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Cleaning And Caring For 78s And Cylinders


How do you clean a 78 rpm record or an Edison cylinder recording? Did
you know that the use of certain solutions can do more harm than good?
Here the pros share their knowledge, practice, and experience.
Techniques and solutions for cleaning vinyl records are also discussed
in passing, as are sources for jackets, sleeves, and other record
storage and cleaning supplies.

Some terms:
    Shellac - the stuff of which most 78s are made.
    Vinyl - the stuff of which LPs are made.
    Edison Diamond Discs - Records made by Edison between 1912-1929,
        recognized by their quarter-inch thickness and weight of one
    Brown Wax Cylinders - Records made before 1902, more or less.
    Black Wax Cylinders - Records made from 1902 through 1912.
    Blue Amberol Cylinders - Records made from 1912 through 1929.

These messages were posted by members of the Music Section of the Compu-
Serve Collectibles Forum. The file is made available through the
courtesy of participating members.


The CompuServe Music Collectibles Forum offers an excellent moderated
discussion of a wide variety of musical artifacts and music itself.
Members include enthusiasts and experts in the fields of record and
phonograph collecting and research, music and music industry history,
composition and performance, audio restoration, and so forth.

If it's music and its collectible, it's here!

Reference files and other pertinant data, discussions, and information
are available to all members in the Music Collectibles library.

From anywhere in CompuServe type GO COLLECT, select Section 16 - Music
Collectibles, and you're on your way.

To acknowledge reposting of this file send a message from the forum to

See you there!

                            Compiled by David Giovannoni; August 1995.


Fm: Russell Fisher
To: David Giovannoni

Do you ever try to clean up old records with anything but soap and
water? I have some 78s here that have small spots that are dull
looking compared to the shiny surfaces around them. At first just
thought these had been played a lot and were worn. Got to looking
closer at them and now am not so sure. Is there something one could use
to buff them up so they would look better? Read up on shellac and other
stuff in the encyclopedia just for the heck of it. And ran some
experiments on some Vaughn Monroe records - figured I couldn't hurt 'em
no matter what I did . Tried just about every kind of fluid I could
find in the house. One thing did work sorta (vegetable oil), but it's
messy and had to play the thing several times to remove it all - and
then had to keep cleaning the stuff off the needle. There must be a
better way.

Fm: David Giovannoni
To: Russell Fisher

THANK YOU for experimenting on Vaughan Monroe. You are clearly a man
with fine taste and good sense.

The best way to clean 78s depends on when they were made.  The very
early ones are composed of very porous materials and cleaning should
only be done with professional solutions, if at all. If you're talking
Vaughan Monroe vintage, 1940's-1950s, then the options are much

You're right that the dull spots are dirt (actually finger oil) and can
and should be cleaned; playing dirty records does them harm. Cleaning
should do three things: it should remove all accumulated grit and grime
from the bottom of the grooves to the surface of the disk; it should
not leave anything behind, such as soap, oil, wax, or other cleaning or
polishing agents; and it should not damage the grooves or the label.

Dish washing fluid diluted in water works fine. Use a fine bristle
brush (record brushes are made) to work the cleaning solution into the
grooves and lift out the dirt. Rinse the record thoroughly. Ideally,
the final rinse should be in distilled water.  Use a bath towel or soft
cloth (I use diapers) to dry the disk. Leave it upright to air dry.
Dish racks are good for that.

Keep the label dry at all times. Some (not all) labels can be
spiffed-up by spraying a _little_ Pledge on a cloth and buffing. Don't
soak the label; a little furniture spray on a cloth can work miracles.
It can also cause damage. Doing this before washing makes the label
more resistent to water.

Put cleaned records into brand new sleeves if possible. Otherwise,
it's like putting on yesterday's socks after taking a shower.

Cleaning is a touchy topic among collectors. Some less-than-scrupulous
people buff records - particularly cylinders - with furniture wax to
cover blemishes, but a trained eye (and nose) can spot this; these are
ruined records.

Furniture wax has agents to _dissolve_ wax ("No waxy build-up" -
Don't even think about it.


Fm: Carolyn Andre/SL
To: David Giovannoni

Furniture polish buffing!!!! AARGH! Those must be the same people who
have tried horrendous methods of shining up coins(s).

Interesting use for recycled cloth diapers, too .

One question - as to the brush used - do I want to use a nylon or other
synthetic that is soft? or a natural bristle? (assuming that I don't
get a specific record brush).

                                      --- Carolyn ---

Fm: David Giovannoni
To: Carolyn Andre/SL

I don't think the material of the bristles matters as much as the\
physical properties: all that matters is that they're stiff enough and
narrow enough to get to the bottom of the grooves.

Although I've never bought from them, you can probably get a good
record scrubbing brush and cleaning fluids from:

Nitty Gritty Record Care Products       Audio Advisor
4650 Arrow Highway #F4                  225 Oakes St., S.W.
Montclair, CA 91763                     Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(714) 625-5525                          (800) 942-0220 / 669-4434
                                        (616) 451-0709 FAX

If you have lotsa disks, there are machines that do the work for you,
beginning at a couple hundred bucks. I still do mine by hand.


Fm: Russell Fisher
To: David Giovannoni

Thanks for the detailed reply. I had sorta guessed that mild dish soap
wouldn't do anything bad, but it was nice to have you confirm it.

