Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Adventures in record cleaning

I've been buying far too much used vinyl in charity shops over the past few months and no matter how filthy or clean these new audio treasures are they never go near my stylus without a full wet clean. Originally I started by using the Knosti Disco Antistat record cleaner and their own cleaning fluid, but at £20+ a litre bottle, with the occasionally cheap deal hitting £15 it was becoming expensive. The fluid can be re-used but even with filtering through the basic paper filters they provide (5 with each bottle) the recycled fluid is full of dirt - and worse the particles that make it through the paper filters are small enough to get left in grooves. I've been thinking that there must be better and cheaper ways to do this.

The fluid is so expensive that it turned out to be almost cheap enough to buy a complete kit (Conrad UK was the cheapest before they increased their free-shipping purchase limit) just for the fluid and getting a complete set of spares for the balance of about £10. This also gets you another bath for rinsing - see below for more. If you still want the fluid the best I have found is from Recordcase.de in Germany where if you order about 3 litres then the shared shipping costs brings the price down to about £15 per litre.

Before moving on to review the alternatives to the Knosti branded cleaning fluid I thought I would share some more experiences with the recycling process; One thing that worked quite well was to pass the used fluid through a domestic water filter jug - with a new, unused filter that had not been used for drinking water! If you take the time to remove the large dirt particles using the paper filters before filtering through the jug the results are not too bad although the filtering process does seem to remove some constituent that results in the fluid not quite being as good as new but at least it's visibly cleaner and clearer.

So, I started looking for alternatives and there are a number of recipes on the web all along the same lines. The best one I found was a posting on the London Jazz Collector website. The bottom line is about 80% distilled water, 20% isopropanyl alcohol and 5ml of Ilford Ilfotol wetting agent. One other important tip however was the two-bath rinse process which I found detailed on TNT Audio by Maarten van Casteren with the one change that I also added 5ml/litre of the Ilfotol wetting agent to the rinse.

This version of the process appears to have been a success and the side effect which was mentioned in the TNT Audio article above was that the original Knosti fluid seems to leave an invisible but real coating on the vinyl that comes off on the stylus over the course of one or two plays. With this new fluid and rinse there didn't appear to be any "gunk" left on the stylus.

Having mentioned all the positives with a two-bath process using home made cleaning fluid the one area that may prove to be different is the lack of an explicit anti-static effect. Knosti claim, borne out by experience, is that their fluid results in a lasting anti-static effect on vinyl. As the slave to three semi-long haired Maine Coons this is quite an important feature. It may be that this invisible "gunk" left on the records is what gives this anti-static effect or maybe not. Time will tell, but in the few plays I have had of records cleaned using the home made fluid there have been no static problems with hair or dust.

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