It’s a Clean Machine

Spending too much time in the dusty bins of used record stores, I often buy “perfectly good” LPs for less than $5. It’s a bargain: terrific old Leonard Bernstein (or, if you prefer, Jethro Tull or Blondie) recordings for far less than their CD equivalents would cost, and far more fun than their digital file equivalents.

The Spin-Clean is a cost-effective ($79) way to bathe a vinyl record.

The Spin-Clean is a cost-effective ($79) way to bathe a vinyl record. Click on the picture for more infromation.

But old records are often dirty. And they’re not always easy to wash. For one thing, you don’t want to wet the paper labels (one on each side), so submersion is out of the question. This leaves the listener in the decidedly odd position of either dipping the vertical LP and spinning it in a trough, or wiping it ’round, which is both awkward and potentially damaging.

So what’s a listener to do?

Buy a cleaning machine.

There are several kinds. One involves a bin, and looks kinda awkward. Most people use a rectangular box with a vacuum cleaner inside (seriously!). In this category, the long-time industry leader is a company that I recall from decades ago: Nitty Gritty.

Nitty Gritty 1

The Nitty Gritty 1.0 is the lowest priced product in the company’s line. It contains a vacuum cleaner.

You’re looking at the least expensive Nitty Gritty machine, the Model 1.0. A quick tour helps to explain what this cleaning machine does, and suggests the options available on the more expensive models.

On the left, the low cylinder is, in fact, the top half of a sandwich. Lift the wooden part and you’ll find that it’s the top pad, and that the bottom pad is on the machine. Place the vinyl record in-between, and the pads cover the top and bottom labels. The rest of the record is exposed. And that takes us to the slot in the middle of the machine. It’s covered in velvet, because this is the place where the vinyl is exposed to a powerful vacuum cleaner that sits just below the slot. With this model, you hand-turn the LP by finger-control (there’s a slight indent in the top pad, just about visible in the photo). The remaining items are a wet solution (see below) and a small brush. And, over on the far right, there’s an on-off switch. For more on how it works, click here.

Does it work? Yes, the system works really well. A record that’s dusty will be cleaned, and much of the surface noise will disappear. Results are much improved with the application of the Pure 2 solution; 16 ounces will keep most listeners going for a year or two.

The Nitty Gritty products are well-made, and so, they’re not inexpensive. Budget $500 plus shipping and you’ll be fine with an oak-grained model or something equally attractive. For twice the price, the record turns automatically and the fluid is dispensed by the machine, not by hand. The product line is explained on Nitty Gritty’s website.

Is it worth the money? I guess that question can only be answered “yes” by someone who (a) frequently listens to vinyl; (b) believes that a $500 turntable is in the inexpensive / affordable range, and (c) has invested in a full-scale, grown-up stereo system. If you’re among those people, this would seem to be an essential accessory in an analog world, one that’s often overlooked, in part, because few people seem to know that such a contraption exists. It does, and for serious listeners, it’s a good investment.

For even more information, watch this video from someone who cares deeply, and knows a lot, about keeping records clean.

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