[SoundStage!]Synergizing with Greg Weaver
Back Issue Article
Like all Do-It-Yourself suggestions, the reader is advised to undertake Greg Weaver's record cleaning methods and formulations at his or her own risk. The following article discusses a DIY record-cleaning solution and details only the experiences of the author, Greg Weaver. SoundStage! cannot and does not offer the reader any guarantee or warranty (expressed or implied) regarding the suitability of Mr. Weaver's formulation for cleaning vinyl records and renders no opinion whatsoever on the long- or short-term side effects, if any, of using these solutions. If you are in doubt, we recommend seeking out commercially available cleaning solutions from companies that detail the effects of their products on your records. This article is for information and entertainment only.

Harry Weisfeld, whose name is mentioned in this article, does not endorse the use of this solution.

April 1998

Software Treatment San Revisited:
Hearing Your Records for the First Time Cheaper

Many of you took the time to write me after my synergistic take on Dr. Goldman’s Miracle Record Cleaner. Nearly all of those letters were of the "That’s all well and good, but that’s a lot of money to spend on cleaning records" variety. One person, after proclaiming me to be the champion of the economically challenged, then summarily proceeded to scold me for deserting that very cause. With that in mind, and having been similarly prompted by several communications with our own dB, I went back to the drawing board, or should I say, to the kitchen. My quest? To develop a home-brew cleaning recipe to rival The Disc Doctor’s Miracle Record Cleaner.

The real breakthrough came from Harry Weisfield of VPI. You can no longer say that you don’t have any idea where the HW comes from in all the VPI model numbers. Harry says he would offer the VPI fluid this way if he could, but because of the elevated alcohol content required, he would be forced to treat the product as a hazardous material. This runs into all kinds of liabilities and shipping hassles, so, for now at least, the over-the-counter version of his fluid will remain unchanged.

As I looked back on all the formulae I’ve used over the years, the one element that seemed to offer the most potential for improvement was the ammonia-based cleaner, most often Windex. The other ingredients were all absolutely necessary in my opinion, and I’ll get to them momentarily. Windex is incorporated to dissolve light residue and loosen some of the less permanently attached particles. Its synergistic interaction with the alcohol is quite effective to those ends. My conversations with the good Disc Doctor himself revealed that his product was made up of hospital-grade disinfectants -- things with special names like sodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate, ammonium dimethylbenzenesulfonate and triethanolammonium dodecylbenzenesulfonate. Try to say those three times real fast. Hell, try to say them even once!

So, what substitute could provide the cleaning and loosening action of the ammonia-based products and improve on the performance of the formula overall? I was led to Lysol's Direct! Hmmm. A quick look at the active ingredients listed on the bottle revealed that a whopping one-tenth of 1% was comprised of Alkyl (67% C12, 25% C14, 7% C16, 1% C8-C10-C18) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and Alkyl (50% C14, 40% C12, 10% C16) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. Don’t ask ‘cause I don’t have a clue. I just copied them from the label. The other 99.9 percent is made up of inert ingredients of the grease-cutting and detergent variety. The back label also offers the statement, "Kills Influenza Virus Type A2 (Japan), dangerous Staphylococcus and Streptococcus germs and athlete’s foot fungus. Kills household odor-causing germs and mold and mildew in damp and musty places." I don’t know about you, but if only one-tenth of 1% of this chemical alphabet soup can do all that, I’d say it qualifies as a serious disinfectant. Maybe I was on the right track. And the bottle I found on the grocery-store shelf was tagged for less than two bucks.

The more obvious components of the fluid are isopropyl alcohol (the 91% variety sold in drug stores is fine) and distilled water. A pint of the alcohol is usually less than $2, as is a gallon of distilled water at most grocery or drug stores. Now, the one ingredient beside the newly discovered disinfectant that may surprise some of you is something from Kodak called Photo-Flo. I have been taking and developing photographs since I was 13, so this wetting agent has been in my recipe since the late sixties. It is a little harder to find than the alcohol or distilled water, but it should be available at any photo-supply store for around $5 for four fluid ounces. One bottle may last your entire lifetime because you need so little per gallon of fluid.

The real secret to any recipe is the proportions of all the constituent ingredients. Our concoction is no different. For regular-duty fluid, pour out about half of the distilled water into A CLEAN container. Add two ounces of Lysol Direct, the whole pint of alcohol and a mere 30 to 40 drops of Kodak Photo-Flo, then top it all off with the leftover distilled water. Ta-da! Low-buck KILLER record cleaner. What’s that? You say you’ve got some really crusty old relics? Go fifty-fifty with the alcohol-to-water ratio and add an extra ounce of Direct.