Vaughn Monroe. Heh heh. I've heard this one side now several times
while playing around with it. This morning I was whistling the tune -
guess I'd better start playing something else before I begin to like it!

About the fine bristle brush - I've never had one before. Do you have
a favorite one and/or supplier? I have thought about using a new
toothbrush and maybe will try it on another one of those Vaughn Monroe
records. Or maybe Wayne King? 

You also mentioned professional cleaning. I have an ad here showing
some vacuum cleaning machines. Apparently these are for LPs only and
the machines are awfully expensive. Have you had any experience with
these and/or are they suitable for 78s?

Thanks again.

Fm: David Giovannoni
To: Russell Fisher

I'm afraid a toothbrush wouldn't do the job. Bristles are too course.
See my message to Carolyn about this and cleaning supplies.

Yes, most record machines will do 78s. I don't have a machine, but I've
thought about getting one.  Washing by hand is cumbersome and slow, and
some machines do a fine job. But if one is only going to clean a few
dozen records a year (or lifetime) it's clearly not worth it.

For $30 or so you can get a real nice brush and enough cleaning fluid
for a bunch of records. I'd strongly recommend at least that if you're
gonna clean something you like more than Vaughn Monroe.


Fm: Russell Fisher
To: David Giovannoni

Thanks David!  I'll call Nitty Gritty (hope they're open on Saturday)
and get a brush and fluid on order. I ordered new sleeves several days
ago. A good point about sleeves, by the way. In the past I've
sometimes used a slightly damp cloth inside my LP sleeves and sometimes
simply replaced them with a nice new clean one. Very irritating to have
a nice clean record and put it in the sleeve once, then take it out
later and find it's covered with dust and dirt again.

I have a nice new (to me) stack of 78s and can't wait to hear some of
them. Especially the Phil Harris records that I haven't heard in years.
But I'll grit my teeth and wait until they can get a proper cleaning.

Does anyone want 14 Vaughn Monroe records?  Half of the fun of
record collecting is the stories about the previous owners. In this
case the 72 year old owner relayed to me that these were his parents
records. And his mother had a favorite Vaughn Monroe record that would
always make her cry. He also related to me that his father was a lawyer
for the Southern Railway, so at their house in Tennessee he grew up not
much affected by the Depression. I realized later that this might help
explain why the records still looked fairly good. They no doubt could
afford an electrical phonograph to play them on. In my family the
Victrola was still in use until about 1950 or a little later, after
which it became mine for a few more years before we finally pitched it.

Fm: David Giovannoni
To: Russell Fisher

That's what I like to see - some one who's not only committed to taking
care of their 78s, but who also _plays and enjoys_ them. What a

BTW, _all_ Vaughn Monroe records make _me_ cry.

Let us know about your experience with Nitty Gritty. I 'spect they're
open on Saturdays - 'specially at this time of year.


Fm: Eric Maloney
To: David Giovannoni

I have found that a dilution of water and isopropyl alcohol works fine
on vinyl. Of course, it will completely destroy 78s.

Lately, I've been experimenting with some stuff called Plexi-Clean,
which bills itself as an "acrylic and plastic cleaner," with pretty
good results. Dries fast, leaves a shine, and doesn't streak or leave
a film.

--Eric M.

Fm: David Giovannoni
To: Eric Maloney

My heart stopped when I read you were using alcohol, but it started
again when you said _not_ on 78s. What a relief - it truly would
wreck 'em.

I'm assuming that you're using Plexi-Clean on LPs and 45s only. Have
you tried it on any of the late vinyl/plastic 78s?


Fm: Tom Krehbiel
To: David Giovannoni

Another handy purchase for the terminally cheap record restorer is a
heavy duty old turntable...Rek-O-Kut, Garrard single play, and such.
I've seen 'em at thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales for under
$10. They provide a nice, solid gently rotating platform when
administering the brush treatment.

By the way, Jeff Barr ("The Vinyl Merchant of Jazzville") developed a
noisy but extremely effective method of vacuum cleaning vinyl discs
using a wet-and-dry shop vacuum.  He uses it himself on all discs he
sells and even made a few of the special attachments to sell to
collectors. They didn't catch on and he's selling them off. I don't
know the price.

Fm: Russell Fisher
To: David Giovannoni

Got a letter yesterday from Jeff Barr. He has sold all the remaining
vacuum attachments. And is not going to manufacturer any more.
Too bad.. it appeared to be a $60 bargain. But Jeff also noted the
following technique,

       "If you have some records that need cleaning and want to use a
	  shop vac, I got good results from gluing a baby bottle nipple
	  to the vacuum nozzle. Then cutting off the tip of the nipple.
	  You can apply the fluid to the record, then remove the fluid
	  with the soft end of the baby bottle nipple.

        I did this for several years before I developed the vacuum

Who will be the first here to try this?  

Fm: John Daly
To: David Giovannoni

So what do you use on cylinders and Diamond Discs? The old timers whom
I found in the 60's believed that anything with water would destroy
Diamond Discs. Never heard this about Blue Amberols. Some of the old
literature recommended cleaning Blue Amberols and Diamond Discs with
denatured alcohol (rather than rubbing alcohol which is diluted with
water). And I've never done anything but dry brushing on the old
metallic soap cylinders. Again--revealing my age--in the 60's the rage
among collectors was some sort of radioactive brush, intended for photo
negatives, which was supposed to ionize dust particles and make them
_leap_ off the surface .

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