(Reprinted from issue 58 of UHF Magazine. To purchase the issue, click here. Or click here to subscribe to UHF)

The Microgroove Laundry

Not sure how to clean those dusty vinyl discs you picked up at the bazaar? Build UHF's cleaning machine.

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Ever since UHF began publication, some 18 years ago, we've been asked this question: how do I clean my records? Today, of course, fewer people have LP's, but curiously we get just as many questions about cleaning them.
     Many of those asking that question assumed that some kind of brush must be the solution. We told them that no brush we had tried was of much use. We changed our mind after we ran across Goldring's eXstatic brush (which we use on every record before every play), but even it can't reach deep into the grooves and clean out the gunk...either the trash attracted by vinyl's powerful electrostatic field, or the particles left from the manufacturing process. For that, you need a vacuum cleaning machine.
     The first cleaning machine , the Keith Monks, appeared, as far as we know, in the 1970's. It is still the best, but it is now out of reach even of most stores. Cheaper machines are available from Nitty Gritty and VPI, but even they are expensive.
     Essentially, the machines work the same way. You spread a solvent onto the disc surface, massage it into the grooves, and then use a powerful vacuum cleaner to pick up both fluid and grime. Voilà! A clean disc.
     The trick was to use a mechanism that could separate the liquid from the solids, so that the vacuum motor wouldn't rust out, or possibly short out. Such devices used to be expensive, but now you can pick one up at your local hardware store, in the form of a wet/dry shop vacuum cleaner. Could one of these be used as the heart of a record cleaning machine? Of course it could. We decided to build one, and to tell our readers how to do the same thing.

The challenge
     It may occur to you that, once you've figured out the bit about the wet-dry shop vacuum, you don't really need a machine. Just build an appropriate head for your shop vacuum, lather on the fluid, and then pick it up with the vacuum while the record is spinning. The procedure may well work, but it is so unwieldy that you're not likely to clean your records very often. What's more, you won't want to use the same vacuum for your garage and for your LP's.
     We decided that our machine would have its own small vacuum cleaner, that it would be in a box, and that it would have its own turntable. Cleaning a disc would mean placing it on the platter, putting liquid on it, and flipping a switch.
     Even so, there could be options. Some commercial cleaning machines don't have motors to turn the platter. You do it by hand, a perfectly acceptable choice. However, our machine would be motorized, and readers could decide whether to implement that in their own machines.
     Because the plan would be published, we knew that all of the parts used would need to be readily available. That meant not using exotic supplies from obscure industrial sources, and not using a generally unavailable piece lying about our workshop. We knew of a source for complete idler-driven turntable mechanisms, for instance, but those would likely be sold out before our article ever hit print. Thus, we would have to build our own platter.
     We might add that this exercise renewed our respect for designers of audiophile turntables!
     We also eliminated exotic power tools. You will need three common ones: a power drill, a circular saw and a jigsaw. At one point we could see how using our router would make things easier, but most home workshops don't have routers, and so we resisted. If you motorize your machine, as we did, you will also need a soldering iron.
     As the work advanced, we realized that this could turn into an ongoing project, with gradual improvements in materials and design. We couldn't ask a machinist to do our pivot (that would have been against the rules we had set down), but we could eventually redesign it. Indeed, so could our readers. We are therefore inviting our readers to participate (see our sidebar, A Better Laundry).
     Whenever possible, we mention prices paid for supplies. Prices are in Canadian dollars, currently worth about $0.68 US or 0.70 Euro.
     In the article in the print issue, we describe in detail exactly how we built our LP cleaning machine. With our instructions, you can build one too.

PARTIAL TEXT: The Microgroove Laundry, Antique Sound Lab AQ1003, Passion I-11, Rogue 88, Jadis Orchestra Reference, Linar 250, Four Headphone Amps, Filters and Cables
FULL TEXT: Watching DVD on a Computer, Passion Kit I-10 Amplifier, State of the Art