too much about this in the past so let’s examine the process now and find out why its important to the cleaning of vinyl.
Talk of abrasion is not something you tend to see within editorial dedicated to hi-fi. And yet. Here we are.
Don’t settle down too much because I want to whisk you off to your school days for a moment. Abrasion was always that thing you talked about in Geography class as the force that transformed rocks into nicely rounded pebbles. Ready made to add a tad of textural variety to your garden or to hand paint as a ladybird or hedgehog and sell on Etsy. Isn’t nature wonderful?
Abrasion is also something that’s sorely needed in hi-fi. Trouble is, we ain’t getting enough of it.
To explain why, I want you to picture TV personality and actor, Tony Robinson. The Baldrick of this parish and the man who would gaily bounce around a different sort of trench on the BBC TV programme, Time Team. Within which, he would run around terribly fast, hither and thither, securing breathless updates on the latest dig, offering wide-eyed excitement and puppy-dog enthusiasm. Fit to burst, he was.
Archeology for the masses it might have been but I want you to recall the sights inside one of those trenches.
Just ignore the wide-brimmed hat and West Country accent of archeologist, Phil Harding for a sec and look below. There you will see an eager young tike, prodding the hardened soil. A piece of pottery is partially revealed. Our intrepid urchin is carefully brushing away the friable dust and soil. There, like some remnant of the Roman version of Habitat, we can see the patterns on a fragile pot. No doubt used to contain olives. Perhaps wine. Who can tell?
Now keep looking at that pot.
This trench is actually a metaphor. A metaphor for a vinyl groove. That dust is the daily grime that builds up in the groove. The solid, caked, baked soil? That is a heady concoction sautéed lightly from hardened oils emanating from sweat, the fabled ‘release agent’ from the original pressing plant and other substances that I wouldn’t like to dwell upon in a family-friendly website.
The pot itself? The detail you’re desperately trying to access when you listen to a vinyl record on your hi-fi.
Time Team perfectly illustrates, not just how difficult it is to properly clean your vinyl, it offers the essential clue as to why many of us vinyl fans are not cleaning our vinyl properly. Because your detail remains stuck in the trench. It’s all down to abrasion. Or the lack of it.
Whenever you clean your record, the chances are that you will clean it manually with a felt pad or carbon brush or some such. If you’re flush with a bit of cash, you may have spent out on a record cleaning machine (RCM). There’s plenty out there, you know the brands. They range from a couple of hundred pounds to a couple of thousand.
I’ve tested and used most of them.
In use, you either clean ‘dry’ with that felt pad or brush hoping to dislodge as much dust and grime as possible.
With a RCM, you’re probably looking at using the machine in conjunction with a liquid of some sort. The reckless will apply, directly to the vinyl surface, a liquid containing a high-strength alcohol that will risk immediate damage to the groove. Others will apply an enzyme-based liquid.
The upshot for both applications is that you spread the liquid around the vinyl surface with a brush of some sort, cross your fingers then you hoover up the liquid and then you’re done.
The hope is that you will improve sound quality. You will. But the degree of improvement will only go so far but – for me – not far enough.
I’ve been testing record cleaning liquids and hardware for decades now. Every time I found a new toy to play with, one that did a good job, right then I would think to myself, “This is it! I’ve finally found the answer! I can rest easy now and just play my vinyl.”
Then I would write about it, proclaiming how amazing liquid Y was and how much more efficient RCM X was and how System Z was truly the way to go.
Three months later, I would discover a new liquid/system/hardware and I’d have to think again.
Well, I’ve been doing a lost of testing of late and the one element that is becoming essential in terms of vinyl cleaning is, you guessed it, abrasion.
Liquids – whether applied directly to the vinyl surface or applied as vinyl is dunked into a machine-held bath – act like an archeologist’s brush. They shine the easily accessible detail, the detail that’s there yet veiled.
If you want to find the rest. The detail hiding behind the hardened oils? That trench-based hardened soil I mentioned above? The hardened stuff in the groove that won’t shift by dowsing with a drop or two of liquid? You need abrasion. Nothing too aggressive of course. We have to be gentle when applying it because this is vinyl we’re talking about, after all. Nevertheless.
Abrasion is also part of this cleaning system. We’ll find lots of abrasion below, during our cleaning process.
THE DISCO ANTISTAT & SURFACTANT – WHY IT’S HERE AT ALL
I wanted to include the surfactant preparation section here, including tools and method, because later on, when I tackle the actual RCM tests, I will be bringing all of this into testing. I thought it was best to section this part from the main RCM testing guide. To prevent over-complicating the RCM testing text itself.
When we get to the bit, further down in this Guide, you can refer back to this section for clarification, if you wish.
The above forms the basis of this Vinyl Cleaning Guide and provides clues as to how this thing actually works. Now I turn to the tools. What will you need to complete your clean?
In this feature, I will be using two principle cleaning machines during the comparative tests, in an effort to find the best RCM-based vinyl cleaning system.
Listed below is everything you may need
Buyer’s links are provided below:
1: LORICRAFT PR3 RECORD CLEANING MACHINE OR…
Price: £2,352 (typical price for the newer PRC4i as the PR3 appears to be no longer sold)
Don’t be scared by the price of my Loricraft. I will explain why I use this machine during the testing process text but there’s plenty of excellent RCMs out there for a much lower price tag. The Pro-Ject VC-E is around £299, for example, while the Okki Nokki One is £499, etc. Do your research and search for a deal and you should hopefully be able to grab your RCM of choice for your budget.
I’ve include links here for the low-cost Pro-Ject VC-E which is a good, solid RCM for the price.
USA – https://ebay.us/rRP047
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3zWrhMn
2: DISCO ANTISTAT
Price: £50 (approx. Prices do vary in either direction)
As I state in Part 1 of this Guide series, the Disco Antistat is my manual cleaner of choice. This is the best manual cleaner I have found, currently for sale on the market. It offers a relatively low cost, great value, it’s easy to use and is wholly effective. But look, I won’t repeat myself here, either. You can read a full review of this product HERE. Oh and ideally, you will need two units for this Cleaning Guide. You can get away with one and that’s fine if cash is tight – but two is best.
USA – https://ebay.us/SQrZRg
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3OoXAra (This is for the Mk.II. Same thing, same performance but it has convenient extras in the basic design)
3: DISTILLED WATER
Price: £2.95 per litre (prices vary)
There are dozens of brands out there, any will do. Unless you know of a reason why certainly brands should be excluded?
Distilled water will be the main content of the Disco Antistat’s bath. I use distilled water as opposed to any other filtered variant because of the range of potentially troublesome elements that distilled water rejects and other do not. For example, deionised water reportedly does not remove bacteria, viruses or other organic compounds.
I’ve tagged 25 litre/5 gallon quantities here because you will go through this stuff steadily and the large bottles offer the best value for money. See the dispenser cap attachment below.
I am aware of a higher grade of distilled water out there, a sort of Lab quality creation, a far more expensive liquid. I have yet to test this variant but it’s on my list. You see? Things change all of the time.
USA – https://ebay.us/mPrkku
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/39JmHX9
Price: £4.05 per litre (prices vary)
I use Isopropanol at 99.9% strength. I see no purpose in using a solution of lower strength because products such as Rubbing Alcohol (70%) merely fill the other 30% with distilled water, lowering the monetary value of the product because you’ll need to use more of the stuff to achieve the same ends. Hence, I would recommend using Isopropanol at 99.9%. In terms of quantities, I would buy a number of smaller bottles instead of a very large container because the smaller bottles are easier to dispense for your vinyl cleaning purposes. Whopping great alcohol containers only risk a large puddle on your floor when you miss the spout during decanting.
USA – https://ebay.us/26OKoG
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3zScja5
Price: £26.50 per bottle
This is my surfactant of choice but you might prefer another and that’s ok (see my feature on Surfactants: https://theaudiophileman.com/surfactant-clean-vinyl-buyers-guide/). The surfactant feature I talk about above provides a selection of surfactants to choose from. Tergikleen is based upon the well-known surfactant, Tergitol.
USA – https://ebay.us/rnRI1c
EUROPE – https://ebay.us/izL3XP
Price: £13.99 pack of 5 (price varies)
To apply surfactant to the vinyl surface. Or more specifically, a glass bottle secured with a pipette, screw-top vial. I use two at 50ml capacity (one to contain the mixed surfactant and one containing Glycol for easy dispensing, the rest are kept as spares) which provides a bit of leeway before it has to be filled again but it’s small enough to be used ‘on site’. That is, where you do your vinyl cleaning. Label both in case of future mix ups. Both liquids are easier to dispense from these small vials.
USA – https://amzn.to/3HEieS0
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3n3f1lA
7: KABUKI BRUSH
Price: £8 (price varies)
You will need this when applying surfactant to the vinyl surface. A Kabuki brush is a lady’s make-up brush. Short and wide in nature and featuring stubby bristles, this little thing is perfect for pushing surfactant deep into the grooves. Don’t be afraid to spend out on this one. You can buy one for a couple of pounds but I’d recommend getting a good quality example to prevent bristle and fine hair shedding. There’s no point in trying to clean your vinyl if you only succeed in adding more debris to the grooves at the same time. I’ve offered a mid-range model here but mine cost around £20. There’s lots of brands out there. Try a specialist make-up store on line but Amazon should be fine too.
Again, I’ve seen Kabuki brushes out there with short, stubbier bristle beds. They may offer a superior performance. Again, another one for a later review.
USA – https://amzn.to/3N7FzwD
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3QEkBsk
8: WATER BOTTLE [TWO]
Price: £2 (price varies)
Contact: Supermarket and general shops
What I’m talking about here is an empty spring water-type bottle of 1.5-2 litres. The sort you might buy from a typical supermarket. You will need two of these.
9: PROPYLENE GLYCOL
Price: £15 (price varies)
Because the Disco Antistat cleans your vinyl in a vertical position, if you add surfactant to its surface, gravity will try to pull it off again when the disc sits vertically. Mixing your surfactant with a measure of Glycol will fix the surfactant deep into the grooves with no loss of surface contact.
Do NOT buy ethylene glycol, it’s particularly nasty stuff. DO NOT confuse the two.
When you receive your large bottle of Glycol, decant a small amount into a glass vial (see 5).
USA – https://amzn.to/3n8I9Ih
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3zTf7DX
10: MEASURING TUBE
Price: £8.50 (prices vary)
To measure the amount of alcohol you will need per litre of distilled water. The price here includes a pack of measuring tubes but you can buy these things singularly.
USA – https://amzn.to/3OnqhoM
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/39BNvJ3
11: DISPENSING TAP
Price: £6 (prices vary)
Because I know that I’ll be cleaning vinyl for some time to come, I tend to buy 25 litre ‘barrels’ of distilled water. Then I remove the default screw lid and attach this tap instead. I lift the barrel onto a bench surface, lay it on its side and the tap easily dispenses water into my 2 litre water bottle easily and efficiently.
