Safely Clean and Restore Classic Vinyl Records with CleanerVinyl Pro

How to Safely Clean and Restore Classic Vinyl Records with the CleanerVinyl Pro

A large and growing number of audiophiles have turned their backs on compact disc recordings and other digital sources in favor of vinyl LP and 45 RPM recordings either released now as new audiophile pressings or as vintage records from more than nine decades of recording history.

CleanerVinyl Pro with records
CleanVinyl Pro record cleaning system installed on an Elma P60H dual-frequency ultrasonic cleaner.

Be it the removal of release agents and other chemicals from the pressing process, or bringing vintage vinyl back to life after years of storage, this is a task eased considerably by the CleanerVinyl Pro ultrasonic record cleaning system. 

This post describes why ultrasonic record cleaning is so effective, and how the CleanerVinyl Pro System incorporating an Elmasonic P60H dual-frequency ultrasonic cleaner does the job.

Why Ultrasonic Cleaning is Best for Restoring Vinyl Records

There are many methods for record cleaning. Most are based of some kind of brushing, washing or vacuuming. Unfortunately, this approach often results in damages to the record surface via the introduction of micro-scratches due to the inevitable mechanical contact that is made by pads or wands. Another issue with conventional cleaning methods is their inability to penetrate to the bottom of the grooves due to the relatively coarse nature of the cleaning tool.

In contrast, ultrasonic cleaning is touch-free and is able to penetrate into the smallest features at the bottom of vinyl record grooves. The ultrasonic method is a proven safe and effective way to remove dust, dirt, oils and other contaminants from delicate objects, and it has been widely used in industrial and scientific environments for about six decades by now. The good news is that in recent years ultrasonic cleaners became finally affordable for personal use. This put the use of this state-of-the-art cleaning technology at the fingertips of discerning vinyl record collectors. Ultrasonic cleaning is the only method that can get into the extremely fine record grooves and restore them to the pristine state that produces the analog high-fidelity sound demanded by audiophiles. 

How Ultrasonic Vinyl Record Cleaning Systems Work

Three transducers introduce ultrasound waves into the cleaning fluid where the record is rotated.

In ultrasonic cleaners transducers mounted to the bottom of the tank introduce ultrasound waves into the cleaning fluid in the tank. These soundwaves create regions high and low pressure in the fluid. In low pressure regions vacuum bubbles form. These bubbles implode (“cavitate”), emitting shockwaves and water jets, which dislodge contaminants from the record surface into the cleaning fluid. The cavitation process preferentially occurs in the vicinity of surfaces that break the symmetry of the space around the vacuum bubbles. In other words, the bubbles tend to cavitate right at the record surface, focusing the cleaning energy where it is needed.

It is an interesting fact that the bubble size depends on the ultrasonic frequency. Higher frequencies generate smaller bubbles, and lower frequencies larger ones. The energy stored in each bubble is proportional to its volume. In short, this means that lower frequency cleaning generates fewer larger bubbles with more energy in each, while higher frequencies result in a larger number of smaller bubbles with less energy in each. This explains why lower frequency cleaning is used for the removal of more coarse contaminants such as dirt and dust, while the smaller high frequency bubbles are better for the removal of chemical contamination and for penetrating into the smallest features in the record grooves.

ultrasonic cleaning cavitation bubble
Cavitating ultrasound generated vacuum bubble. The center of the bubble shows the formation of the water jet during the cavitation process.

And that is why the Elma P60H dual frequency ultrasonic cleaner is the perfect ultrasonic cleaning engine for the CleanerVinyl Pro system. The P60H can operate at user selected 37 and 80 kHz, which enables a dual frequency clean. Do an initial clean at 37 kHz to remove coarse dirt and dust, and then follow up with a finishing run at 80 kHz, that removes the finest particles from the bottom of the grooves as well as chemical contaminants like pressing release agents or oily residues.

Aside from its state-of-the-art dual-frequency ultrasonic wave generator, the P60H is also set apart from other ultrasonic cleaners by its digital ultrasonic power adjusting feature, as well as its sweep and degas functions. Adjustable power is useful when full power is not needed or wanted, such as for performing a quick and gentle ‘refresh clean’ before playing well-kept records from your own collection. The sweep function modulates the ultrasonic frequency around the main frequency, which homogenizes the power density of the ultrasonic wavefield in the cleaner tub for a more even cleaning action. Finally, the degas function is essential for getting the highest cleaning performance from the cavitation process. Degas removes dissolved oxygen from the cleaning fluid. This is important since the presence of dissolved gas shortens the lifetime of the vacuum bubbles, reducing the cleaning efficiency.

How To Use The Elma P60H With The CleanerVinyl Pro System

Slide Lift-Pro onto P60H
Slide Lift-Pro onto the Elma P60H rim.

The CleanerVinyl Pro system has been designed to attach to the P60H tank. Simply slide the Lift-Pro fan unit onto the rim of the P60H and engage the rim locks to fix the unit in place. Then install the CleanerVinyl Micron fluid filtration system and fill the tank with distilled water to about an inch below the rim. Connect the Micron control unit to its power adapter to start the fluid circulation in the tank. Then add a few drops of a wetting agent (popular choices are Kodak Photo-Flo or Ilford Ilfotol) to the water in the tank. The benchmark for the ‘right’ amount of wetting agent is that the records are coated with a smooth fluid film while outside the fluid. If you get droplets, just add another drop of the wetting agent until the film is smooth.

Inser Record Motor
Insert the Pro motor unit with records installed into the Lift-Pro for cleaning and drying.

If the cleaning fluid is fresh or has not been used for a while, turn on the degas feature of the P60H. Now you have a few minutes time to mount the records on the Pro motor unit while the fluid is degassed. After the degas, it is time to slide the Pro motor unit with the mounted records into the cleaning position of the Lift-Pro unit. Then plug in the power cord into the motor unit, and turn the knob to select the desired RPM. The Pro motor unit can rotate the records at speeds ranging from ~0.2 RPM to ~5 RPM.

Plug in the fan
Plug in the fan to accelerate the drying process.

Now it is time to turn on the P60H. We recommend to first run the cleaner at its lower 37 kHz setting for 8-10 min pre-clean to remove most of the dirt and dust that accumulated in the grooves. The Micron filtration unit is purifying the water during this step to prevent redeposition of the removed dirt. Once this step is complete, switch the P60H to 80 kHz and run the records for another 5-10 min to finish the cleaning process by removing chemical contamination and any remaining dirt at the bottom of the grooves.

Fluid filtration system
Micron fluid filtration system in action.

Once the 80 kHz step has been completed, the records are ready for drying and re-sleeving. Drying is very simple: Just lift the motor unit in the upper position while keeping the records spinning and release the lift locks that hold the record stack in the elevated position. All that is left to do at this point is to plug in the fan and after about 20 min the records will be dry and can be played or put back into their sleeves.

For more information and pricing on the CleanerVinyl ultrasonic record cleaning system and optional accessories, contact the ultrasonic cleaning experts at Tovatech.

About Bob Sandor

Bob began working as a chemist in 1987 and remains a science geek to this day. After his PhD he worked on the bench in materials and inorganic chemistry for 10 years. He then took on a love for marketing and sales. He combined his passion for science and business and took entrepreneur general management positions in large corporations like Hoecsht Celanese now Sanofi Aventis, Bel-Art and Smiths Detection. There he learned what it would take to run a business and finally Tovatech was co-founded in 2006. Bob’s hobbies include playing, listening and composing music, skiing, working out, the internet and all things science. Read More