Let’s define what is meant by the term the modern vinyl record.
It has a relatively long playing time and does so while reproducing sound in what is called high fidelity.
High fidelity, or Hi-Fi for short, simply means that the device is capable of reproducing sound accurately throughout the full hearing range of the human ear, and does so realistically, i.e., without introducing significant quantities of noise or distortion.
That is not to say that every record meets this definition.
Always store your records in a cool, dry, dark environment in an upright position (never flat) that is high off the ground, and that provides some airflow around them.
Ideally each record would be stored in a polypropylene or Mylar plastic bag, with the record stored in its own poly inner sleeve outside of the record jacket. The closer that you can come to these ideals the longer your records should last, which can be a lifetime, or even become a family heirloom.
If you practice these guidelines on a daily basis and on a long term basis you will get the most possible enjoyment from your collection. You will come to learn that light scratches on good old vinyl is nothing to be overly concerned about and that with proper care and cleaning that they can actually come to sound better with repeated use.
Dirt and static electricity may cause good records to sound “scratchy”. A proper cleaning will remove dirt and static electricity from the vinyl. You may be very surprised to hear how good your records sound once cleaned. What you thought was noise caused by scratches may disappear.
An old or worn stylus will cause your records to sound bad or sound scratchy. This is because a worn stylus is getting down to the bottom of the record groove where there is no music. Understand that a stylus begins life shaped like an ellipse (rounded) and then wears down to a point and falls further down into the groove until it hits bottom. This is bad for your records. The music resides on the sides of the record groove and is where a new stylus (needle) sits while playing.
Wet cleaning of vinyl records is the best way if not the only way to really get them clean and to get them free of static electricity.
A mild household window cleaner does a nice job because it has all of the necessary chemical components to get your records clean. Let’s call that product “Windex” for simplicity, although not all Windex –like products are suitable.
I prefer to recommend the Vinegar based cleaners rather than the alcohol or ammonia based products as there is a commonly held suspicion that alcohol and ammonia can cause long term damage to vinyl (although I have never seen evidence of that).
Window cleaning solutions contain a surfactant, which is a chemical agent that breaks “surface tension” and allows the solution to really get down into the bottom of the grooves and therefore removes more dirt.
While many of the commercially available record cleaning solutions probably do a good job, it’s likely that they’re no better than a bottle of Windex… yet they cost a lot more!
Use plenty of solution and really get the record wet while being very, very careful to keep the solution off of the record label, as it will cause the paper label to “rise” or stain the label, etc, and it will never look like new again.
Apply the Cleaning Solution to a Cloth or Record Preener
The best way to apply the cleaning solution is to apply it to the cleaning device that you are going to use, such as a soft cloth, record preener (brush), etc. I recommend a very soft, clean cotton material such as a baby’s diaper (old school, washable type).
An old trick of “last resort” is to actually play a record while wet.
For reasons not fully understood (by me), doing this “quiets” the record substantially (removes the noise caused by scratches) seemingly without reducing fidelity. I recommend using only water without any chemical, as the chemical may cause harm to your stylus and cartridge. This trick is best used when trying to extract the best possible sound quality from an old, mostly worn out record when you are recording it. Expect your stylus to be dirty and in need of cleaning upon completion, which should be done immediately before it dries.
Really dirty old records will require several cleanings and playings before they yield their best sound reproduction.
If you are really serious about playing many old and dirty records you should consider getting a very sturdy stylus/cartridge such as the Stanton DJ series. These can stand up to the abuse of older, damaged records much better than the more expensive and sensitive stylus’.
I do not have an opinion regarding products that “treat” the surface of a record (such as “Last”), nor with cleaning products ( like Revirginizer) that are like a “face peel” for records because I have never used them myself, probably because I have not felt the need for them.
It doesn’t take very long searching the web to find dozens of articles about record cleaning using a variety of different methods and materials for cleaning vinyl records. Questions abound regarding the chemical cleaning agent, the type of brush, cloth, or machine to use for the best results.