USA – https://ebay.us/QJ1GEZ
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3y8TXR0
TO THE EXTREME
Before I begin the Disco Antistat Vinyl Cleaning Guide’s step-by-step sequence, allow me to say this. What you’re going to read below is cleaning to the extreme. Not to me but maybe to you. The amount of cleaning I do below might seem excessive but I do it because, of course, I can hear the difference. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother.
But look. Just because I wander towards the halls of madness, doesn’t mean that you have to follow me. You can reduce the actually amount of cleaning to suit you and the time you have available so look upon this section of the Vinyl Cleaning Guide as that only, a guide. Take what you want from it. You don’t have to copy the entire Vinyl Cleaning Guide step by step if you don’t want to. You will hear sonic improvements even if you only clean to a fraction of the level.
DISCO ANTISTAT & SURFACTANT – STEP BY STEP
1: Let’s address the Disco Antistat’s bath first. First rinse the bath with distilled water. Then we need to fill that bath with cleaning liquid. That will consist of a mixture of distilled water and alcohol, mixed together. To contain that mixture, we need to find a suitable bottle which is where one of the plastic spring water bottles comes into play.
Before you use either bottle, give them both a good clean. Spring water contains impurities (in vinyl cleaning terms, at least) so add around a quarter to a third of the capacity with distilled water. Seal with its cap. Give it a thorough shake, empty that out and repeat twice more. Once done, the bottle is primed for use.
2: Fill your first bottle with distilled water.
3: Add your alcohol. You need 7% of the capacity of the bottle. So, if you have a litre bottle, that’s 70ml of alcohol you need to add to the distilled water. Use a measuring tube for this task. Seal with a cap. Give that mixture a shake and you’re sorted. You only need 1% of alcohol to make a sonic difference but 7% is the figure of choice here because you also need to melt the Glycol off the vinyl surface.
Just 1% won’t be enough for the job. 7% will melt the Glycol but also perform cleaning in the groove.
The alcohol cleaning is a bit like brushing that pottery I mentioned above in the Abrasion section. Alcohol will effectively clean away the friable and easily removable grime and grease.
Never apply alcohol directly to the vinyl surface in high concentrations, though. It’s too aggressive for that.
4: Fill the Disco Antistat’s bath with the water/alcohol mixture but stop just below the top of the fixed bath brushes. Just to be on the safe side, to avoid wetting the record labels. I know that the Disco Antistat’s clamps are designed to prevent that happening but, you never know and I’d rather be safe on this matter. By all means perform a dry run and vary the level for your record to make sure. OK, that’s the bath sorted. Now onto the vinyl itself.
5: Prime another spring water bottle. Fill that with distilled water.
6: Take your surfactant and dilute it as directed using the included instructions. If you are using Tergikleen, I use 10 drops per litre. The drops are dispensed from the built-in dropper which offers micro-drops, smaller than the usual drops you might see from a pipette. So add 10 drops of Tergikleen per litre to the bottle of distilled water. Once applied, seal the bottle and shake for a while to mix thoroughly.
The surfactant is now ready to apply to the vinyl. The bottle is too big and cumbersome to try to move surfactant from there directly to the vinyl surface so you’re going to have to decant some of it to make the task more manageable.
7: Fill one of the glass bottles (see image above) with Glycol. It’s easier to handle that way.
8: Before you decant the surfactant from the large, plastic spring water bottle into one of the small glass bottles take the vial from the Glycol bottle and fill it with Glycol. I say ‘fill it’ but you’ll find the vial will probably reach half way with Glycol (see image below). Add that to the glass bottle. Repeat. You should have two vial’s worth of Glycol in your surfactant glass bottle. Fill the rest of the glass bottle with the diluted surfactant from you spring water bottle. Be careful not to spill the surfactant all over you floor. Do this over a sink and take your time. So you should now have two glasses bottles. One is filled only with pure Glycol. The second is now filled with a combo of diluted surfactant and two vials of Glycol.
9: Seal the glass bottle filled with surfactant/Glycol and give it a good shake to mix thoroughly.
10: Now, take the glass bottle full of glycol/surfactant to your vinyl. Fill a vial with the mixture (again, it will be around half full, see image above).
You need to apply this mixture to the vinyl surface but you want an even spread of the liquid across the record’s surface. To do this, ‘draw’ a stripe of liquid, using the pipette from the inner edge of the run-off outwards to the edge of the record itself. In a straight line. Draw four lines. One at 12 o’clock another at 3 o’clock, then one at 6 and the final at 9 o’clock.
Yes, you could use a spray but I find that sprayed liquid bounces off the vinyl, back into the air and into your mouth. Not healthy. Also, you risk soaking your record label.
11: Take your Kabuki brush. Move the brush around the vinyl surface to evenly spread that surfactant. You don’t have to be too OCD about this. Don’t worry if there are dry spots after you do this. We’ll get to that next.
12: Holding the Kabuki brush, move your fingers from the handle and down to the actual bristles themselves. The idea is to have around a centimetre of bristle sticking out from your fingers. Holding the majority of the bristles with your fingers, that’s the amount of visible bristle you should see. The remaining bristles will be quite stiff in nature now.
13: Using this stiff bristle, press the surfactant into the grooves in a spiral fashion working clockwise from the outer edge towards the centre and then anti-clockwise from the centre to the outer edge. By doing this, you are pushing the liquid into the groove, expelling any trapped air in the process. That’s one side done.
14: Repeat the whole process on the flip side of the record. Your record has now been prepared for cleaning.
15: Add the Disco Antistat clamps to the record as per the Disco’s own instructions and insert the clamped record into the Disco’s bath. Slowly rotate the record six times in a clockwise direction. Stop. Then rotate the record six times in a clockwise direction. Stop.
What is happening is this. The surfactant is allowing the liquid to get closer to the vinyl groove surface by breaking surface tension. Allowing for a deeper clean, if you will.
The Glycol is ensuring that the surfactant sticks to all of the grooves during this time to maintain an even clean.
The alcohol is cleaning the loose, friable material and more easily removable oils from the groove surface.
The abrasion is being applied by the built-in goat-hair brushes. The relatedly tough Disco brushes will help to break down the hardened oils and gunk I mentioned above.
The combination of these products and actions will produce an effective clean, noticeably improving sound quality.
16: Steps 10-15 are seen as a single ‘cycle’. The extreme bit for some is this. While one cycle takes long enough to achieve and will enhance sound quality and you can stop there if you wish, during tests, I found that more cycles applied to the same record improved sound quality. That is, the sound from a record sounded better after two cycles when compared to one. And with three cycles when compared to two. And so on.
I stopped – finally – at six cycles. This will take a long time. Over an hour for each record. I repeat, you don’t have to go there but I’m doomed because I’ve heard the differences so I can’t go back, I’m afraid. You decide how far you want to push it.
17: When the cleaning cycles are completed – however many that may be – then insert the record one final time but do not add any surfactant this time. Don’t add anything to the vinyl surface. Just add the record ‘as is’ and complete the same rotations clockwise and anti-clockwise. This is a rinse cycle to remove any lingering residue.
If you are able to buy a second Disco Antistat then perform the rinse cycle in the second unit. Keep the second unit for rising only with a bath filled with the same proportion of distilled water and alcohol. In this way, the Rinse bath will last longer before it has to be changed.
After a series of cleans, you may want to change the bath water for a fresh batch because the surfactant will slowly build up in it. I’ll leave that change over time up to you because it depends on how much surfactant you apply to the vinyl surface in the first place, the frequency of your cleaning and the amount of cycles you decide to run with.
18: Once the rinse has been completed, remove the record and the clamps and insert the record into the supplied drying rack for drying. A warm room will be more efficient.
RCM TEST CLEANING
Right, so you know the background to my Cleaning Guide and you have the vinyl preparation information when we get around to using the Disco Antistat and you now know how to properly utilise the Antistat itself on a step-by-step basis.
So let’s look a little closer at the RCM itself and the cleaning method behind that.
The principle chosen record to clean was an original pressing of Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (A&M). Firstly, because it offers a wide variety of keyboard textures from grand piano to analogue synth and Hammond organ, to different percussive styles (the rock drumming of Alan White and the delicacy of Bill Bruford), the relatively complex mix that pack in everything from bongos to a bass guitar played like a lead guitar plus female vocals. Oh and a church organ from St Giles, Cripplegate, London.
Another reason this record was chosen was because I’ve yet to get around cleaning it at all. More than that, the original owner looked after it carefully. There are no readily apparent clicks and pops here so any hardware cleaner will have a tough job trying to impress.
COMPETENCY & HIGHER
It’s relatively easy for any competent record cleaner to remove easy-to-dislodge bits of gunk that will remove clicks and pops (and there are plenty of incompetent record cleaners out there). That’s to be expected. It’s bit like a football goalkeeper catching an easy save in an overly elaborate manner. It looks great for TV but, if you’re good at your job, if you’re a professional, it should require little actual effort.
For a competent record cleaner or a competent record cleaning system to be elevated from the good to the great, it has to go beyond the simple acts of removing clicks and pops. It has to increase the inherent sound quality from the base floor upwards. It needs to do this by removing caked-on oils hardened from the time the vinyl was born, while sitting on the record press plus baked-on and highly compressed grime, added from years of falling airborne matter and super-compressed dirt from the accumulative actions of the stylus running through the groove itself.
The above will not be removed by a felt pad or even a carbon brush. It’s this difficult to shift material that I want to try to remove in this test, with the RCM.
To begin, I brought in the best RCM in the world: the Loricraft. There are a range of Loricraft variants out there and they differ slightly from one another but their basic performance remains stable. In my case, I used a PR3. Ageing but still working perfectly. My view of this RCM has been honed over many years and after many reviews of other competing designs over different price points. There’s a host of excellent devices out there but the Loricraft is my ultimate choice.
The reason for bringing in the Loricraft and not something lower in budget terms?
Because if, for any reason, the sound enhancements falter in any way during this test, I didn’t want the RCM itself to be under any suspicion. That is, I didn’t want to hear or even think, “Oh yea the results were not the best there but if you had used RCM X then the sound would have been improved.”
No, I wanted to take the RCM brand/model variable effectively out of the equation for this test and to concentrate upon the base RCM technology. If the sound ever hit a ceiling in terms of improvement while using this RCM, then I wanted to know that the inherent RCM technology itself had limits, not any one particular brand or model type.
Of course, there are plenty of other RCMs out there that I would recommend heartily at a lower price point, don’t get me wrong. I’m not damning them in any way. I just wanted to remove a variable from this test to simplify the final cleaning results.