If you have an old fluid-applicator bottle lying around, use it. If not, you can use anything that will let you pour out a fine stream. Old Elmer's Glue bottles, shampoo bottles or something else with a pull-up or pop-up spout will likely do just fine. Avoid misting spray bottles if you value your record labels. Trust me, I speak from experience. Wash the bottle out thoroughly, then, when you think it is really clean, swish around some straight alcohol in it to get the last of the soap before filling it with your new concoction.

Most of the fluids like the stuff VPI and the Audio Advisor recommend are just swirled around with a less-than-impressive "brush" and not with much vigor or purpose. Then the realization that one of the real proponents to the Disc Doctor’s highly successful results may be credited to a large part to the brushes and the scrubbing procedure. Hmmm. We’re gonna need a good brush.

The real question for me was how to fabricate a good applicator brush. My Nitty Gritty had needed pad replacement over the years, as did the supplied applicator brush, so I knew I would be using some kind of velvet as the actual brushing material. That is what all the cleaning machines have utilized in their designs and is what I have been using since the early 1970s.

When I was younger, I made a living doing magic. In those days, one of the most exploited gags was a thing known as "black art." It simply meant you could use something black against something else black and no one could discern the first black object from the second. I won’t give any more away. Suffice it to say that I know my velvet. I found the ribbon I wanted at the local fabric shop in a 1.5"-wide strip and bought two yards. It comes in a blinding variety of colors -- blazing red, royal blue, even deep emerald green. Go ahead; be as gauche as you like. I took black. Total cost, $6 plus tax.

No, the only concern I had about fabricating an effective cleaning brush wasn’t with the brush material, but rather with what to use as the brush handle. Well, as is my wont when I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, I headed to the local building-supply store. Walking the isles for about 20 minutes turned up something seemingly almost made for the task. It was made by Vermont America, was fabricated out of some type of layered rubber and was called a "belt cleaner." As to its real purpose, I can only speculate. For my record-brush handle, however, it was just about made to order for about $5. It was 1.5" wide, 1.5" tall and 4.5" long -- imagine that! Since the typical width of the modulated information on most records is roughly 4", a sharp Swiss Army knife handled the necessary foreshortening.

It was now clear that I would need some type of double-sided adhesive to attach the velvet securely to the belt-cleaner handle, so off to the tape section I went. I found 1.5"-wide two-sided carpet tape for less than two bucks a roll. I was done.

Assembling the brush is easy. Cut a length of velvet ribbon about 5.5" long. This will allow you about 3/4" overlap at each end. Do the same with your double-sided tape and apply it to the belt cleaner so that you have 3/4" up one end, cover the entire running length of the bottom, and then have 3/4" up the other end. Once the tape is securely positioned where it belongs, peel the backing away and CAREFULLY align the velvet ribbon to cover the carpet tape. Next, apply two thumbtacks per end, pushed through the velvet overlap on each end of the handle, to secure the velvet tape to the handle.

In my first attempt, I had used just enough velvet ribbon to exactly cover the length of the bottom of the handle and counted on the carpet tape alone to keep it secure. It only took a few applications to discover that the fluid had weakened the adhesive properties of the tape enough for the velvet to start to peel away. The thumbtacks through the two ends of the slightly longer velvet pad keep it in place quite nicely. I’ve been using my improved brush for about three weeks now without mishap. I think we’re ready to move on.

All said, we are at a total cash outlay of about $25, and that includes making a brush with enough replacement pads for the next decade. Replenishing the gallon of fluid when it runs out should take only about $4 since you need only repurchase water and alcohol. You should have enough Direct left over for the next half-dozen reloads and enough Photo-Flo for the next several dozen. How’s that for meeting with the "economically challenged" criteria?

To use your new creation and budget brew, place a clean cotton towel on your work surface and lay a record out on it. Carefully squirt a fairly liberal amount of fluid on the grooved surfaces of the record. Lay the brush down over the grooves so that it spans the modulated area, from the lead-in groove at the outside edge to the run-out groove near the label. Lightly wipe all the way around the record once or twice to wet the entire surface evenly. WATCH the label. This stuff can bleach the color out of a less-than-robust label. Once the entire surface has been evenly wetted, lightly scrub back and forth (the velvet brush does the work, not your biceps) in a semi-circle around the label radially five or six times over one half of the record. When the first half is done, then move on to the second half and scrub again in exactly the same manner. You will see a light foaming action as this juice does its magic. Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned this side, dry it completely with your VPI/Nitty Gritty/Record Doctor vacuum device as you would normally, and you are then ready to hear one very clean record. Obviously, you’ll have to clean side two in the same manner, but you knew that.

I’m not prepared to say this stuff will best the Miracle Record Cleaner. For one thing, I have no idea if it fights the growth of algae and bacteria in the grooves as effectively or for as long. But one thing I can tell you with certainty is that at Casa Weaver, under the most rigorous and closely monitored testing, the sonic results of the two fluids are indistinguishable. May I have my "Champion of the Economically Challenged" coffee mug back now?

...Greg Weaver
gregw@soundstage.com

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