To remove paint from vinyl records you can try the following four methods:
We always have vinyl records that have been through it all with us – friendships, break-ups, shifting houses, moving cities, and that one summer where we got into that weird hyper-specific genre of music that we don’t talk about. With all these big changes, of course, our records take some damage. Whether it’s from painting the walls of your dream apartment or from a big art project, we’ve all gotten paint flecks on our favorite record.
While old, broken records can make great canvases, paint flecked records don’t make for great listening experiences. The layers of paint damage the grooves and affect the higher frequencies, completely changing the sound. Oil, acrylic, and even thinner paints can damage not just the vinyl but also the needle of your prized vinyl player. Since replacement needles are expensive, it’s best to clean up that paint before any damage is done.
Keep in mind that the methods depend on the kind of paint that has damaged your record. Lacquer based paints, for example, generally lead to permanent damage and can’t be removed. If your LP is a garage sale find and you’re not sure what method to use, try each one – you might just find one that works.
So if you’re looking to save discs that were damaged from your latest DIY home improvement project, read on!
Table of Contents
Method 1: The Toothpick
Before trying anything else, it’s best to go back to basics. This is the easiest method and requires just one tool – a handy toothpick (or two). Try scraping off the paint with the pointy end of the toothpick. If the paint is recent and thin, it may come off fairly easily.
Method 2: Water and Dishwashing Liquid
If the toothpick didn’t work or there’s still paint flecks left, head from the dining room to the kitchen.
- Take a damp, soft cloth (like an old cotton t-shirt) and run it around the record a few times. Make sure you don’t scrub too hard and go along the lines of the grooves.
- If this doesn’t work, make a bath of warm water and a little bit of dishwashing liquid. Soak the record in this for 15-20 minutes. Don’t let the label get wet. Then, take a soft cloth and wipe it along the paint flecks, making sure to go along the lines of the grooves in the record.
- Do not use the CD method (wiping from center to edge) at any point.
Method 3: Distilled Water and Rubbing Alcohol
If simple solutions don’t work, it’s time to try something that takes a little more elbow grease.
- Make a solution of 0.5% isopropyl alcohol to 99.5% distilled water in a spray bottle or in a bath. If you’re worried about the effect of alcohol on vinyl check out this article I wrote about it.
- Spray it onto the record (avoiding the label) and let it sit for 30-60 seconds.
- Take a soft cotton cloth and wipe gently along the grooves of the record.
- Alternatively, you can also soak a sponge in this solution overnight and use it to wipe around the record.
Method 4: Solvents
It’s time to pull out the big guns! Turpentine, mineral spirits, and naptha are regularly used to remove paint outside of the world of records. However, since they’re stronger chemicals, proceed with caution.
- It’s best to start with the weakest solvent – in this case, turpentine. Dab a little on a different record you can afford to damage as a test run before using it on the record you’re trying to save. You need to ensure the brand you’re using doesn’t damage the vinyl.
- Dab a little turpentine onto a stiff-bristled paintbrush and run it along the record with rapid swipes.
- If there is too much paint, you can rub lightly with a soft cloth – but be careful!
- Move slowly and gently.
- If possible, use a magnifying glass and a bright light to help you see whether the paint is being lifted. This will also allow you to see specks that might be left behind.
- After you’re done cleaning the paint off, use an alcohol-based solvent to remove all traces of turpentine from the LP.
- If turpentine doesn’t do the job, you can try mineral spirits, then naptha. Make sure you clean with the alcohol-based solvent between each try.
- As with the turpentine, test the mineral spirits and naptha on a record you don’t mind damaging.
- None of the solvents should be left on the vinyl for long periods of time. Clean them thoroughly as soon you’re done taking the paint off.
Note: Paint thinner and acetone (nail polish remover) are popularly used solvents, but should be avoided. They’ll definitely get the paint off, but you’ll also burn your vinyl in the process. It’s a guaranteed way to permanently damage your record.
There you have it – go ahead and get that paint off your record, and don’t forget to store it properly with a sleeve and jacket to make sure it doesn’t happen again! If you liked this article then check out these related articles:
From a chemist’s standpoint, using solvents to try and dissolve paint is iffy at best. The best way to remove paint from vinyl albums is with sodium hydroxide (lye). Vinyl is 100% resistant to lye at all concentrations. Lye is very effective at removing paint because it literally destroys the matrix holding the pigments. We use lye to remove hull paint from boats all the time. I don’t know of any paint it will not attack save perhaps epoxy-based paints. Any paint on a vinyl record should be removable with zero effect on the underlying vinyl.
I have used a dilute aqueous solution of lye to remove fluorescent paint and recover my copy of “Concert for Bangladesh” that I had not heard in 47 years. Absolutely no discernible effect on the audio. I also followed the audio spectrum on Audacity looking for anomalies and found none.
My process: 1) Get household lye (not Drano and not spray oven cleaner) from the hardware store. You don’t want to introduce any impurities (perfumes?) that might affect the vinyl.
2) Make up a small volume of solution sufficient to treat your album 3-4 times (if necessary). 10-30% lye by eyeball mass. (Safety glasses are a good idea.)
3) Eyedropper the solution onto the paint splotches. If you want, wet a small piece of paper towel over the paint to minimize running. Wait ten minutes.
4) Wash thoroughly with water.
5) Repeat 3-4 as needed. If paint is difficult to remove, use a more concentrated lye solution.
6) Final rinse with rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Wipe gently with cotton.
Interesting response Dave, thanks! What, from a chemist’s standpoint, is so iffy?
Sorry for the late reply.
If you look up the chemical compatibilities of various substances with vinyl, you’ll see that several of your suggested solvents are incompatible, including ethanol. I used this source for vinyl windows: http://www.gentekwindows.ca/Links/Chemical_Compatibility.htm
They really don’t like turpentine, although they rated naptha and mineral spirits as compatible.
This is really a YMMV situation. Different sources may have different compatibilities (or levels thereof) listed. The reason I don’t like solvents is that for really tough removal jobs, most users will get frustrated with them not working and turn to the solvents that *really* will mess up their LPs, like acetone.
Again, solvents *dissolve* they don’t *destroy*. This is why I like lye. It will chew up the binder in the paint and wash away without touching the vinyl underneath. I think the only downside might be if someone doesn’t rinse the residual salts away after treatment.
Oh, and something I forgot…
When lye dissolves in water the solution gets very hot. Use a glass or metal container. Allow to cool to room temperature before using. Again, use safety glasses.
I just recovered another album from paint specks. (Where in the world do these come from?)