THE TESTS BEGIN
To begin the tests, I applied a layer of distilled water, mixed with 1% of alcohol to the surface of the vinyl itself. Why such a low number? See the alcohol-based video above for more information on that but basically alcohol is essential in order to properly clean your vinyl grooves. Despite what you might read on the Internet, alcohol doesn’t do the entire job but it does remove what, oils? Something akin to a greasy, oil-based substance lying in your grooves? I personally believe that this ‘oil’ is related to the release agent all vinyl leeches during the pressing plant process. Every vinyl disc I’ve cleaned has benefitted from at least 1% alcohol solution. That’s all you need for a horizontal cleaner.
Why did I use alcohol and not an enzyme-based liquid? I’ve tried that but now prefer this method. L’Art du Son used to be my ‘go to’ cleaning liquid. It certainly works and I still recommend it. It remains a fine cleaning fluid and anyone who uses it will hear sonic benefits. That said, I find the simple distilled water/alcohol approach combined (note the emphasis) with my current mechanical cleaning elements (see below) are ultimately more effective, when used with a RCM (or an ultrasonic cleaner for that matter).
I would normally warn against applying any alcohol to the surface of a vinyl record (and I still do in a more concentrated form or, saints preserve us, neat) but the concentration here is very low indeed and it is held within 99% distilled water so the mixture is non-aggressive. More than that, the applied liquid never remains on the surface on the record for no longer than a minute or slightly more. .
RCM: ALCOHOL IN DISTILLED WATER
I applied the liquid evenly over the vinyl surface with the supplied brush, then turned on the platter’s rotation. I then worked in the liquid into the grooves by adding a measure of pressure to the record’s surface. After 30 rotations, I reversed the motion of the Loricraft’s platter and applied the brush again to hopefully dislodge any grime using this well known forward/reverse motion, again for 30 rotations.
I did this once and listened, comparing the sound to the pre-cleaned record. In general terms, the midrange opened up, adding a sense of vitality to the cymbals especially which offered an extra zing when hit or tapped while drum percussion had a snappier and more focused presentation.
The frantic bass line was slightly more isolated from the rest of the mix and, therefore, easier to find by the ear while shy instruments like the rhythm guitar were a little easier to spot too.
I decided to repeat the cleans in this manner, hoping to improve the sound quality with each clean until I could hear no further improvement or the sonic improvements were lessening per clean. That is, each clean started triggering diminishing returns.
I ended up repeating the sequence five times for a grand total of six cleans.
What I ended up with here was basically the same sonic benefits, just better and more of it. Hence, the struck and tapped cymbals offered a larger and more impressive tonal response, drums were responsive and full of energy while the bass offered greater focus. All of the instruments lay across a larger soundstage, more in height than in breadth but there was more air here.
RCM: RINSE CYCLE
Before I left this part of the cleaning process, I rinsed the LP with pure distilled water to remove any lingering alcoholic residue.
One note, be sure to also clean the spreading brush before you enter rinse mode because it may have alcoholic residue within it.
After the rinse, the sonics improved again sounding, not surprisingly, ‘clean’. Fresh and scrubbed, enhancing the air and space around the mids. In terms of the cleaning cycle, always finish with a rinse for safety’s sake (you don’t want to leave a chance of residue on your vinyl, long term contact of third-party chemicals, any chemicals, not matter what they might be, is nothing you want to leave to chance) but also to further enhance the overall sound.
The rinse cycle is actually worth it on sound terms alone.
One item of note, after this cleaning cycle I did notice an improvement of the stereo image. It appeared to be more centralised now. Fixed to the centre which hints that there may have been a slight build up on one side of the groove, kicking the stereo image out of place slightly.
RCM: PLUS SURFACTANT
After hearing this improvement, many users might decide to stop there but I wanted to see if I could wring more sonic improvements so I stopped using the distilled water/alcohol mix and, instead, reached for my surfactant and applied that to the vinyl surface instead.
For those who have read Part 1 of this cleaning guide, I did not add Glycol to the surfactant at this time because the record was lying flat on the RCM. I only add Glycol to the surfactant then the record is being cleaned vertically. The Glycol serves to keep the surfactant in place within the grooves, fighting gravity. Because the record was flat, that requirement was not needed here.
So to recap. I have cleaned this Rick Wakeman record with a distilled water/alcohol combo over six cycles. Then I rinsed and dried that same record to remove any residue.
Now I applied surfactant to the surface to see if I could increase the sound quality further.
With the vinyl flat on the RCM platter, I used a Kabuki brush to evenly distribute the surfactant liquid. Then I moved my fingers down the bristles to stiffen the bristle tips and pressed that into the grooves to push the surfactant into the grooves. I moved the brush in a spiral motion from the outer end towards the inner label and then reversed the spiral back to the outer edge (See DISCO ANTISTAT & SURFACTANT – STEP BY STEP above for more information on the how to prepare your vinyl with surfactant before cleaning). Then I vacuumed the liquid with the RCM.
Upon listening, the principle change was a further opening up of the mids with an increase of the soundstage in terms of breadth and height. The extra space allowed more detail to roam within while the treble had a new found delicacy. Bass meanwhile enhanced its precision.
I also heard the beginnings of a maturity, a tonal realism that I hadn’t heard before. It was just a beginning so I wondered if further treatments would enhance that sound.
Like before, I proceeded to add a further five cycles of surfactant to see how far I could push the sound improvements.
And the result? Well, this was more like it! The maturity I had heard earlier – the first sprinklings of promised maturity – flowered in all their glory now. There was a real tonal realism present now with smooth treble response giving cymbal hits an elegant shimmer, drum hits a dead-skin organs feel and the analogue synths a welcome textural grit. The latter often growled at me now instead of buzzed.
RCM: AND RINSE (AGAIN)
Again, I would recommend a rinse cycle after the surfactant cycle to remove any possible surfactant residue. Doing so, once more, added a certain fresh sound to the sonics afterwards giving the upper mids extra zip and mobility.
So far so good.
DISCO & LORICRAFT?
There was one variation that I had not tried yet, though. I now needed to check was to see if adding a Disco Antistat (and thus an abrasive element) into the cleaning chain, as seen in Part 1 of this Guide, would aid sonics further.
There were two extra areas to investigate here with the Disco Antistat as part of the equation.
Firstly, I could clean a vinyl record in the Disco Antistat, lift it out, transfer the record to the Loricraft and use that RCM to vacuum the liquid from the grooves.
The RCM would provide a much more effective liquid removal job than leaving a Disco-clean record drying naturally in its own plastic drying rack. Doing the latter, you can just imagine any last dregs of grime sitting, suspended in any liquid on the vinyl surface and also in the grooves themselves, slowly sinking back into the record grooves as that liquid evaporated, lowering the overall effectiveness of the final manual Disco clean.
So the Loricraft, acting only as a vacuum machine, would prevent suspended dirt re-entering the grooves. A valuable job.
The other variable I wanted to check was this. Is there any point in cleaning a record in the Disco Antistat and then cleaning it again on the Loricraft? So the Disco clean would be a sort of pre-wash, using its fixed, built-in goat-hair brushes as an abrasive aid then, after pre-cleaning the record in a Disco Antistat (as seen in Part 1 of this Guide), doing a basic RCM clean on the Loricraft again, from scratch, right after the Disco clean?
The idea being that the two systems would apply different types of attrition, they would also apply different cleaning forces onto the groove itself. Would the combination be an even better cleaning system? One that would be complimentary, in fact?
I wondered, did the Disco Antistat’s valuable attritional abilities possibly only loosen some dirt? Dirt that further cleaning but in a different way, a different manner, along with repeated vacuuming, would finally remove?
I couldn’t wholly rest and remove the possibility from my fevered brain (and it was becoming fevered by now, let me tell you) until I’d done the tests. So that’s what I did.
To repeat, I used the same Rick Wakeman disc. A disc that had already been cleaned in a non abrasive, rather gentle manner. So any audio improvements from this point onwards would be hard won.
DISCO ANTISTAT CLEAN & RCM DRY
Hence, the Disco Antistat clean/RCM dry system would have to bring something wholly new to the table if it wanted to improve sound still further.
So I cleaned the record again by preparing it with surfactant (plus Glycol this time because the clean would be a vertical one) inserted it into in the Disco Antistat, using six rotations to the left and then to the right and under the same set of variables as those seen in Part 1, above. I then lifted the record out of the Disco.
At this point, I wanted the Loricract to dry it. Then I wanted to see it there was any sonic improvements after this single cycle.
But there was an issue to solve first.
WET LORICRAFT PLATTER?
If I’m going to use this system, there is a cleaning elephant in the room here. Once I clean the record in the Disco Antistat, then lift the record out of the same, the record remains wet. So that means when it lands on the platter of the Loricraft platter, the underside of the record will soak that platter.
How to solve this little matter?
Well, I mused upon this one, stroked the proverbial chin and couldn’t find a way out of that pickle. I was afraid of adding anything underneath the record to protect the platter for fear of recontamination and I was also wary of adding anything to the Loricraft’s platter as a separate support in case that would end up raising the record up from the platter, adding height. This, I decided would reduce the vacuuming effectiveness of the RCM because everything would now be out of kilter and sitting at a funny angle.
LORICRAFT PLATTER PREP
What I decided upon was this. I decided to prepare the Loricraft first. I scrupulously cleaned the Loricraft’s platter using an application of distilled water and then an absorbent paper towel. I chose a brand called Blitz which is relatively expensive as paper towels go but doesn’t flake or create it’s own dust and is very absorbent, nor does it break up when it holds liquid.
So why not just lay the Blitz towel on the Loricraft platter and lay the record on the towel? Wouldn’t that aid drying and speed up the process because I wouldn’t have to scrub clean/dry the platter?
That is an option, yes but I wanted any dirt suspended in the liquid sitting on the grooves but – even more importantly – in the grooves themselves to be sucked up by the Loricraft. I didn’t want partial drying by the Blitz to force the dirt to fall onto the vinyl again, especially if that meant falling back into the groove.
That is, with a piece of Blitz paper towel underneath the vinyl, the liquid might be sucked into the paper towel but there’s no guarantee that any suspended grime would follow it. The grime might just resettle back into the groove.
I was also wary of allowing the Blitz to come into direct contact with the record. There is a possibility that it might deposit extra micro dust into the grooves. Especially because the paper towel would be under weighted compression underneath the record itself. That is, the Blitz will be physically pressed upon by the vinyl disc and might ‘inject’ dust into the grooves once compressed by the vinyl.
Used only as a paper towel to do a platter-drying job, I felt that the same risks didn’t apply or their potential issues were vastly reduced at any rate. Not a perfect solution perhaps but a compromise I could live with.
If you have alternative ideas, then I’ll all ears on that score.
