How to Clean Vinyl Records

Display of nine of my favorite vintage albums from my collection

There is something special about listening to music on vinyl records. I love digital music, but with records, it's more of an activity all by itself. Rand and I love to put on a scratchy record and relax in our living room together. It's not hard these days to get into vinyl, since new record players can be purchased at a pretty reasonable price and there are records available everywhere. A lot of new music can be purchased on vinyl, and often they include complementary digital downloads of the album. This past Christmas, Rand got me my favorite Neutral Milk Hotel and Green Day albums on vinyl records.

New albums are a little pricey, so it's also nice that there are bins and bins of old records for sale at nearly every flea market. It takes a lot of crouching down on the floor and digging through music you hate just to find a treasure, but it is so worth it. When I finally discover a record I've been wanting, I usually squeal and run for the register as though someone else might try to take it from me. Some of my favorite recent finds include Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, Carole King, and Linda Ronstadt albums. They usually range from $0.50 to $5 in the flea market bins.

You can find some amazing deals digging through flea market record bins, but you should always check the record itself before you buy it. First of all, make sure the record is actually in there and that it's the correct record. Second, look it over for scratches. Some records look like they've taken a lot of abuse, and if you see deep gashes in the surface of the record, those can't be fixed and will affect the sound quality. However, don't be intimidated by a layer of dust and dirt. That can usually be fixed.

Peter, Paul and Mary vintage album before cleaning

Here's a recent record I picked up at a flea market in Springfield. I have loved Peter, Paul, and Mary since I was little, so I was pretty excited to find this album for $2. It had a couple of small scratches, but mostly it was just covered in grime. Here's a closer look at the surface of the record. I can live with a couple scratches, but look at that dirt. 

Peter, Paul, and Mary dirty vintage album close-up before cleaning

Since it wasn't too damaged but it still didn't sound great, I went searching for a method to clean the record without hurting it. It turns out, once again, Dawn is the best choice. Is there nothing that stuff can't do?

Giving your old records a scrubbing is incredibly easy. Grab some Dawn, a rag, and get to the sink. Squirt some dawn all over the record, but try to avoid the paper label in the middle. Get your rag wet and scrub both sides of the record.  Rinse the record off under cool running water, again doing your best to avoid getting the label wet.

Four steps to clean vinyl records

Towel dry the surface of the record with a lint-free cloth, then lay it out to air dry completely. From what I've read, it is very important that the record is completely dry before you play it. 

Peter, Paul and Mary album after cleaning close-up

I was amazed at the results! I did my best to capture the difference in photos, but the real improvement was in the sound quality. It still sounded like a scratchy old record, but in a much better way. Does that make sense?

Cleaning vinyl records before and after photo

Of course I had to go through and clean all my records after making this discovery. Things are sounding much better around here these days.


  1. You're right it does work. I use whatever soap my wife has in the little dispenser by the sink. Do it with every used record that I buy before it's played.

    1. I just wish I had done this sooner! My records sound so much better! :)

  2. I've been trying to figure out the best way to clean my massive record collection - thanks!


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