One unavoidable fact about owning and playing vinyl records is that dust and dirt will at times get stuck within the grooves of the record. As a responsible vinyl owner, you should be thorough about checking and cleaning your stylus. Just because you properly store your vinyl records doesn’t mean that your stylus doesn’t need to be cleaned.
In this article we’ll go over the process of identifying a dirty stylus, cleaning your stylus, and offer a few tips and tricks on how to do this all at home!
Table of Contents:
Identifying a Dirty Turntable Stylus
Ideally, you should be checking your turntable stylus every time you are about to listen to a record. However, at times we all are at fault for throwing a record on to listen to without doing a quick inspection. While it’s not likely that a few rotations will cause extended wear and damage to the surface of your record and stylus, here are a few tips on how to identify a dirty stylus.
The first way to identify a dirty stylus is through a simple visual inspection. Get up close to your stylus tip, maybe even with a magnifying glass, and examine the needle. Is there any dust, dirt, grime, or debris attached to the tip? If so, it’s time to clean the stylus before putting a record on.
So what if you forget to visually inspect the needle before playback? Another obvious sign of a turntable needle that needs to be cleaned is excessive hissing, scratching, or popping while playing. Not only does this ruin the listening experience, but it also can damage your record and stylus. If you hear any of this, stop the record immediately and visually inspect the cartridge. It could be a turntable grounding issue, a dirty needle, or the needle might need to be replaced.
How to Clean the Stylus?
Now that you have identified that your stylus needs cleaning, what are the cleaning options? To preface, there are many solutions. While we suggest eventually purchasing a specialized product to consistently clean your stylus, there are some methods you can do with household items.
Stylus Brush Cleaning
By far, one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to safely clean your stylus is with a dedicated stylus brush. Manufacturers often include brushes with new turntables or cartridges, but if you’ve misplaced yours they can easily be purchased on Amazon.
In order to properly clean your turntable or record player stylus with a brush, place the brush under your stylus with the bristle facing up. Gently touch the stylus tip with the brush and pull in a forward direction, back to front(towards you). Do not push the brush away from you as this will likely damage your cantilever.
You can use a stylus brush dry or with dedicated cleaning fluid for improved results.
Gel Cleaning Solution
Another simple and safe needle cleaning solution involves using a gel-based stylus cleaner. You can purchase these gel cleaners cheaply and they are convenient to use before listening to a record.
With your turntabled turned off, simply uncover the gel stylus cleaner, place it directly underneath your turntable needle on the rotating plate, and gently lower your stylus into the solution a couple of times.
Do not force the stylus into the gel, instead, let the hydraulic tonearm do the work of dropping the needle. If you do not have a hydraulic tonearm, be carefully lower the arm until the needle lightly touches the gel, then raise.
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Cleaning
If you don’t have any of the dedicated cleaning solutions above, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a popular household cleaning product that can work with decent results!
The procedure works similarly to a gel-based stylus cleaner in that you place the magic eraser under the turntable needle and gently drop the needle until it’s touching the pad. After, pull the tonearm back and repeat the process a couple of times.
Again, remember to be sure your turntable is turned off so the player does not move.
Infant Toothbrush Cleaning (Not Recommended)
Lastly, some individuals on vinyl forums have had mild success cleaning their turntable or record player stylus with an infant toothbrush. This is not a maintenance strategy that should be done regularly and only should be done if no other option is available.
The method works in the same fashion as the dedicated stylus brush. With the turntable off and the arm elevated, place the brush underneath the cartridge and slowly touch the bristles to the tip. Pull the brush back to front towards you a couple of times to remove any dirt, dust, or debris. Do not push the brush inwards as this can damage your cantilever.
Maintenance & Prevention
By far, the best method for cleaning your stylus is cleaning it every time you play music. If you clean regularly, your record grooves and needle will be at less of a risk to be damaged or go bad during playback. Dirty records and needles can affect the sound quality of your record and ruin the listening experience.
Regardless of if you play new or used records, general cleaning should be done regularly – we suggest once a week.
Here are a few other quick tips regarding record and stylus maintenance:
- Store your records properly to prevent dust from settling in the grooves.
- When placing a record on the turntable, be careful your fingers do not come in contact with the grooves themself. Instead, handle the record from the outside edge.
- Always close your turntable cover; when playing music or not.
- Before starting a record, it’s a good idea to use an anti-static brush to clean any surface dust and dirt off.
- If you hear the sound of intense static, stop the player immediately and inspect.
- In the absence of cleaning fluid, rubbing alcohol can be used for stylus cleaning
Helpful Tips and FAQ
Is the Cleaning process the Same for a Record Player and Turntable?
Needle cleaning for a record player is essentially the same as for a turntable. Some record player procedures might be different such as removing the needle.
How Long Should a Turntable Needle Last?
A turntable needle should last for around 1,000 hours of playtime if regularly cleaned. This playtime can be hard to keep track of, so we suggest replacing your needle every 3 years if you actively listen to music at least once a week.
How Often Should I Clean My Stylus?
Ideally, you should clean your stylus before each listening session, especially if you enjoy vintage records with a lot of dust and grime build-up.
How Often Should I Clean My Records?
It’s best practice to clean your vinyl records if there is visible debris or noticeable surface noise during playback. Additionally, if the vinyl was purchased second-hand, it’s recommended you clean it before playing. Standalone record cleaning systems exist or you can clean with a microfiber cloth and an isopropyl alcohol-water mix virtually free of cost.
We find it’s best to have a “record cleaning day” once a year when you visually inspect all your records and then choose the dirty ones to clean.
My Records Sound Distorted, Why?
There could be many reasons why your record’s audio sounds distorted. First, it’s a good idea to first ensure your turntable is properly set up. Then, if you purchased a used record player or turntable, ensure your needle is in good shape and doesn’t need to be replaced. Lastly, ensure your needle is clean with a visual inspection or further investigation (covered in this article). If further distortion or skipping occurs, consult this guide.
Cleaning Your Stylus – Final Thoughts
In this article we’ve covered:
- How to identify a dirty stylus
- How to clean a dirty stylus using a variety of methods
- How to maintain a turntable needle
- Other helpful tips and frequently asked questions about keeping your needle and records clean
While these procedures might seem complicated and overly involved for a new vinyl enthusiast, the more you use your system the more natural these will become. Eventually, this will be second nature.
The most important aspect is to ensure your audio system has the highest sound quality possible. There are many different ways to clean and maintain your stylus tip; finding one that works best for you and your budget is the HiFi Hippo motto!
As always, please reach out to our team with any questions or comments you might have!
Lead Editor / Owner
After beginning his career in the video and audio recording industry, Andrew started HiFi Hippo to share his knowledge and passion for vinyl and vintage audio with other readers.