Hence, once the record was cleaned, I placed that wet, Disco-cleaned record on the Loricraft platter. I then vacuum-dried the upper side of the record, then lifted up the record, popped it in the Disco’s plastic drying rack for a moment, wiped the Loricraft platter with distilled water applied direct by a clean pipette and distributed by a clean brush (I bought in extra spares specifically for the job), dried it with a paper towel, flipped the record over, placed the lower, dry side of the record on the Loricraft’s platter and vacuum-dried the now upper, wet side of the record.
Phew! A right old carry on, I’m sure you’ll agree. Actually, once you get into a rhythm, the process can be speeded up.
Nevertheless, I wanted to see if these extra steps were worth the effort. If the improvement was only minimal then I would question the extra effort and the extra cleaning steps.
Once the record was dry, I did a quick listen to the Disco Clean/RCM Dry record to see if there were any sonic enhancements.
The difference was quite dramatic and well worth the effort. Comparing before and after? The ‘before’ sonic state now sounded quite dull and lacking in definition. The ‘after’ state provided much more air and space in the soundstage, as if the curtains had been pulled back to let the sunshine in and the windows opened to let in fresh air into a musty room. The entire track sounded lively and clean (more so after I then followed up with a rinse cycle in the Disco Antistat (with a further vacuum via the Loricraft). Percussion had a real snap during drum strikes but also an organic, natural effect. The Hammond organ no longer has the ‘closed in’, stuffy sound while certain treble-heavy elements of the synths and piano no longer threatened to sound clinical.
As I did in Part 1 of this series, I then repeated the cleaning cycles. Each cycle being: adding surfactant to the disc surface, applying a kabuki brush to secure the same, rotating the disc in the Disco Antistat bath for an abrasive cleaning, then vacuuming in the Loricraft. And doing that six times. Then repeating without adding the surfactant for the final rinse.
The sonic effects of all of that? A much more mature sound. One that prompted a whole heap of grown-up words. Elegance sprang to mind. Fragility. There was a real sophistication in the presentation now. Treble was delicate, upper mids were detailed but in a naturalistic, almost gentle fashion. Bass didn’t just thump now, it had a well-developed, almost complex delivery.
So what did all of the above tell us? That a Record Cleaning Machine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not enough to use a RCM on its own and expect to properly clean your vinyl. Not completely. Not absolutely.
A quick caveat because I can just feel that outrage building at the back row there. A RCM still does a great job on its own. Any machine cleaner does a great job on its own whether you’re talking about a Disco Antistat or a Degritter ultrasonic top-end machine. But no machine, a manual ‘machine’, an ultrasonic cleaner or, for that matter, a RCM can do the job all of their own. They all need to be part of a team. A toolkit. That is, if you want every nook and cranny cleaned and polished.
And if you’ve ever seen a jagged vinyl groove under a microscope, there are plenty of potential nooks and crannies in there.
Every machine technology has its plus and minus points. None are perfect. Every one needs a support system to do an effective job. So I’m not pointing a finger here. What I’m saying is that – in true Sesame Street tradition – you ain’t going nowhere unless you have teamwork.
So a RCM is effective. It does a job. But it doesn’t do all of the job. Why in this specific case? Because the abrasive element of the cleaning action just isn’t present on a RCM machine. That is, for any RCM machine that I’m aware of, for sale, on the market. Any RCM on the market right now will improve sound after use and will do a great job but it remains half a job. You need an abrasive element to finish and the Disco Antistat provides that essential abrasion.
LET’S PRESS RESET
So look, the cleaning tests have been from one direction thus far. By that, I mean that the cleaning began with the Rick Wakeman LP and my RCM. We examined a set of variables on that RCM, thoroughly cleaned and messed about with a single vinyl disc and then we finished with another clean via the Disco Antistat.
There is one variable we haven’t yet looked at closely and its this. When cleaning from scratch, does the RCM actually matter? Can you get away with not buying one? Is a RCM important? More than that, is a RCM actually necessary at all? Could you get away with not buying a RCM and making do with a Disco Antistat + Surfactant only?
1: DISCO ANTISTAT FIRST – FRESH VINYL
So I did another series of tests and I will cut to the chase here on this one to avoid repeating myself.
Basically, I grabbed another vinyl disc. A ‘dirty’, uncleaned disc, straight from the shelf.
I choose Elton John’s Madman Across the Water. Then I cleaned the disc with a Disco Antistat, using surfactant I then maxed out the sonic improvements over six complete cycles and ended that with a rinse cycle. I’ve found that this is the point when sonic improvements are less noticeable. You may hear minor enhancements from a seventh and succeeding cycles but nothing too significant. Therefore, something else would need to happen to this disc to lift it to a new sonic level.
As this was a Disco Antistat-priority clean, after each and every clean, I let the disc dry naturally. I did not dry the disc with my Loricraft.
Then I listened to the results and made notes.
2: DISCO CLEAN AND LORICRACT DRY
After that I put the disc through the Disco Antistat with surfactant another six times plus rinse. This time though, after each and every cycle, I dried the disc with my Loricraft. So the only difference between the two was the nature of the drying.
Then I listened to see if the RCM made a difference in terms of its vacuuming capabilities only.
Now I had a bad feeling about the results of this because a RCM brings a vacuum experience and not much else. The brush you get with a RCM is there to distribute liquid over the vinyl surface. It may aid in the removal of basic dust and easily removable grime but the vacuuming is where a RCM is at. That’s its principle weapon.
After the hardcore abrasion from a Disco Antistat though, I wondered if RCM vacuuming had anything practical to offer, in aural terms. Especially as the Disco Antistat’s performance was now enhanced with the aid of that added surfactant treatment.
And did it?
Well, you could have knocked me down with a Pixall roller because yep, RCM vacuuming did have an effect. A large effect. I must say, I was surprised. Very surprised.
Cleaning this vinyl record with a surfactant-loaded Disco Antistat offered a tremendous sonic improvement. I would say that this combination is the best value vinyl cleaner on the market right now.
Instead of allowing a natural dry in the Disco Antistat drying rack, allowing a RCM to immediately vacuum the grooves and dry your disc not only speeds up the cleaning process, allowing you to clean more discs per hour because you don’t have to wait for your vinyl to dry, more than that, the RCM vacuuming provides an additional, fundamental improvement in sound. Why?
When you clean a vinyl disc via the surfactant/Disco Antistat cleaner, it removes a host of baked on grime which you can easily hear in terms of improved sonics. The before/after sound differences are plain to hear.
More than that, I reckon the process also loosens other grime which never falls away but hangs on for grim death. Drying naturally will allow this stuff to resettle. The RCM vacuum process, I think, finishes the job by pulling that loose-fitting grime away from the groove. Finishing the job that the Disco Antistat has started, in effect. Again, just my pet theory but the sonic results I heard would fit that theory.
As for the sound itself? What the RCM removes in sonic terms is a sort of fake warmth from the grooves. The effect is heard right across the board, across all frequencies. The sound becomes much more balanced and neutral. Bass loses a dulling effect. There’s more interesting things going on with each drum strike, there’s more texture in there instead of a straight single dull thump. The mids add a real sense of clarity, there’s much more precision from the piano and focus around the electric guitar plus reverb around a bank of strings heard on the lead Elton John track, Tiny Dancer.
As for treble? Before the RCM vacuum, cymbal taps were there sure. But you had to consciously look for them. They never leapt from the mix. After the vacuum, these same taps not only moved forward in the mix but there was more accuracy and fragility from this instrument.
THE FINAL, RECOMMENDED, RCM-BASED CLEANING PROCESS
In super-abbreviated form (see above for more detail on each of the following points/cycles):
1: Grab your dirty record.
2: Apply surfactant to the surface.
3: Do a pre-wash clean in a Disco Antistat
4: Do a rinse cycle.
5: Transfer the wet record to your RCM.
6: Vacuum until dry.
THE HOLY TRINITY: CONCLUSION PT.2
This particular guide focuses on the Record Cleaning Machine – the RCM. It is aimed at those who have or are thinking of buying such a machine. What my tests prove, at least to me, is that a RCM is very good at what it does but you won’t properly clean your vinyl if that’s your only tool. You need to give your vinyl a pre-wash with a surfactant-loaded Disco Antistat. The abrasive properties of the Disco not only does a unique cleaning job on its own but, when the Disco Antistat reaches its own cleaning limit, it actually helps the RCM to reach a higher level of efficiency. A much higher level than you’d hear if the Disco Antistat was out of the picture.
To me, there’s a perfect synchronicity going on here. The Disco Antistat allows the RCM to perform way above its own performance envelope. On the other hand, the RCM allows the Disco Antistat to finish the job. A job that the Disco Antistat can’t fully finish on its own. They both assist each other.
But it’s that way around. I found the performance level lower if the RCM was used first and then the Disco Antistat + Surfactant was brought into play after that. I found that you really need to hit the vinyl with abrasion first. That removes grime but then appears to loosen much more. You need a RCM to step in at that point to remove that loosened grime. That process doesn’t seem to work as well in reverse.
The addition of the surfactant is the secret ingredient in all of this. It’s the catalyst, the enabler in the process. It opens doors. It allows both machines to work at peak efficiency. Without the surfactant, both machines work fine but only provide 50% of their possibly capability.
Again, don’t think silver bullet when you think of vinyl cleaning. Don’t think of the perfect vinyl cleaning machine or single process. Cleaning vinyl is a combo action. Properly cleaning a vinyl disc demands varied actions and processes. If you want to properly clean your vinyl you need to think team work.
That’s it for Part 2 of this (rather protracted) Vinyl Cleaning Guide. Next up? Ultrasonic cleaning which will finish this trilogy.
Right, so I’ll see you in 2030 then.
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Patrick Bower9th August 2022 at 8:28 pm
Thank you once again for this herculean endeavour.
I have a Loricraft PRC. I thought that the mechanical application of the Kabuki brush to apply the surfactant alcohol water mixture would provide the abrasion needed, so making the Disco Antistat redundant. I use the Kabuki brush instead of the standard bristle brush and do multiple spins of the disk using the PRC prior to vacuuming. Your tests suggest that the Disco Antistat goat’s hair brushes do a better job.
Following your review of the Degritter I have now changed to ultrasonic cleaning. This also involves using the Kabuki brush to apply the cleaning mixture (with added glycol). Do you think additional mechanical abrasion with the Disco Antistat is of benefit in conjunction with ultrasonic cleaning?
Paul Rigby10th August 2022 at 9:00 am
Many thanks, Patrick. I don’t believe the Kabuki offers abrasive qualities – not sufficient for cleaning vinyl at any rate. It also doesn’t offer consistent or even pressure during its application. Its main benefit is to force surfactant into the grooves.
As for ultrasonic cleaning? No, I wouldn’t use the Disco there. Cavitation alone offers more than enough abrasion to do the job.
