This all sounds simple enough!..
I mean, just how difficult can it be, to clean a record player needle?
Well, to do it well, it’s actually a little tricky.
And it’s well worth finding out how to clean a stylus properly…
…because they are expensive, and being the most fragile part of your record player, easily ruined.
Why Should You Clean Your Stylus?
Do you like hearing crackles, hisses, pops, when listening to your favourite records?
No. Neither do I.
Listening to music on vinyl does not mean you sometimes have to put up with sub-par playback sound quality.
Far from it!
If you’re hearing hissing, popping and crackling, there is always a cause.
And the most common causes of surface noise are either; that your record is dirty, or your stylus is dirty.
The only part of the cartridge that makes contact with the vinyl, is the diamond stylus tip.
Anything, anything at all, between the record and the diamond tip will impact your sound quality.
Cleaning your stylus regularly…
- Gives a longer life to your records
- Gives a longer life to your stylus
- Provides you with a significantly better listening experience
Are you now convinced that you need to clean your stylus on the regular?
Great! Let’s get down to it.
How to Clean Your Stylus
There are a few ways you can go about cleaning a stylus.
Some of them involve buying a little bit of relatively inexpensive kit, others use a couple of cleaning items you likely already have kicking about.
In no particular order of preference…
#1. Using a Stylus Brush and Liquid Stylus Cleaner
You probably have a stylus brush, even if you don’t think you do.
Because most cartridges, and therefore record players, come with one.
If you can’t find yours, they’re easy to find online, and cost about $10.
You’re also going to need a stylus cleaning fluid, which also tends to cost roughly $10.
So now that you are all set with your brush and your fluid…
…here are the four simple steps to follow:
- Select your stylus cleaner that you will to apply to the brush;
- Drop a tiny amount of the liquid onto the stylus brush that you are going to use to clean your stylus;
- Now brush the needle gently from back to front. The same direction of travel as when a record is playing;
- Repeat all steps until you are happy that your stylus is spotlessly clean.
There are quite a few articles online that say you should brush your stylus from front to back.
Please ignore them, they could not be more wrong.
I think somebody once made a mistake when typing their article, and then along came a few copycats and copy pasted the content without spotting the error.
Back to front, always back to front.
#2. Using a ‘Magic’/Melamine Eraser
If you don’t much like the idea of brushing your record needle, use this tried-and-trusted method instead.
The magic eraser!
Or, simply the ‘melamine’ eraser, to give it it’s less superlative name.
Although that said, it’s easy to see where the ‘magic’ name came from, because they are pretty impressive.
If you’re not familiar with them, this remarkably dull photo shows you what you’ll be looking for…
I’d actually been using them to clean all number of things before I found out they can be used for cleaning stylus.
Here is how to do it:
- Cut roughly three inches of eraser from the full pad;
- Put the three inch square on your platter, where your tonearm can easily reach;
- Lower your stylus very gently onto the eraser, being sure to only use an up-and-down movement, not side-to-side;
- Lift the stylus up and you’ll see a mark left by the stylus dirt;
- Repeat, lowering onto a different area of the eraser, until you see that the stylus has stopped leaving a mark.
Be absolutely certain to not move your stylus from side-to-side when in contact with the eraser.
They are abrasive and sideways contact will damage your stylus.
#3. Using a Stylus Cleaning Gel
This is me preferred route to a sparkling clean stylus.
Because there’s almost zero chance that you’re going to cause any damage to your stylus during the cleaning process.
And when it comes to my turntables…I am a risk-averse man.
There are a few different brands that make this stuff, and they’re probably pretty similar in quality, although In haven’t actually tried all of them.
Cleaning your stylus with a cleaning gel is almost exactly the same as with the melamine eraser, like this:
- Select your preferred stylus cleaning gel, open it up and place it on your platter where the tonearm can reach it;
- Lower your stylus gently onto the gel;
- Lift the stylus up and you’ll see some residue left by the stylus;
- Repeat, lowering onto a different area of the gel, until you see that the stylus has stopped leaving residue.
And that’s just about all there is to it.
Now you can sit back and take in some vastly improved sound quality.
How Often Should You Clean Your Stylus?
Just how dirty your stylus gets will depend on how often you play your records, and of course on how clean, or dirty, your records are.
Some people recommend that you clean your stylus after every listening session.
I would say that’s great if you have the time, but if you don’t want to turn every listening session into a chore…
…maybe try cleaning your record player needle once each week.
How to Maintain Your Record Player Needle
As we just mentioned above, clean your stylus on a weekly basis, or maybe a little more if you’re a real heavy user.
Also, keep your vinyl as clean as possible.
You can prevent your records from attracting a lot of dirt by simply storing them in both inner and outer sleeves.
Clean you records regularly. And if you some some real old vinyl, maybe get a good quality record brush and give them a good deep clean.
Another thing you can do to keep your stylus pristine…
…is to occasionally go around your record player with a can of compressed air, gently giving each of the parts a small puff of air, to help keep them as dust free as possible.
How To Clean a Stylus – Wrapping it Up!
Your piece of vinyl may have been recorded, produced and presented to you absolutely perfectly.
Your whole system, from record player, through cabling, amplifier, and on to speakers may be fully optimal.
But if your stylus ain’t clean…your sound won’t be either.
Looking after your turntable needle, and it will look after you!
Happy cleaning, happy listening!