Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

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Victor O
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Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by ymg200 »

This topic has probably came up a hundred times here, but there are different aspects of it and I couldn't find an answer by searching in this forum.
I am new to 78s. I bought my first Victrola last summer and then I started hunting for records. Needless to say that a lot of 78s that are being sold today need a good cleaning.
I searched "how to clean 78 records" in YouTube and most videos recommend a dishwasher liquid and a toothbrush. I bought a cheap electric turntable on Ebay in order to spin records while cleaning them. A toothbrush has small surface area, making it inefficient for cleaning records, so I was going to find a wider brush for this purpose (clothes brush? paint brush?). Then I came across the video demonstrating Discwasher, which has a cloth, not a brush. That cloth looks similar to a microfiber, although it is directional.
Which way of cleaning is better for shellac - a brush or a padded cloth?
What kind of cleaners and cleaning solutions do you use?
Thank you.

Victor V
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by gramophoneshane »

If you were asking about cleaning wax cylinder records, just about every collector would recommend "Labtone" laboratory cleaning compound and microfibre cloth.
When you ask about cleaning 78rom records, don't be surprised if 5 different collectors give you 5 different answers claiming their brand and method is best, without any real proof other than that's what they use.

I myself would be a little worried about anything designed for use in an electric dishwasher simply because they can contain harsh or corrosive chemicals, some of which will damage gold decoration on your favourite dinner service and damage silver plating on tableware.
Of course that may just be one of those annoying auto-corrections in your post where it's changed from "dishwashing" liquid to dishwasher liquid.
Any cleaning product that contains alcohol, like some of the spray and wipe type cleaners are definitely a no-no.

My recommendation would be to use any soap/detergent that is considered to have a PH level within a safe range, for washing your hands to remove surface oils and dirt without drying out your skin.
If it can clean your hands safely without damage, then it's going to be same when it comes to records.

Why anyone would recommend using a toothbrush I don't know, unless it's punishment for a prisoner after he's finished scrubbing the kitchen floor and toilet??
I can't say whether a brush or cloth is "best" as I don't own a microscope so I can't offer any science based truth that one is better than the other.

I use a brush to clean shellac, and microfibre cloth on vinyl, although I do use a microfibre cloth to towel dry shellac after rinsing the record to sort of cover both bases.
Because vinyl is softer I tend to avoid using a brush on those and stick to the cloth.
I figure a record that's had a steel needle plowing it can probably handle the bristles of a brush scrubbing them a little better.

I use a soft nail brush (for finger nails) simply because I find it a good size to hold, and a convenient size to cover the radius between the label and edge of a record, making it easy to use in an arch following the grooves.
Within about 10 seconds the grooves have been scrubbed on one side and it's ready to rinse.
I usually do both sides before rinsing. Its easier during the process, and think it cuts down on how long the record (and occasionally to some degree the label) are wet before getting towel dried.
Then I stand the record in a plastic Dish drainer to air dry properly for 12-24 hrs.

Victor IV
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by CarlosV »

A common misunderstanding about record cleaning is the thought that a brush bristle will penetrate in the record groove. This is not the case with all but the very fine carbon fiber brushes. A nylon brush bristle is too thick to fit in a groove, so the scrub action only acts to move the liquid around the surface of the record. For a manual cleaning the most effective action is just to scrub with neutral soap so the liquid can act to remove grease and dislodge particles from the groove, then let water flow from the tap on the record surface, and dry it out later with a piece of cloth that does not generate lint.

Machine cleaning is another story: the higher quality vacuum machines create a whirlpool on the contact area that forces the liquid to move around to dislodge particles that are stuck in the groove and then are sucked away.

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Victor V
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by Wolfe »

CarlosV wrote: A nylon brush bristle is too thick to fit in a groove
An unworn toothbrush bristle (0.007 to 0.008)would be about the same size as the tip of a steel phonograph needle. ... les-types/

I read the OP doesn't want to use a toothbrush for being inefficient but I still hold it up as an effective way to get dirt out of a 78 groove. I don't know about other nylon brushes, like cleaning brushes, bristles are probably too big.

Joe Bussard does it old skool way :

(Double-click the video above or click this link to go to the video on YouTube.)

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Victor III
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by drh »

Does anybody here have experience with, or know about, how 78s fare in those ultrasonic cleaning machines? I like the idea (although not the price tag invariably attached to them), but I've wondered whether they would be bad for shellac, which is more brittle than the vinyl they were designed to clean.

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Marco Gilardetti
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by Marco Gilardetti »

gramophoneshane wrote:don't be surprised if 5 different collectors give you 5 different answers claiming their brand and method is best
You meant: 5 collectors, 6 different answers, didn't you? :D

Personally I'm for brushes. They will not go to the bottom of the grooves as Carlos said, but they will still at least partially act inside the grooves as Wolfe replied.

I use two Knosti washing trays (that I don't recommend, as the producer stubbornly refuses to make 78RPM-specific bowls for the labels, but still that's what I own) which have stationary brushes. The first tray is filled with a solution of Spin-Clean MKII which is a specific alcohol-free washer fluid that has to be highly diluted, so although quite expensive a bottle will last forever. The second is filled with a solution of a photographic wetting agent, which gives to the record a final pass as well as a rinse, and greatly helps with even dry-up of the surface, leaving no drops or stains.

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Victor III
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by chunnybh »

I use common black carbon fiber toothbrushes. They work very well getting to the bottom of the groove. I strapped four of them together to create a decent size brush.
The carbon fiber bristles are tapered to a fine point giving the tip of the brush a whitish hew.
Here is a digital microscope picture. Fine steel needle, black carbon fiber brush, 0.076mm ruler mark and a normal toothbrush bristle in blue.

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Marc Hildebrant
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Re: Cleaning shellac records - a brush or a cloth?

Post by Marc Hildebrant »

I have cleaned 78 RPM records by first wiping with a soap solution using a paper towel in a circular motion on the record surface.

Next, rinse under running water that is warm.

Last, wipe with a clean rag in a circular motion.

Let dry and play the song twice. The second time to record the music into a digital file.

For Edison Diamond Disc records I use denatured alcohol only.


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