Paul Findlay10th August 2022 at 10:02 am
Firstly, thank you for spending endless hours testing processes and putting together this guide for us all.
Ironically when I purchased my ProJect MKII RCM a few years ago I sold my unused Disco Antistat on eBay for about 20 quid… regretting that now!
So one thing I did wonder when reading through the guide is why you didn’t apply surfactant to the vinyl as the first stage of cleaning on the RCM in the same way as you did before cleaning on the Disco? I’ve been doing that since reading Part 1 and I’ve been pleased with the results. In terms of abrasion I thought cleaning on an RCM with a good quality goats hair brush would replicate the effect of the cleaning brushes in the Disco Antistat? Would you say from your extensive testing that that’s not the case?
Once again, thank you so much for putting these guides together, I look forward to 2030…
Paul Rigby10th August 2022 at 11:25 am
Thank you Paul, very nice of you.
Re. surfactant on the RCM – I did. I’m not surprised that you might have missed it – it’s a large feature 🙂 See below:
“RCM: PLUS SURFACTANT
After hearing this improvement, many users might decide to stop there but I wanted to see if I could wring more sonic improvements so I stopped using the distilled water/alcohol mix and, instead, reached for my surfactant and applied that to the vinyl surface instead…”
There is a difference when using a brush on a RCM and then using it in the Disco. For the former, you tend to glide the brush over the vinyl surface. The reason the brush is included at all is partly to spread the liquid over the vinyl surface. It’s also there to (as the Loricraft designer explained to me) create a bow-wave effect on the liquid. that is, to created a circulating, rotating swirl of liquid that is supposed to help remove dirt. The vinyl is never under any real, constant or even pressure from this brush. The Disco brushes do offer constant, even and consistent pressure, aided by the small amount of actual bristles open to cleaning the vinyl. That is, the bristle length is relatively small and thus tough when compared to a RCM brush. Certainly the Loricraft example I have here.
Ian Barber10th August 2022 at 11:47 am
BRAVO…… an excellent piece of research,with practical experience and a way of putting it across to us on paper that holds our attention. I use your basic recommended liquids in my Disco Antistat,with alcohol @ only 1% and without Tergikleen,but using Ilfotol with kabuki brush at the recommended dilution.
I will up the alcohol mix to 7% from now on and give each record more than one cleaning process, though probably not as many as six as the drying time is what takes the time, and not viable in winter months as it can take several hours to air-dry in my conservatory. The only difference,apart from that mentioned above,that I do at present, is that I put the clamp on first and use the kabuki brush with the Ilfotol mix while holding the record by the handle for the first side and then by the protruding spindle for the second. It protects the label,though there is a fine dividing line between getting it tight enough( so that it does not undo in one direction in the bath), and too tight to remove easily.However, I cannot get much/if any pressure to work-in the surfactant with the kabuki brush,not realising that it has to be ‘worked-in’ using pressure. I then put the record in the Disco Antistat bath and rotate 10-12 times in each direction. Then it is placed in the supplied drying rack,after 5 minutes or so sitting in the bath to allow excess fluid from the exposed half to drain back into the bath. This saves some solution and speeds-up the air- drying process. I change the bath solution every 20-30 cleans,or when I can see a build-up of sediment in the bottom of the bath.
On a slightly different note, I visited a used record/cd dealer at a local Sussex town last week,while my Wife was arranging for her ‘work-of-art’ cross-stitch to be mounted and framed( 103,200 stitches !! ) at a shop next door. I bought a Jeff Beck album( 1980 ‘There and Back’) which the dealer had already cleaned with his in -store old Loricraft RCM( could have been a 3 ) which he said was the best RCM there is. I have not had a chance to play it on my 1983 Linn,as yet, but at only £3 I am not expecting too much in the sound quality stakes. However, it will be interesting to see what it sounds like after a Loricraft clean ( he still uses The Art Du Son fluid with his Loricraft ).
I have looked at getting an RCM to help with the drying process as it is too cold in the winter months to allow air-drying ( it can take several hours ) and I would prefer not to have wet records getting another layer of dust into the grooves,while drying for longer than necessary. It would appear that I should ‘team-up’ my Disco Antistat with an RCM for the drying process,to allow me to clean them all-year-round. Likely to be the Project as it is the cheapest,but we shall see.
Just one question for you Paul. Do the cheaper versions of the sonic bath RCM’s also dry the records as part of the process,or is it only on the megabuck versions,please ? There is,now a Disco Antistat sonic cleaning RCM ( £1250 ) which looks like it is from the same ‘stable’,though it is currently outside my price range.
Many thanks again for the long awaited Part 2 of the Record Cleaning trilogy,and looking forward to Part 3 before 2030,if possible.
Paul Rigby10th August 2022 at 4:59 pm
Very nice of you, Ian. Thank you.
And congrats to your wife – sounds like quite a project!
Speaking of which yes, teaming up a Pro-Ject with the Disco would be ideal I reckon.
And no, the cheaper ultrasonic cleaners don’t dry too. Only the expensive models. Saying that, the Pro-Ject could be used here to do the drying.
As for the ultrasonic Disco? I have put in a formal request for a review sample but have heard nothing back as yet. This is not a surprise, the Euro/UK distributor is not the most talkative 🙂 I’ll keep trying.
Actually, the Ultrasonic Guide (Pt.3) should be much quicker and shorter. So I hope to sort that soon-ish.
Ian Barber11th August 2022 at 8:33 am
My Wife’s project has taken 11 years,on-and-off and it is a photo of our Daughter and Son-in-law on their wedding day. 44 different colours of thread inc 14 of green etc,not to mention skin tones. She ‘lost the plot’ several times,not to mention ‘the thread’….
So, from what you are saying/have said so far, whatever system we use to manually clean our records,we will still need an effective and quick drying solution for all year-round use. I suspect that the ultimate,more affordable cleaning solution would be an ultrasonic cleaner teamed-up with an RCM for drying purposes,together with your recommended fluids ?
Re my Jeff Beck 1980 lp after its Loricraft clean, the sound is good but there are a lot of clicks,pops and bangs at the start of each side,and a few at odd intervals. The run-in grooves on both sides are the largest collectors of rubbish,and these need another clean,but overall impressive for a 42 year old record,if a little ‘clinical sounding’ at times.
Look forward to seeing Part three in due course,meanwhile I need to get another pair of Disco Antistat brushes for the bath.Cheers Ian
Paul Rigby11th August 2022 at 9:55 am
Hi Ian – I see your wife as a kindred spirit then. Delving into vinyl cleaning, I too lost the plot, on several occasions 🙂 Well done to her, though. A magnificent feat.
And yes, the one thing I’m learning, by doing all of this research, is that there is no one ‘catch all’ technology (in either hardware or liquid terms). You end up having to think out of the box and join dots to get what you want (mixing metaphors, but you know what I mean).
In terms of an affordable cleaner yes, the best option for a ‘budget’ ultrasonic-based system would be a low-cost utrasonic cleaner plus a low-cost RCM with surfactants and the necessary tools.
As for Mr Beck? See that as an ongoing project 🙂 Try it on your own cleaning system current and (who knows) your future ultrasonic set up. Then see what it sounds like and see too if it still sounds clinical. I’ve found the latter can be removed with an effective clean. If the stylus is partly ‘playing’ caked oils in the groove (for example) then that will contribute to the overall sound and in a negative way.
Ian Barber11th August 2022 at 2:13 pm
I shall, indeed, use my Beck lp in the next batch of cleaning,after this heatwave has passed,as my conservatory/drying room is currently @ 42.5C which is likely to bend the drying vinyl, not to mention that it is too hot for people as well. The Disco brushes should take care of the lead-in grooves and de-cake the dirt by abrasion,though it may take 2 or three cleans to get rid of it. I will see if I can get a couple more of his bargain-basement lp’s to add to the cleaning cycle with the rest of my used lp purchases.
Here’s hoping that Part 3 will come up with very affordable ultrasonic cleaners( under £500 ) which do the job well for the money. I have another dealer in the locality who does,mostly, jazz lp’s ,though he has a good selection of more popular genres. One of my recent new purchases from him was super silent on side A, but noisy on side B. He cleaned it for me on his DeGritter ultrasonic cleaner. It got rid of most of the noise etc on side B, but side A now sounds a little ‘dull’ as compared with the first play untouched as well as there being a little perceived noise( ie it does not sound effortless like it did when first played ). I think he uses the supplied liquid with his ultrasonic machine,but no idea how he dries the discs. His shop has a hard drive containing at least one track taken from every album sold in his shop,so he can play your chosen records and you can listen to them before purchase( no obligation to buy ). Sounds like the good old days when you could go and listen to all the latest singles etc,before purchase,as a youngster in the 60-70’s. I don’t know of anywhere else that does this service,so as not to wear-out the demo discs,though a few will put them on a turntable for a quick listen if you purchase.Cheers
Paul Rigby11th August 2022 at 3:16 pm
Hey, I do like that demo/hard disk thing. Great idea and more power to your retailer there.
As for your view of the cleaned vinyl disc? Well, your conclusion could be on the nose here, yes. It might be a liquid thing. I never liked the Degritter liquid and told the company. To my continued shame, the company very kindly updated that liquid and sent me a sample to review and…it’s still in the box!!! Probably evaporated by now. The box berates my tardiness, every time I pass it.
As for Part 3? Well, it won’t include overviews of machines. It will only look at the basic ultrasonic technology and how to get the best out of it. Same as the RCMs. No reviews, just looking at the vacuum-based cleaning.
Saying that, you’ve given me an idea. Hmmm. A shoot-out of three cheapo ultrasonic machines, perhaps? Bit of a group test? Got any low-cost faves in your own sights perchance? I’ve just thought of this (with your help) so I haven’t even looked yet.
Richard10th August 2022 at 5:55 pm
Hi Paul, What a fantastic article, no wonder it took time to produce! I used to use a Disco using your suggested alcohol and Ilfotol method but found it didn’t really remove the pops and crackles from the records. I don’t think the drying process is particularly good as the records are prone to collecting dust. I recently bought a Pro-Ject RCM and the results were truly amazing in comparison. The pops and crackles went and the whole process is far quicker and less messy. My only concern about getting the Disco out again and using it before the RCM is it is so messy and both sides get wet making the RCM platter wet too. I suppose one could take the Disco brushes out and manually use them as the record rotates on the RCM. That said the Pro-Ject brush appears to be pretty good. For anyone wanting an”affordable” RCM I think the Pro-Ject is a very good machine and has certainly cleaned my collection really well.
