In a tourist town just north of Route 66, a thrift shop is decorated with vintage vinyl records, which have been painted and are used as signs to point out clearance racks. The records had been donated, meant to be sold secondhand, but a single play on a turntable proved them to be pretty worthless. Without their sound, they’re only good for looks.
While the tie-dye-painted records contribute to the retro aesthetic, it seems like a waste of music. Some of those records were original LPs, some irreplaceable, some more valuable than what meets the eye—yet they’ve been sacrificed on the altar of cheap decor, simply because their original owners did not take care of them.
If your records do get warped, it is possible to re-flatten them, but the task can take weeks, and you run the risk of permanently damaging your record in the process. Instead, to keep using your own records the way they were intended to be used—that is, to keep listening to quality music—your records need to be cleaned and cared for properly. This practice is not difficult and does not take long, but it is much easier to prevent damage than to repair it. These small habits are worth the effort to preserve an heirloom of music for years to come.
Keep Their Shape
The key in record maintenance is to retain the disc shape as a whole, as well as protect the grooves, which means avoiding anything that could soil, scratch, or soften your records.
Records are prone to bending under-weight, so you should avoid putting them under heavier objects. Any kind of pressure not only distorts the shape, but can actually grind away the grooves over time, which deflates the quality of sound when played on a record player. Even packing them too tightly together could put too much stress on them, so give them a little wiggle room rather than cramming them into one place. It is safest to store your records vertically, like folders in a filing cabinet, rather than piling them on top of each other like a stack of musical hotcakes.
Keep Them at Room Temperature
Vinyl records are also susceptible to bending in the heat. Storing your LP’s next to a sunny window, playing them by a furnace vent, or even leaving them in the car could damage them and leave them unplayable by any turntable.
This doesn’t mean you should lock them in the cold, dark basement, either. Cool, humid places can expose records to mold spores, which can be incredibly difficult to clean out from the grooves. Keep your records in a location that is consistently room temperature and avoid moisture.
Keep Them Safe
One of the most common sources of record damage is an unmaintained record player. There are many things to consider when it comes to turntable maintenance, but when it comes to protecting your vinyl records, the most important one is taking care of your stylus. The stylus, or needle, makes direct contact with your record and if it is not clean and in good condition, it will scratch and mar the vinyl. Even when you keep your stylus clean, it will become dull after around 500 hours of use and can start to cause damage. A clean sharp needle is the best thing for your records.
It would be good to mention here as well the importance of ensuring that your stylus is the correct type for the record being played. Styli or needles made to work with 78s should not be used to play 33/45 RPM LPs and vice versa.
Keep Them Clean
The insidious villain against vinyl is everyday dirt and grime. Dust is the most common cause of scratches, so it’s vital to store your records in their protective sleeves. Even if your LPs come with paper inner sleeves, as most do, it might be worth considering buying a plastic outer sleeve as well, since even paper can collect dirt.
When you take your music out, handle it by the edges or the center label, not by the tracks, since the oil from your fingers can gum up the grooves. Carry your records gently to prevent dropping them or bumping them; any significant scratches will cause them to skip.
At some point, getting a little filthy is inevitable, so be sure to regularly give your records a quick clean, especially before and after you play them on a turntable. Avoid simply wiping them off with a towel; this could compact grime further into the grooves, or could electrically charge the vinyl with static, which actually attracts more dust.
Safe options for cleaning records are available from LP Tunes, such as no-static brushes, natural cleaning spray, and even—for more thorough cleanings—spin washing kits. If you’re using a dry carbon fiber brush or a microfiber cloth, don’t press down or scrub the vinyl, simply spin the LP on the turntable and let the brush or cloth glide across the record’s surface, following the grain of the grooves.