Vinyl records can be cleaned with (isopropyl)alcohol solution, but only with a low alcohol concentration. The best proportions are 0.5% isopropyl to 99.5% distilled water.
Our vinyl records gather dirt and grease over time, that’s inevitable. Thankfully, there are many ways to clean and maintain our records. But is cleaning vinyl records with alcohol a good idea? Well, that’s a general question and the general answer would be Yes, but with a very low alcohol (Isopropyl alcohol) concentration. But it’s not as easy a question as it appears to be. Let’s take a closer look.
If you’re not much of a reader then I’d like to point you to this particular YouTube video by The Audiophile Man. He has done some research and testing himself for this question and goes into quite some detail about why it isn’t an easy question. If you don’t have 20 minutes to watch his video you can also just read our conclusion about cleaning vinyl records with alcohol.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Cleaning Vinyl Records With Alcohol
This segment is for giving a clear overview of what I’m going to discuss and why it’s so important. Based on our findings I’ve come to a conclusion that is discussed in the last segment of this article. If you’re just looking for a quick Yes or No then you can just skip to the conclusion, but if you’re interested in the subject then I advise you to read everything.
First of all, I’ll start discussing the alcohol that would be used to clean vinyl records. I’m going to make a distinction between types of alcohol, the proposed benefits & finally the proposed dangers.
Secondly, I’m going to discuss the vinyl recipes used for vinyl or acetate discs. This is important because the recipe implies the chemical composition which is important when analyzing the effect of reagents like alcohol.
Finally, I’ll actually talk about the chemistry of vinyl and alcohol. Here I’ll also take a look at some test results to find a useful answer.
Before I start, I need to make a distinction between Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) & Ethanol (that you’d find in alcoholic beverages). These are the two chemical compounds that can be referred to when using alcohol. Both can be used as a disinfectant.
The preferred option for cleaning vinyl records with alcohol is generally isopropyl alcohol. This is partly because it evaporates more rapidly & it doesn’t leave traces of oils during evaporation. So, when I mention alcohol in this article, I’m referring to Isopropyl Alcohol.
I want to make the following thing clear if you’re going to use alcohol to clean your vinyl records. You should see it as part of your cleaning toolkit instead of the all-in-one solution some people see it as. If you just need to get rid of some dust, then using alcohol is not necessary.
The benefits of using an alcohol solution for cleaning start when you need to get rid of stronger substances on your records. An example of this could be the sticky residue left by spilling lemonade over your records. An alcohol solution would be great for this.
Now that I’ve clarified the benefits let’s discuss the dangers. The protective coating of your vinyl records can be eroded by alcohol. Losing the protective coating can expose the underlying material to be more prone to damage like scratches. It’s important to keep this degradation in mind, but I’ll elaborate on it later in this article.
Before I dive into the chemical reaction between alcohol and our vinyl records I need to discuss vinyl recipes. This is an entire subject by itself. In the YouTube video by The Audiophile Man, this also explored in an interesting way.
Let’s quickly go over how vinyl records are produced. Vinyl records are still being made after all this time. It starts with the companies that create tiny vinyl pallets. Other companies buy this and create a puck from it that’s ready to be shaped into discs. This shaping is done using heat and pressure to get the familiar disc shape we all know.
Those vinyl pallets are made from vinyl, right? Well yes also known as polyvinyl chloride actually, but that’s just a small portion of the recipes that vinyl pallet producers use. Each producer has a secret recipe for this. They keep it secret for the same reason Coca Cola keeps their recipe secret. For market advantage, since the chemical composition implies the quality of the end product.
Why am I telling you this? Because each different chemical composition has a different chemical reaction to isopropyl alcohol. At the time of writing this article, there are around 50 different recipes being used in production. That’s a lot of variation by itself, but it’s more complicated than this actually.
Record producers will generally not just stick to a single producer. So the used recipes are interchanged. Also, the recipes change over time as we’re learning more in the chemistry field.
There are also discontinued productions still out there with chemical compositions that can’t be traced. You’re probably starting to get my point. The chemical variety of all records out there is huge and is hard or even impossible to trace for each record.
What does this mean for answering the question: Is it okay to clean vinyl records with alcohol? Well, it makes it a lot harder to answer than most would’ve expected.
Due to the chemical variety in our global vinyl record collection it’s incredibly hard to say anything useful about the effect of alcohol on vinyl records.
What might work perfectly for your one record, might just destroy your other record. You might already be building damage slowly over time, but you won’t notice because who notices a gradual 10% quality decrease over a period of two years?
The Audiophile Man actually interviewed multiple companies and chemists about where the line is between sonic benefits and damage regarding alcohol and vinyl records and none of them I’m confident enough to give an answer.
So he did some testing himself with the consideration and assumption that there is at least some damage from isopropyl alcohol. With this consideration in mind, you’d really just have to find the balance between improvements and damage.
The Audiophile Man found this balance by AB testing vinyl records in baths of isopropyl alcohol with distilled water. He found that the perfect balance is at 0.5% isopropyl alcohol.
Now this 0.5% isopropyl alcohol with 99.5% distilled water is the closest thing to a detailed solution I’m willing to give you, but I would like to add some further research to satisfy you and ourselves. The chart below shows the effect of alcohol types on polyvinyl chloride.
As you can see the isopropyl alcohol I’ve been discussing is ranked as excellent by CP Lab Safety with satisfactory to 72°F or 22°C. If you want to take a closer look at these findings then I suggest that you take a look at their page.
By the way, if you’re interested in making your own distilled water. Then check out this cool guide on WikiHow.
Polyvinyl Chloride Chemical Compatibility Chart
|Alcohols: Benzyl||D-Severe Effect|
Explanation of Footnotes
1. Satisfactory to 72°F (22°C)
2. Satisfactory to 120°F (48°C)
Ratings: Chemical Effect
A = Excellent.
B = Good, Minor Effect, slight corrosion or discoloration
C = Fair, Moderate Effect, not recommended for continuous use. Softening, loss of strength, or swelling may occur.
D = Severe Effect, not recommended for ANY use.
N/A = Information not available.
Conclusion to Cleaning Vinyl Records With Alcohol
So, since there is so much chemical variety in vinyl records out there it’s very hard to say to which extent a chemical reaction with alcohol damages your discs.
However, even if we assume that isopropyl alcohol has a damaging effect, we can still find a balance between this damage and the sonic benefits. According to our multiple sources, the damage of isopropyl alcohol is actually minimal.
In the case of an isopropyl bath with distilled water, a balance is found at 0.5% isopropyl to 99.5% distilled water. So that’s our answer, but we want you to remember that this should only be a part of your vinyl record maintenance toolkit.
- The Audiophile Man, YouTube, https://youtu.be/duzVUTRLET8
- PubChem, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Isopropyl-alcohol
- Lab Pro Inc, https://labproinc.com/blog/chemicals-and-solvents-9/post/ethyl-alcohol-vs-isopropyl-alcohol-for-cleaning-electronics-in-the-lab-97
- Wikipedia sources, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride
- CP Lab Safety, https://www.calpaclab.com/pvc-polyvinyl-chloride-chemical-compatibility-chart/
- WikiHow, https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Distilled-Water