Paul Rigby11th August 2022 at 9:46 am
That’s very nice of you Richard. Thank you. Yes, I can understand the issues with mess and hassle. The only issue with removing the brushes from the Disco, as you suggest, is that you lose the constant and even pressure that the Disco offers. It’s partly a brush thing, it’s partly the fact that only a small amount of Disco bristle is on offer which enhances the clean but its also the even and constant pressure that is brought to bear. Also with all of the latter, quickly moving the disc left and right over multiple rotations, then (at least in my case) multiple cleans, all adds up. I would envisage that removing the Disco brushes and doing all of that yourself might lead to frustration and even boredom 🙂
Richard Pike11th August 2022 at 11:43 am
Thanks Paul. I hear what you say about the even pressure etc if you took the brushes out, so what I will do is make a simple handle with a groove along the length to house the brush, that should assist with an even pressure and if I can use my router correctly I will get the groove depth correct so only a small part of the bristle is on offer. Worth a try and if it works it does save a lot of mess and hassle!
Paul Rigby11th August 2022 at 3:08 pm
Let me know how you get on, Richard. Be good to know your thoughts.
John Parks12th August 2022 at 12:16 am
Excellent guide. The Disco-antisat wash/RCM dry method is one I imagined would work before reading this.
Cleaning fluids seem persnickeity and my current solution, Audio Intelligent #6 (AI-6), is quite that way. It is not designed to be used as in a bath washer like the Antistat (I have its sister, Vinyl Styl. This one-step enzymatic solution is engineered to be applied to the the record with a lint free pad or cloth then cleaned off. Yes, I use an RCM to suck the muck & dry. I contacted the manufacturer and raised a question about using goat hair brushes. I was told that they containe lanolin which will leech out when wet. I was surprised to hear this but it may help explain some of the rudy, curddy contaminants remaining in the groves after RCM use.
As you did with your wet Antistat record to your Loricraft, I too am working out that same problem. It may be preferable, for me, to gently pad the heavy drips away with the record out of the bath while still vertical then place it on my RCM (Record Doctor V, RDV). As the RDV vacuums from the bottom the top side of the record will wet the machine.
Once the grungy bits in the groves are dislodged and sucked away, there should be no mistake about sound improvements.
Your comments on the goat hair brushes will be helpful and appreciated. Maybe their is a reason you prefer the Kabuki brushes.
Paul Rigby12th August 2022 at 1:25 pm
Hi John – never heard of that lanolin effect and I’ve never experienced that in all the time I’ve tested the things. So I can’t really comment beyond that, I’m afraid. I like the Kabuki because it’s created with super dense and soft bristles to push surfactant deep into the grooves. That’s why I use it – just for that application. I like the goat hair on the Disco Antistat because they are firmer but only a small part of the bristle is exposed in the Disco machine. Combine that with the steady and even pressure from the same and you get that abrasion I talked about. So I like to use both brushes for two different jobs.
John12th August 2022 at 2:30 pm
The lanolin effect is new to me as well. But it comes Jim Pendleton of Audio intelligent Vinyl. It gives me a little pause, I’m going on blind trust as I have no way to verify or deny. But it gave me an idea to try use the Vinyl Styl (Disco-antisat’s sister) as a step in a dry, ore-clean step before applying cleaning solution. At the wet clean stage I use the Record Doctor. The results are very effective.
Ian Barber12th August 2022 at 9:05 am
I am sure you will get round to trying the new Degritter liquid at some point,even if you have to beg another bottle from them !
As for Part 3( or before ) a review of 3 or 4 cheapo ultrasonic machines such as those available on the ‘net for,say, £200-£300 would be extremely useful as well as a comparison with ,say, the Degritter for practical and effective cleaning of discs versus cost. I have not looked-into these,so do not have any recommendations, though I am lead to believe that there are models out there which are designed for general use cleaning jewellery etc which can be adapted for use with discs,as well as those designed to do discs. Not sure if there are multi-use models which do both which may/or may not be cheaper. Pure guess,but suspect that the ‘market’ for ultrasonic machines is geared for cleaning jewellery and small items,rather than discs for hi-fi use.
Ultimately, I would like Part 3 to find the best method for manually cleaning lp’s,whether it be an ultrasonic machine in conjunction with an RCM, or whether a Disco Antistat and RCM will do( say) 90-95% with presently available technology. That is always assuming that your testing,so far, shows ultrasonic cleaning to be superior to Disco Antistat cleaning… with/or without RCM’s ? Anyway, it will make great reading and,maybe, worth putting out to a wider audience as well as on here… Cheers Ian
Paul Rigby15th August 2022 at 1:19 pm
Hi Ian, agreed on the basic use for the budget ultrasonic cleaners. They are jewellery/dentures/etc cleaners. They are not aimed at vinyl and that’s the issue with most of them although, even then, they are effective to a large degree. As a by-the-by, you’ve seen this review have you? : https://theaudiophileman.com/record-cleaner-pro-ultrasonic-review/
Ian Barber15th August 2022 at 6:02 pm
Thanks for the link,much appreciated. I had not seen this review, but I have,now.
It seems that there are no easily useable,affordable options in LP ultrasonic cleaners which also require a vacuum cleaner,with some sort of attachment to suck-up the wet stuff after the cleaning process has finished. So,logically,if you already have a Disco Antistat in mk1 or mk2 guise,all you would need would be a vacuum cleaner attachment for the basics,rather than an RCM for quicker drying purposes. Or,maybe, the standard flexible hose supplied with most vacuum cleaners would do with or without an extra nozzle to really concentrate the area being ‘sucked-up,while moving the nozzle manually over the entire LP’s surface. You would,of course need to use a wet/dry vacuum cleaner when using this method as the fluid sucked-up would not do a dry cleaner much good. Another problem would be the level of suction required to do this task, without getting the nozzle too close to the record surface,but still capable of removing the liquid. This would depend on the power of the vac together with the size of the nozzle used to do so, without clamping the LP to an old record deck so that the vacuum cleaner does not lift it up. Thinking laterally, an old record deck with a two part platter ( ie inner bearing large enough to support the LP without the heavy outer platter ) would be ideal if such do exist ? The lp could then be clamped to the inner platter and rotated manually while you move the vacuum cleaner nozzle over the surface at a distance that does the job without getting stuck to the record. That still leave’s the wet underside leakage problem,which could be just a non-contact absorbent cloth catching the drips that fall down on to it without it touching the lp.
I am sure that there may be other,easier ways to dry Lp’s with a vacuum cleaner,without the use of a turntable inner platter/bearing,such as your lint free cloths for the lp’s to sit on while you manually go over one side with a vac,in circular or across the surface dividing each lp into quarters,like we do when cleaning a cd with a cloth,though without the contact by the nozzle. So the nozzle would be easy to move across a quarter of an lp at a time,easier to maneuvre in a straight line, while keeping it from getting stuck to the lp’s surface. Most domestic vacs would probably be too powerful on the max suction setting.
So use a standar wet/dry vac with either an ultrasoic cleaner or a Disco Antistat.
Sorry Paul, just my thoughts on the DIY angle,for now. Cheers Ian
Paul Rigby16th August 2022 at 2:06 pm
And all thoughts are welcome, Ian. The more ideas floating around, the more chance we have of moving forward and all that.
Michael12th August 2022 at 12:04 pm
Waited for what felt like ages – and it was well worth the wait. Great article about the whole subject.
Since I think about buying one of the Pro-Ject RCMs, I wonder about one thing. In the article you wrote how eventually you applied the distilled water-surfactant-solution right to the record surface before doing the RCM cleaning. For the cleaning cycles before the rinsing couldn’t I as well prepare a distilled water-1%-alcohol-surfactant-solution to begin with or wouldn’t the components work all the well together in that trinity?
Keep up the great work and thanks once again!
Paul Rigby12th August 2022 at 1:22 pm
Hey, you want to be the guy writing the thing 🙂 Thank you very much for your kind words, Michael, much appreciated.
Sure, you could add that liquid directly to the surface (in two parts though, I would advise: the alcohol and surfactant applications being separated) and that will result in sonic improvements. Not as much as with an abrasive cleaning via the Disco but it will help, absolutely.
nigel wheatley13th August 2022 at 2:21 pm
Well done, Paul. Very helpful & thorough.
I’ve been using the Disco Anti-Stat for years now (but with their own cleaning fluid) to clean new 2nd hand purchases and to clean my ‘original teenage heritage’ vinyl that’ s been collecting grunge over the years. I’ve had very good results but occasional stubborn refusal to come clean and crackle free.
So I’ll be trying your surfactant/kabuki method.
By the way there are two versions of disco antistat, the later one has a proper winding handle and costs more like £70 or £80. I’d advise readers to make sure they are getting the Mk2 as the cheaper Mk1 is still for sale on amazon
I’m surprised you’ve only rotated 6 times either way – but then you do repeat that 6 times. Why do you think it needs only 6 turns each way? I tend to put a cd on to play on the kitchen table (usually a 50’s rock n roll collection which have 3 minute tracks) and wind for the whole track (about 60 turns each way). I have tried clamping a flexible chuck on a slow action electric drill to the spindle of the Mk1 anti-stat to save the manual wind-up.
The vacuum extraction must be an improvement as i find that, on really dirty records, the Disco leaves lots of loose gunge in the grooves which takes the needle 3 or 4 plays to remove (like a snow-plough effect). So what we need is a stand alone vacuum-er (rather than a cheapo RCM) to do the big suck!
Maybe some enterprising youth can come up with an workable attachment for the household’s Dyson? i think there was something along those lines in USA – the KAB EV-1 by KAB electro acoustics – but the website appears moribund or at least doesn’t answer my emails, https://www.kabusa.com/frameset.htm?/ev1.htm
Paul Rigby15th August 2022 at 1:23 pm
Thank you, Nigel. Actually, I have a Mk.II here now so I must get around to a comparative review.
Since I did the initial research, I’ve upped the figure to 30 turns left and the same right 🙂 60 is fine too of course.
Thanks of the link – interesting stuff!
Joseph Solin1st September 2022 at 12:50 pm
Fantastic article. Looking forward to Part 3, as that is the method I use. Ultrasonic machine clean (stand alone budget machine, slow rotating motor and no drying) plus RCM (Pro-Jett) just to vacuum dry.
Paul Rigby1st September 2022 at 1:29 pm
Many thanks Joseph. I’m girding the ol’ loins to do the research for part three as you read this.
Erwin Duinker23rd October 2022 at 1:27 pm
Fantastic cleaning guide(s) with tons of research, respect and many thanks!! Please allow me to support your findings with some background on cleaning theory, I hope this is of interest to you.
Note: this is an entire scientific field on its own, and my explanation is oversimplifying and in no way complete, but I think it may help putting some semi scientific logic to support your findings 😊.
Cleaning is the process of removing unwanted substances, such as dirt, infectious agents, and other impurities, from an object or environment. Normally this is done in a combination of mechanical (wiping or brushing) and chemical (solvents, surfactants/wetting agents) action.
Wetting is the ability of a liquid to “spread” on a solid.
