The Spin-Clean Record Washing System is a unique approach to wet cleaning records. “Common knowledge” says there are two musts for thorough cleaning of records: 1) wet cleaning is the best way to remove deep down grime, and 2) vacumming the dirty fluid away is the best way to get the grime off the record to prevent it from re-depositing as the fluid dries. The disadvantage with #2 is vacuum machines are relatively expensive, starting around $140 and at that price the vacuum is the family’s Hoover.
At $50 for a complete kit, the Spin-Clean has a huge price advantage. The system consists of a plastic tank which is filled with water and a small amount of the included cleaning fluid. I was told the cleaning fluid primarilly consists two chemicals, a wetting agent to allows cleaner into the grooves, and a flocculant which cuases suspended particals in the water to drop to the bottom of the tank. Inside the tank are a pair of rollers that can be adjusted to accomodate 12, 10, or 7″ records, and a pair of cleaning pads that squish together to scrub the record. The record is inserted on it’s edge into the top of the machine and spun manually by hand. The pads scrub the record as it spins while the flocculant in the tank removes loosened dirt. The sales person I spoke with was quick to point out that it performs as good or better than a vacuum cleaner. Yes, you read it right…but does it really?
To put the Spin-Clean to the test, I purchased the kit and optional lint free washable drying cloths (the kit comes with disposable lint free paper towels). I figured if the thing actually worked I’d be well ahead, and even if it didn’t it’s probably still better than a discwasher!
I selected about 35 records to trial clean, ranging from brand new to records that were apperently stored in damp environments in a former life and chopped full of mold, and also a very nasty kiddy record that looked like it was total toast (from E-bay and Yahoo auction deals gone bad…uggh). The Spin-Clean was set-up per the instructions with the specified amount of water and cleaner. I used distilled water from the grocery store although the directions just call for “water”. I also set up an old derelect turn table next to the spin clean to aid in the cleaning process. Although this is unecessary, I found it sped up the overall process significantly.
To clean the records, I first dusted them off with a Hunt EDA Mk-6 brush on the turn table, then insterted them into the Spin Clean. The record was spun a minimum of two full revolutions in each direction (up to four in each direction for the real dirty ones). The record was then removed from the tank and allowed to drip excess fuild for about one minute (in the mean time I dusted the next record). No rinse is called for and in the spirit of following directions, I did none.
Then, using the turn table with a dry disposable drying pad on the platter, dried the first side with the washable towel. This was accomplished by folding the towel several times until it was about the length and width of my extended hand. Placing towel in hand and positioning my palm over the spindle, it is the perfect length to dry the record. With moderate force, I rotated the platter one revolution, then flipped the towel end for end. This allows the label to be cleaned with the damp rag as well. In about five revolutions, the record was visually dry and flipped over to repeat for the second side with the towel re-folded to present a dry surface. Then the record was placed asside to air dry while I washed the remaining records.
After the records were completely dry, I gave them another dusting with the Hunt brush and an application of Gruv Glide and put them back into their jackets. The entire process went fairly quickly, probably around 3 hours for all 35 records.
Some general observations about using the Spin-Clean:
1) The first few records were extremely difficult to run through the brushes. After a few records though the pads relax a bit and it became much easier. In fact by the last record it had become so easy I’m beginning to think there is not as much pressure as there should be. In otherwords, the brushes don’t seem to last very long although after 35 or so records they still seem to work fine.
2) Speaking of new brushes, I thought my very first Spin-Cleaned record came out of the machine scratched from insterting it between the pads. The Gruv Glide removed the scratch, so apperently it was really just some excess glue on the pads. Regardless, this isn’t a pretty thought…inspect those new pads carefully!
3) Since the same fluid is used to clean multiple records, the dirtiest records should be saved for last. The instructions don’t mension this and I didn’t think of it until after I cleaned some of my moldy records and saw how ugly the water got. Even with clean records though, I noticed the fluid became visably cloudy after 10-15 records with junk floating all over in it. When left overnight the “floaters” form nice dust bunnies at the bottom, but the solution is still cloudy. The directions say the fluid is good for up to 50 records, a rather dubious claim, I think.
4) Something else the instructions don’t mension is the pads should be periodically removed and cleaned, say every 4-5 records. This is another something that I just never thought of until I dumped the last batch of cleaner out at the end of the day (I did the cleaning over two lazy Saturdays). Yuck! Interestingly it doesn’t seem to matter in the final results.
5) When filling the tank to the specified level it does not completely cover the brushes and the last band on the record. This does get cleaned as the pads are sufficiently wet via capilary action, but it seems to me you loose the advantage of immersing them. In the future I will probably fill the tank about 1/2″ higher.
6) Despite my initial concerns, fluid on the record does not run over the label as you spin it. It stays where the record is wet and therefore runs around the label. Cool!
6) Some people have commented in the vinyl asylum that the fluid begins to stink after a few days in storage. I left dirty fluid in it for up to three days with pads removed and noticed no strange odors. Short term storage, at least, seems to be OK.
7) The washable lint free cloths turned out to be hospital grade gause. It’s not particularly absorbant but it does get the job done. I definately would recomend these over the disposables, as the disposables tend to “stick” the the record and make it difficult to dry. I washed mine in Woolite rather than throwing them in with other clothes in the washer.
OK, so how did it do? Well, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that visually the records were significantly cleaner comming out of the Spin-Clean than when they went in. Remarkably, the moldy records now look new except when held at an angle (you can still see where the mold was). The nasty kiddy record was so filthy I could not even run the carbon fiber brush over it. It was about like trying to brush a record somebody spilled soda on. It too came out shiney and the brush now glides through the grooves like it is supposed to.
Most remarkably though, is playing the cleaned records. I was tickeled to find virtually no snaps, crackles, or pops on any of them except the moldy and scratched records. Everything else plays like VG+ to NM, and they look it too. Best of all it really didn’t seem to matter if it was the first record or the last to share a batch of cleaner. The moldy records play a solid VG-. Some manual scrubbing with the Spin-Clean pads and elbow grease will probably improve these further. As for the kiddy record, well, I’m not going to play it on my setup so it’s hard to say, but if you could see before and after pictures it really is amazing how well this cleaned up.
So, is it really better than a vacuum machine? I really can’t say as I don’t have a “real” vacuum machine to compare it to. However, I can say it certainly does a good enough job that I do not see a vacuum machine in my future.
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