Be picky. Your records will love you!

As someone who is picky about buying and caring for vinyl, I keep an open mind on cleaning techniques and tools that will help me get the most out of my vinyl. I love music, and appreciate albums that were mastered and pressed well. But let’s be honest, there are albums that no matter how clean you get them, they will never sound great on any system. When you are looking for “keepers” that sound great, you want LPs that are clean or cleanable. The last thing you want is even one spec of unknown origin getting in the way of your musical enjoyment. When that happens to me … the toothpick comes out.

A few years ago, I was auditioning a used album that had an irritating pop. This album had taken me months to find in good condition, so I wasn’t about to let one white spec ruin it for me. It looked like paint. How in the world did someone get a spec of paint on this record? Using some vinyl cleaner and pad, I tried to “spot clean” it, but with no success. It might as well have been a spec of glue.

I like to work on my own gear and happened to have some wood toothpicks handy. Since wood toothpicks are somewhat soft, and have a good point, I figured why not try to see if I could lift the spec off, or push it out of the groove. Using a magnifier lamp, and carefully holding the LP, I was able to get the tip of the toothpick on the backside of the spec. Slowly pushing the toothpick in parallel with the groove, and not pressing downward. The spec popped off — success! Who’d have thought a toothpick could be so useful?

The key is to push slowly and realize that since the tip is round, you can’t get too deep without damaging the groove. Stay in the groove you start in and don’t press too hard. You will feel the toothpick track in the groove. If you push down too hard, you will leave trace amounts of wood and if you get all crazy on that spot while cursing under your breath, you will burnish a shiny spot into the grooves … which is not good. Once your toothpick loses its point, get rid of it. I use this “special” tool and technique as part of my pre-cleaning process. This won’t work on every spec or splotch you find, but it will work in most scenarios as long as you are careful and treat your vinyl with respect.

So go buy a box of wood toothpicks and see how many musical notes you can rescue from under those pesky specs of mystery matter. Consider using our Vinyl Cleaning Notes to help you track the spots you can’t get off with a toothpick, so you can take more aggressive action during your cleaning process. Get in the groove and enjoy your music!