If it does not wet the solid, it forms droplets because the liquid likes to “stick” to itself (water on plastic).
If it does wet the solid, it spreads out on the surface and forms a thin film because all the liquid wants to touch the solid. What you want is the cleaning liquid to wet the surface better than the dirt, so the cleaner replaces the dirt on the surface, taking the dirt away from the surface into the cleaning solution.
This is why a proper extra rinse and the vacuuming is important: the dirt is in the solution (much diluted by the bath volume, but it is) and when the liquid evaporates during drying step, the residual dirt from the droplet will be left on the surface again. Take the “dirty cleaner” off the surface!
The force with which the liquid is “attracted to itself”, forming perfect spherical drops if you let it. In other words: the force the molecules in the liquid are attracted to their own kind with a certain force. For a solid this is called “surface energy”, more or less the same thing.
– if the surface energy of a solid is higher than the surface tension of the liquid, the liquid will wet the surface, it will spread out (the molecules of the cleaning liquid are more attracted to the solid than to each other, so they stick to the solid and spread out).
So: If the surface tension of the cleaner is lower than that of the dirt, it will wet the surface better and replace the dirt by crawling underneath it. This is the function of a surfactant: it lowers the surface tension of the liquid (water), making it wet the surface better than the dirt or the grease.
I think this also explains the term “wetting agent” when speaking of a surfactant 😊.
Grease has a much lower surface tension than water, so you need a surfactant to lower the surface tension. In fact, besides being a good solvent, isopropylalcohol also lowers surface tension of the distilled water.
Stretching this theory with numbers (it is not this simple, but it illustrates the topic):
Surface tension of mixtures:
Water : 72 mN/m
Water+1% IPA : 65 mN/m
Water+7% IPA : 45 mN/m
Water+5% Proplylene Glycol : 57mN/m
In this simple model, this would show why you’d need 7% IPA to lower the surface tension below 57mN/m to get the glycol form the surface. Of course, the real mechanism is much more complex as you have the “anionic surfactant” in your glycol/water mixture and on top of that, glycol is, in fact, also a surfactant helping get the dirt off. What you don’t want is the propylene glycol to stay behind on the surface of the record, and this is where the additional IPA helps “I guess”.
Some notes: Surface tension of a vinyl record is 38/36 mN/m – Grease/oil about 30-35 mN/m it will wet out the vinyl surface where your cleaner will not. Cleaning is not “just” lowering surface tension, it is also “soap” (surfactant) binding grease (hydrophobic substance) with the hydrophobic tale of the soap molecule and dissolving the micelle in water with the hydrophilic head of the soap molecule, all supported by mechanically removing the soil from the substrate (the brushes!).
Thanks again and have a fantastic day,
PS. Actual scientists and experts will have a few things to say about this I think 😉
Paul Rigby24th October 2022 at 1:58 pm
Hi Erwin – Thanks for taking the trouble to put some thought behind my ramblings 🙂
Erwin duinker24th October 2022 at 2:20 pm
I love it when methods make sense Paul – in fact I need them to, besides having and audible effect of course 😊. Been out of the lab for a few years, but thanks to your guide, my basement is starting to look like one again 🤣. In fact, the final rinsing step in a second Antistat makes a lot of sense – proper rinsing to avoid residues is by fare the most underestimated step of cleaning. (I appreciated your three rinse steps for the bottles too!)
Erwin Duinker4th November 2022 at 10:38 am
Just did he full process (3cycles only, sorry!) . Great result, so thanks!
I only have one Disco A, but I do have two bottles of 7% IPA/Dist Water solution, 1 for cleaning, 1 for rinsing step, so change the bath liquid at the end of the cleaning cycle plus a quick rinse with Dist. water in between.
Question: Do you clean the brush with water afterwards? I did, as I felt the strong need not to keep the hairs exposed to the Ilfotol / propylene glycol / water mixture …
Remark: I apply the clamps first and then surfactant, makes it easy to handle and flip the record, preventing the surfactant mixture to accidentally hit the label too 🙂
Paul Rigby4th November 2022 at 3:21 pm
Hi Erwin – glad you’ve found a system that you’re happy with and yes, I do clean my brush. Not after every cycle but after – what – a dozen or so? Just to resist any excessive build up I suppose.
Frederick Tremblay4th December 2022 at 3:44 pm
Hi Paul, thank you very much for your very insightful articles about record cleaning. They have been very useful to ramp up my cleaning technique!!
I am using an ultrasonic cleaning machine, and I know that you will write an article sometimes between today and 2030 😉 , but would you be kind enough, in the meantime, to tell me if I am missing something or doing something wrong in my process??
I opted for your surfactant-cleaning-rinsing approach using my good old Spin Clean for rinsing.
My ultrasonic cleaner is a Vevor.
It is advertised as being able to clean 8 records at a time, but I clean 5 at a time, all records evenly spaced by 9mm (2 plastic spacers provided with the machine between each record)
Temperature is 25C
Cleaning cycle is 15 minutes
Rotation of the motor is 7 rpm
Surfactant: In a 1 liter bottle, I pour 20ml glycol (2%), 10 drops of Tergikleen, and fill it with distilled water. Mix well.
Water-alcohol: In 4 liter bottles, I pour 250ml IPA (99%), and fill it with 3750ml distilled water (6,7% alcohol ratio)
I fill in my ultrasonic cleaner and my Spin Clean with the water-alcohol mix.
I pipette about 2ml of the surfactant evenly on the record, and spread it around with a « paint pad » using a back and forth motion until the surfactant is sucked into the record’s grooves. Obviously, I do both sides and put the record on the cleaning machine rod.
As previously said, I do a 15 minutes clean cycle. Then I take one record and lay it down on a microfiber cloth and lightly cover it with a second cloth to absorb the exceeding water-alcohol on the record. I then put the record in my Spin Clean making a few rotations on each side to clean it. And then again, lay down the record on another set of microfiber cloths to absorb the exceeding water. I am not wiping the record with the cloth, simply using the cloth to absorb and trying not to put some more dust or dirt in the record grooves.
After that, I put my record on the drying rack and wait !!!
And that is it!! So far I had great results!!
PS. I am replacing the rinsing water of the Spin Clean after every 15 records.
So I guess some of my questions would be: is the alcohol ratio correct for ultrasonic cleaning? What about temperature and cycle duration? Should I rinse only with distilled water, or is it ok with water-alcohol mix?
Paul Rigby6th December 2022 at 4:51 pm
Hi Frederick – I recommend reading the Guide again for measurements but generally, I dilute my surfactant first. Then pour some of that into a 50ml bottle for easier application on your vinyl record. Taking that 50ml bottle filled with diluted surfactant, add around 1.5ml of Glycol. Shake well. That’s what you add to your vinyl surface. A pad is fine but a Kabuki brush does push bristles into the grooves which aids in disrupting surface tension. Helping the liquid to enter the grooves.
I personally wouldn’t use cloths for drying because of the recontamination risk. Either air dry on a rack or, if you have the budget, dry using RCM. I wouldn’t use Spin Clean either. The ultrasonic machine is fine on its own. That should do the job.
For the ultrasonic, I wouldn’t add any heat to the process from the machine. The ultrasonic action in and of itself creates lots of heat.
If you’ve had great results then you might want to ignore the above 🙂 Then again, it might worth your while to try the above to see if you can further improve matters. Oh and 7% alcohol with Glycol used as part of the process is fine. 15 minutes cycle time is fine too.
The rinse cycle should be done in your ultrasonic, without any applied surfactant. With your machine, you don’t have to use a pure water bath because of the low percentage alcohol.
Frederick Tremblay6th December 2022 at 7:19 pm
Thanks for your answers!!
As a matter of fact, my 1 liter « surfactant recipe » is a direct reserve engineering of your instructions. You add 2 X « half a pipette » of glycol in your 50ml bottle, so I figured the total glycol was around 1 ml for 50 ml of the surfactant mix, and that is how I came up with 20 ml of glycol in 1 liter of surfactant mix, but from your last message, it would probably be closer to 30 ml !! (From my experience, so far, the surfactant sticks to the vertical record, so I guess the glycol amount is ok!!). And your instructions already stated 10 drops of Tergikleen per liter. So instead of using 50 ml bottles, I mix everything directly in a 1 liter bottle.
As for the absorption of excess liquid, if you don’t remove and let air dry, does it mean that you are comfortable having all that excess liquid (which is a mix of water-alcohol and a little bit of the surfactant) dry out?? You are not worried that the alcohol and surfactant could leave residue on the record??
Making sure to get rid of residue from Tergikleen (which they advise doing) is also the reason why I use my Spin Kleen to rinse the record with fresh water-alcohol mix, but do you think it is overkill and the ultrasonic should be enough to make sure all Tergikleen and Glycol is removed after a 15 minutes cycle ???
Or is it that when you write « The rinse cycle should be done in your ultrasonic, without any applied surfactant. » that I should let the records dry out and put them back in the ultrasonic for another cycle without having added surfactant for that rinse cycle?? If that is the case, how long is that rinse cycle? And do you do it with a clean fresh bath that was not previously used to clean records that had surfactant, and then the bath would have a mix of water-alcohol-surfactant??
Finally, a question that popped in my head after posting my first message is about the rpm speed. Now, it is 7 rpm which I read in some blogs seems to be too quick according to some users. Do you know the rotation speed of the Degritter or the Kirmuss ?? (I just ordered a speed controller for the DC motor, so I will do some testing at different rotation speeds and it would help to have a ball park to know where to start !)
Paul Rigby7th December 2022 at 11:52 am
Hi Frederick – air drying is a compromise, yes but preferable (in my opinion) to possibly introducing new, foreign matter into the grooves and also pushing micro dust back into the grooves via the use of cloths. Matter that may otherwise be scooped and removed by the stylus during play.
And I see now, you use the Spin for a rinse cycle only? That’s fine.
I realise that the ultrasonic bath will feature increasing (micro) amounts of surfactant in the bath (and I do recommend a bath change every now and again) and to be absolutely safe, the Spin Clean rinse is a good idea on that score. I’ve never felt the need to do that, to be honest, but you go for it. Nothing wrong with that idea.
My rinse cycle is another 15 min or so, using the same bath, to allow cavitation to remove the surfactant fully from the grooves. I find that it does a good job and that (because there’s no surfactant applied direct in this cycle) surface tension should prevent more bath-contained surfactant remnants from re-entering the grooves. However, your approach is perfectly valid. What I propose is open to interpretation and you should do what your comfortable with.
I don’t have any 7″ issues, I have to say. If I feel that a disc needs more cleaning, then I start another cycle.
Ian Melville10th January 2023 at 2:03 pm
Happy New Year, and I wondered if part 3 the Ultrasonic cleaning part would be out soon so I can finally decide what to get. Please?
