Josh Bizar's Secret Record Cleaning Method

During a recent e-mail exchange with Music Direct's Josh Bizar, the topic turned to record cleaning. Josh shared with me his "Secret Record Cleaning Method."

Josh Bizar's Secret Record Cleaning Method

1. Buy a VPI 16.5.
2. Buy a simple record cleaning fluid.
3. Clamp a record on the cleaning machine.
4. Set platter in motion.
5. Apply about 12-15 drops of fluid and spread it around with a good (clean!) record brush.
6. Stop the platter and let the fluid sit there for a minute or so to loosen debris.
7. Scrub the LP on 1/4 of the record surface at a time using a back and forth motion. After a few cleanings, you'll be able to rotate the platter a quarter turn with a simple flick of the rotation switch on the VPI. Repeat the scrubbing on all four quadrants of the LP surface.
9. Move the vacuum pickup tube over the record surface.
10. Set the platter rotating. Turn on the vacuum and let it go around 2-3 revolutions MAX. Any more will just add static to the surface of the LP.
11. When you turn off the vacuum, gently lift the vacuum pickup tube off the surface of the record before stopping the platter rotation, so that you do not leave a line of fluid where the tube stops on the record surface.
12. Stop the platter rotation, unscrew the clamp and flip record.
13. Repeat the process on the other side of the LP, but first use the hard, stiff bristled brush that comes with the 16.5 to clean your record brush and the velvet lips of the vacuum pickup tube.

You'll notice that these steps are similar to those that I outlined, but with a few wrinkles. Josh has owned his VPI HW-16.5 record cleaning machine for 15 years. He uses it every day and it is in perfect condition. Most vinyl lovers I know own a VPI HW-16.5. I have seen these machines in the back rooms of record shops and in the homes of audiophiles. There are other options, of course. Find the machine that's right for you.

As for the "simple record cleaning fluid," Josh prefers Mobile Fidelity's Super Record Wash (Footnote) and he advises that you use an alcohol- and scent-free cleaner. Others would say that alcohol is completely safe for your records and even aids in removing dirt. I use a fluid that contains alcohol and, as far as I can tell, it hasn't damaged my LPs. I do, however, follow the alcohol cleaner with a pure water rinse. Just in case! I don't know about scented fluids, however. Josh says that any scents are derived from oils, and you wouldn't want to apply oil to your LPs. Makes sense (haw!) to me.

Josh uses Mobile Fidelity Record Brushes. He thinks the stock VPI brush is "a little stiff," but, as noted in his Step 13, he does use it to clean his other record brushes as well as the velvet pads on the VPI's vacuum pickup tube. While I do prefer the MoFi brushes, I have absolutely no problem with using the VPI brush to scrub my LPs. In fact, I sometimes even use the VPI brush as a sort of secret weapon against really dirty records. Take that, scum! Like Josh, I have also gotten into the habit of using a VPI brush to clean my other brushes. It works well.

Josh's Step 7 was a surprise to me, and I have incorporated it into my own cleaning regimen. I am not sure, however, if it's any more effective than just scrubbing the LP back and forth while the platter is spinning. That said, stopping the platter and concentrating on one quarter of the LP at a time does allow you to apply more pressure while you scrub.

I find Josh's Step 11 to be unnecessary: When I turn off the VPI's vacuum, the pickup tube automatically pops up from the LP's surface. It may be that older models do not provide this convenience.

A few other things:

It makes sense to store your clean LPs in new inner sleeves. You won't want to put a freshly cleaned LP into an old, dusty sleeve. Some might disagree with this, preferring to use those old sleeves, especially when they're cool-looking (as they often are). As a compromise, I house my clean LPs in new sleeves, but place the old, colorful inner sleeves in between the LP jacket and outer sleeve. Is that crazy? Maybe. But I like it.