Paul Rigby11th January 2023 at 2:52 pm
No. Hehe. No, it will be a while down the road, Ian. In the meantime, if you need any help, by all means give me a shout here.
Ian Melville11th January 2023 at 2:55 pm
Ok, and in all fairness I think I know what I want, and you have reviewed it favourably, but I just need to save up my pocket money.
Volker Henninger15th January 2023 at 4:55 pm
When can we expect Part 3?
Paul Rigby15th January 2023 at 5:35 pm
Not for a while but if you need specific help, by all means shout.
Ian Barber15th January 2023 at 5:51 pm
Re part three and RCM’s, are you working on several price-points, or between two price-points, please ?
I have seen a couple of reviews of the Hummingbird( around £500 ),and I am wondering if the price of £500 is likely to be your starting point,then going upwards to ,say, £5,000, please ?
Personally, I was rather hoping that your starting point would be lower than £500 for ultrasonic cleaners but,maybe, there are none that are any good below £500 ?
Paul Rigby16th January 2023 at 3:50 pm
Hi Ian – as with the first two parts, this won’t be a buyer’s guide for hardware or a hardware-centric piece, it will be a technology guide. So I’ll pick the best cleaner I can find and go from that point. Then the hardware won’t be focused on, it will be ultrasonic cleaning that will be the main subject of discussion. The bottom line with be ultrasonic cleaning technology and cleaning techniques and what ultrasonic can and cannot do for you.
Ian Barber17th January 2023 at 9:11 am
Ok, thanks for the update.
So, presumably, there will be a conclusion reached as to whether an ultrasonic cleaner on its own is more effective at cleaning discs than ,say, a water bath cleaner ( Disco Antistat etc ) always assuming that the dirt /debris in the grooves does not require brushing-out first to get the really sticky stuff removed before using ultrasonic. As an aside, I picked -up 6 lp’s and one cd from a friend last weekend, and all for £11. However, on closer inspection of all 6 lp’s all 6 were unplayable due to debris and mould, as well patches of sticky stuff. So, my usual routine for used discs will be followed where I will give them all one or more cleaning sequences in my Mk2 Disco Antistat, with your recommended basic fluids( 7% Iso,1:200 Ilfotol,Kabuki brush ) before playing. I am, however, having to wait until the warmer weather due to drying times of over 5 hours,as opposed to less than 1 hour during the rest of the year,in my conservatory/Wife’s sewing workroom. While it is perfectly feasible to clean them now, I would rather not leave wet discs in the drying rack for that length of time,in this weather, as there is likely to be dust in the air which will stick to the wet discs far more than for the shorter times.
I would rather spend money on buying discs, than invest in more on the cleaning equipment side,so I am unlikely to change/purchase ultrasonic equipment, as my cleaning system is perfectly adequate for my needs,not having a high-end system,merely a hybrid system built-up over the last 40+ years .
Thanks for keeping us all up-to-date on disc cleaning technology, which is much appreciated.
Paul Rigby17th January 2023 at 11:12 am
Hi Ian – i can tell you right now that an ultrasonic cleaner is more effective than any manual or RCM cleaner currently on the market. And I still do rate the latter of course but ultrasonics top them all.
The Degritter is my ultrasonic of choice but with my own liquid system in partnership – I don’t rate the company’s own ‘in bath’ surfactant method but I noted that in the hardware review and I have talked to the company about it too.
The Degritter offers the best performance but also convenience. I often clean my vinyl while working on my laptop so I can get on with my day while the machine does the rest (cleaning and drying).
Of course, the problem is the price. That’s the trade off with ultrasonics.
As for looking into more depth about the pros and cons of individual machines? That will have to wait until I can sort a Buyer’s Guide of some sort. I do have numerous hardware reviews on this site that can provide clues for now, though if you care to do the research. What you’re doing now though is fine. It’s effective and does the job. There’s no need to rush into an ultrasonic system if you’re happy with your current cleaning regime.
Ian Barber17th January 2023 at 3:43 pm
Michael Treiber12th February 2023 at 4:46 pm
First of all, thank you for your great work, which definitely improves my life.
Currently I clean my records with a combination of manual cleaning and ultrasonic cleaning with the “Gläss AudioDesk”.
For manual cleaning I use the “Disco Antistat” with the liquid mixtures you recommended, including pre-treatment with the Kabuki brush.
As described by you…well, X-100(0?) instead of Tergikleen.
First a pass, yes – as described by you, of manual cleaning.
Then the record goes into the “Gläss AudioDesk”.
It is filled with a 1% isopropanol solution.
I repeat the previously mentioned cleaning steps three times.
By the way, every played record gets a cleaning in the AudioDesk before it goes back into the clean inner sleeve.
Now you wrote something about teamwork when you tested the sound cleaning with the help of an RCM.
How about a team of three?
Manual, ultrasound and RCM.
Ok, the financial effort will be bigger/possibly too big and maybe you will get closer to psychiatry…..or you will be kicked out at home.
How many women actually clean their records?
My idea is as follows:
Once, do the operations described above (Kabuki, DiscoAntistat, AudioDesk ). One pass.
Then process one side of the record, as it comes dry from the AudioDesk, with the cleaning liquid/Kabuki.
Exactly, first only one side.
That way there is no problem with the wet underside on the RCM.
Clean the record side with an RCM.
Then the other side of the record is cleaned like this.
This trifecta is only a suggestion.
I don’t own an RCM and I’m not sure I want to go that far.
Possibly you will still take me there.
With kind regards
Paul Rigby13th February 2023 at 9:39 am
Hi Michael – there’s nothing stopping you experimenting and trying out variations and switching things around and hey, you might discover something by doing that. So I’m all for encouraging experimentation in vinyl cleaning terms.
Saying that, if you’re just looking for the best cleaning system based on the research I’ve done then I would suggest sticking with the Audiodesk only. If you use a cavitation machine, an ultrasonic cleaner, then you’re getting that essential abrasive cleaning element right there and it does a better job than the manual system. The Disco should not add anything to the cleaning process if you’re also using a manual system while the RCM will also be obsolete.
I would use the Audiodesk only and then focus more on the maximising the cleaning with the machine. That is, focus more on the liquids, the actual cleaning tools, the amount of cycles you use on each disc. Focus more on that side of things.
So that means also using Glycol, upping the alcohol to 7% to melt the Glycol, etc.
To repeat though, don’t let me put you off if you’re determined to experiment. More power to you on that score.
On a side note, I wouldn’t use X-100 now because of its now proven damage to nature (the findings were published after I did my initial X-100 review). Waste liquid will enter the system somehow and that will damage wildlife. So I recommend Tergikleen on that basis, if no other.
Jake22nd February 2023 at 12:18 am
Thank you so much for your efforts. I’ve been reading up on this stuff lately. After all these years, I finally got around to buying a Disco-stat and will be cleaning my records for the first time (I was a CD guy mainly in my teens and twenties, now back to vinyl again)!
Two questions. First the easy one. Regarding the Kabuki-brush, I live in Japan so I guess my wife could quite easily point me to finding a great quality one at a cheap price. However, I was wondering if a record brush, like the Ortofon one I have for getting dust out of grooves would be just as good, or better? Given they are designed to be rigid and cover the disc’s radius whilst getting deep into the grooves.
Second, forgive my misunderstanding but could you explain step 8 again please.
I’m not sure how many vials need to have glycol in them. Should there be two vials – one with glycol mixed with the surfactant mix and one with glycol mixed by itself? Is that the simple answer?
Is the second glycol-only vial used to put glycol into the surfactant mix?
What confused me was where you said “You should have two vial’s worth of Glycol in your surfactant glass bottle. Fill the rest of the glass bottle with the diluted surfactant from you spring water bottle. …So you should now have two glasses bottles. One is filled only with pure Glycol. The second is now filled with a combo of diluted surfactant and two vials of Glycol.”
– how can you have two vials worth of glycol AND some diluted surfactant in ONE vial? Have I misread something?
Looking forward to your updates and response. Cheers!
Paul Rigby1st March 2023 at 4:25 pm
Sorry for the delay in replying, Jake. This one needed a bit of time and time is something I’m lacking right now. Nevertheless, I’ve just found some down the back of the sofa so here I am.
The Kabuki is preferred because you don’t want to scoop out, scrub and clean the grooves when dealing with surfactant, you want to do the opposite. You want to actually push the surfactant deep into the grooves. Compact it, if you will. Hence, the Kabuki is the better tool.
For Step 8? I may need to rewrite that bit, it could be clearer.
What I meant was, grab your glass bottle full of Glycol. Then put the pipette/glass vial into the Glycol liquid. Fill the vial. When you do this, you will probably fill half the glass vial itself. That’s about the average. Take the vial full of Glycol, move over to the surfactant glass bottle and squeeze that into the surfactant bottle. Repeat. So you will have two lots – two vials – of Glycol in that surfactant bottle. Then you fill the surfactant bottle with diluted surfactant.
The end result? You will have a combo of diluted surfactant and two vials of Glycol in that one glass bottle. You will also have another glass bottle filled with neat Glycol.
So one bottle of Glycol. Then a second bottle of diluted surfactant & two vial’s worth of Glycol.
Then you shake the latter glass bottle like a banshee to mix the Glycol and diluted surfactant together. Then you’re good to go.
Give me a shout it you need me to explain further.
Jake24th March 2023 at 9:46 am
Thank you so much for the reply. I know you’re a busy man, with all that manic record cleaning and all.
I know understand your glycol in a pipette step a little clearer. I misunderstood the word “vial”, thinking it was the whole “vial” glass, not the small tube-like “vial” used to suck up and dispense liquid. Perhaps I didn’t learn the proper use for that term in school.
I hope you’re well and enjoying life. Looking forward to more reviews.
All the best,
Paul Rigby24th March 2023 at 10:00 am
Thanks Jake – no worries. It just teaches to clarify when I write. So thanks for pointing that out.
Erwin Duinker30th May 2023 at 4:11 pm
Hi Paul, me again 😊.
I Now have a Project RCM – an expensive but effective vacuum cleaner I just learned 😅.
I think the additional effectiveness of the antistat step is due to surfactant exposure time + mechanical agitation/abrasion by brushes and also the water/IPA bath; this effectively takes the surfactant+dirt off of the surface into the solution- that volume of cleaning agent is missing in a single RCM process.
The water/IPA takes off the surfactant+ dirt, , the RCM then actively takes the water/IPA off the surface with all potential residues instead of letting the volatiles evaporate leaving the residual traces of dirt.
Rather thorough process! And here I was hoping to find a FASTER way than the antistat … (saving on drying time – I know 😎).
Thanks Paul, looking forward to next posts!
Paul Rigby31st May 2023 at 9:43 am
Congrats on the RCM purchase, Erwin. And thanks for your comments. Always much appreciated.