Josh recommends that you keep a few extra brushes handy. A couple reasons for this: Some people believe that you should even clean new records before playing them. Mold-release compound (a substance used to remove freshly pressed LPs from the pressing mold at the factory) remains on our new LPs and can degrade their sound. While I'm sorry to say that I have found that cleaning brand new LPs results in better sound, I have not gotten into the habit of cleaning all of my new records. It's just a bit tedious and I'm too impatient for it. In any case, you may not want to use the same brush to clean both your new LPs and your dirty old LPs. It would kind of be like using the same toothbrush to clean your teeth and the grout between your bathroom tiles. Also: If your record cleaning method involves more than one fluid—say, an enzymatic cleaner or an alcohol cleaner followed by a pure water rinse—you may want to have specific brushes for each fluid. You can label them: Clean and Rinse, Salt and Pepa, Love and Hate, Kid and Play, Sid and Nancy, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, whatever works for you.

Music Direct offers special packages to help get you started. The VPI 16.5 Basic Bundle ($550), including bottles of MoFi's Super Record Wash and Super Deep Cleaner, one MoFi Record Brush, and a pack of 100 MoFi inner sleeves, is really an outstanding value. The VPI machine by itself costs $540.

While Josh Bizar believes that his method is the "simplest, fastest, and most effective way to clean a record," there are endless variations. Josh's method is the best method for him. You can have a completely different "simplest, fastest, and most effective" method. People will insist that a record cleaning machine is absolutely necessary if you really want to enjoy your LPs. It's not. A record cleaning machine is simply the most effective tool for getting your LPs in good shape. If you can't afford one right now or if you're unconvinced, you can take a shot at cleaning your records without a machine. You can use dust-free cloths, you can go old-school and stick your LPs in the sink, or you can dream up something completely new. Osage Audio, representing Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions, has a webpage dedicated to cleaning your records without a record cleaning machine. Feeling especially thrifty and ambitious? You can even make your own record cleaning machine like our forum member, dbowker. Yes, you can!

As Black Sheep used to say, "The choice is yours."


Footnote: In 2001, Music Direct's Jim Davis purchased the proprietary mastering chain and all intellectual property associated with the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab name. For more info on MoFi, click here.

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Christian's picture

The VPI is definitely on my list. To this point I have been using a homemade concoction and cleaning method on the cheap. I use a mix of 99% pure Isopropanol, distilled water, and a dash of Original formula Windex. I clean my records with a lint brush I find the angled bristles get in the grooves nicely. Then I rinse with distilled water and dry with micro fiber towels. It seems to work well. I have also had good results with the LAST stylus cleaner to keep my needle clean.

Trey's picture

Christian, I got an audio advisor cheapie vacuum cleaner and I am very happy with it! It is completely manual, but it works! 8) I use the Disc Doctor stuff and scrub pretty hard with the Disc Doctor brushes, then I soak up the fluid with some various older cleaning brushes, I rinse twice with reverse osmosis deionized water that I use for my fishtank, then slurp it off with the disc doctor. That way, only clean water hits the cleaner pads.But I canno enjoy the process, so I envy our host his cleaning bliss!Trey

Gerald Clifton's picture

I have had a VPI 16.5 for 7 years. I occasionally order new "suck-up" (velcro-lined lips) thingies, about every 2 years or so. It works fine. I use the Audio Advisor "Super Cleaner II." It costs about 40 or 50 bucks a gallon and works fine. A gallon lasts me about a year. El cheapo. If it contained alcohol, I would add a bit of vermouth and a couple olives and drink the shit. Maybe it does. I don't know. Please do NOT tell me. It works fine on records. Cleans the fuck out of 'em, with no visible or audible residue. What more could anyone want? Velcro-lined lips installed in a rubber lady, that's what! But that's a whole 'nuther topic...Anyway, the shit works. Unlike my computer, which has driven me insane and has cost me a helluva lot more than 600 bucks. But that's another topic...I give the platter, once plunked on the turntable, one last whisk with a dry brush, to remove the air-borne particles (cigarette ashes, dog-breath residue, and any other sub

Carlo's picture

Doesn't Josh's company own Mobile Fidelity?

Stephen Scharf's picture

You don't need a record cleaning machine to very effectively clean your records, or a vacuum to dry them. Make a protector from two 4" round blank covers from OSH. Glue the weather stripping on with Gorilla glue. a hole in them just large enough to allow the bolt of a male clamping knob pass through the plate covers and LP, and clamp together. cleaning, use a 4" soft painters nylon brush & Dawn in a dish of warm water. Brush the LP with the soap solution using the paint brush, and then give it a second pass with a Mobile Fidelity brush, rinse with tap water. Dry using two soft terry-cloth microfiber cloths to dry the record. You don't need DI water if you immediately dry the record with the microfiber cloths.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Doesn't Josh's company own Mobile Fidelity?Hi Carlo. I just added a footnote to the piece, stating:In 2001, Music Direct's Jim Davis purchased the proprietary mastering chain and all intellectual property associated with the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab name.

S. Chapman's picture

I used a VPI 16.5 for several years but traded up to an HW-17 about 8 years ago.If you can find one for a reasonable price, they are well worth the extra money: faster, easier to use, better results, and a little quieter.

Mike Shanahan's picture

Stephen Scharf's comments are very relevant. Any record cleaner that relies on putting the dirty record down on a platter suffers the disadvantage of deposits from the dirty record being transferred to the platter. So when you have cleaned one side and turn the record over the clean side will pick up more deposits. What do you do about that? Clean the platter in between every side change? Sound like a lot of unnecessary work to me. If you don't want to clean entirely by hand as Stephen suggests there are simple machines on the market comprising a bath in which the record is rotated vertically by hand. I wo'nt mention any trade names for fear of being connected with any company but i can assure you that with a simple bath and your own ALCOHOL-FREE cleaner made up in accordance with the American Library of Congress formula (see their website) you will get excellent results.

eujin's picture

Stephen, With regards to Step 11, you'll find that over time, your vacuum wand may not pop up on its own either. This is really a function of coil memory in the spring that the wand sits on--over time, the spring is compressed and no longer has the resiliency to pop up. You can remedy this by simply stretching out the spring a little to revive it. I find that it helps to also remove the spring when the cleaner is not in use.

Derwyn Goodall's picture

A record cleaning machine is an absolute necessity. Also, the need for clean sleeves, post cleaning is a must. Why would anyone put a freshly cleaned slab into a dirty sleeve?While the 16.5 is good, the 17.5 is better. I got mine at a garage sale, go figure. I think they currently retail for around $1300 USD, but I got mine for $100 CDN. The lid was slightly cracked but otherwise it has been working flawlessly for over 8 years. Highly recommended!!

Elwood's picture

For those of you that can't afford the VPI, give the Gem Dandy a try at a third the price. Probably as quick as the automatic's, does require a deep sink or outdoor venue, and drying with cloth diapers leaves no lint. I've tried many a commercial 'cleaning solution' and really haven't found one better than another.Clean IS BETTER, regardless of what you've convinced yourself of...kinda like the need for an outdoor antenna with FM listening, until you try it, you don't know what you're missing.

Stanley R. Stephens's picture

I agree with all of you about the necessity of clean records for ideal fidelity. I've used a VPI 16, then a 16.5 since they first hit the market; my friend is STILL using my first 16.I've found that some water based cleaning fluids will "mold" after storage (this "stuff" grows inside of the fluid when it is dormant for a period of time). I've never had the problem with an alcohol based fluid. I'm going to admit that I've purchased quite a few 180 gram records lately that I've yet to clean with the VPI. Is it my imagination, or is the vinyl being released today better than the vinyl of yesteryear? Without machine cleaning, I still find today's vinyl records quieter than those of the past. We should all be thankful for the resurgence of the vinyl medium. If I can get it on vinyl, I'll record it to CD or DVD for portability and still have better fidelity compared to the "factory" CD. Scold me for neglecting to use my cleaning machine --- I've forg

Kurt's picture

I've been listening to LPs for over 30 years, and I've never used a machine like the VPI. I think the VPI is great for cleaning a newly-acquired used record - my favorite record store (now closed) offered VPI cleaning for one dollar - but for records bought new (or used, VPIed records), I've found that the Audioquest brush keeps them clean and quiet. Every third of fourth playing, I give them a cleaning with a wet brush, and that's it. Works for me.

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