CLEANING THE VINYL RECORDS WITH FLUIDS?


During the past few years, the possible long-term deleterious effects of fluids on record vinyl has been a subject of considerable debate-and often outright prejudice. I was not surprised to learn, however, that the issues are anything but new and that audiophiles are not the only ones concerned with this topic. Back in the 1950s, The Library of Congress commissioned a study to determine the factors that could degrade the quality of the phonograph records in its extensive collection. 

The report, published in 1959 as “Preservation and Storage of Sounding Records" by A.G. Pickett and and M.M. Lencoe, outlines in part the issues involved in wet cleaning. Record vinyl is composed chiefly of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Its molecular struture is formed of three basic elements: carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine. As with other polymers, the central carbon atom of each molecule binds to another carbon atom, creating long chains of randomly oriented, curled molecules. 

The complete PVC molecule, however, is somewhat unstable; in the presence of pressure, heat, or ultraviolet radiation, the atoms of chlorine and hydrogen tend to break loose and recombine as hydrochloric acid, which acts to further degrade the integrity of the vinyl. To slow down the formation of hydrochloric acid, small amounts of chemical stabilizers (usually lead) are added to the vinyl to bind the hydrogen and chlorine atoms in a chemically inert form. One of the conclusions of the report is that “the potencial life of a disc can be assumed equivalent to the life of the Stabilizer...”, though under good storage conditions “chemical degradation" of a vinyl disc should not occur in less than a century”.

The issue, then, becomes the effect of cleaning solutions on vinyl stabilizers-that is, how much stabilizer will a liquid actually pull from the vinyl? No manufacturer supplies a chemical breakdown of its cleaning fluid, and reliable figures as to the amount of stabilizer removed by each is simply not available. Even Bruce Meyer of Discwasher, who is responsible for the airing of this debate, states that any fluid cleaner will pull out somestabilizer but that a properly buffered solution will have a minimal effect. Other manufactures give similar replies, and just about all of them warn of the pulling effects of home-made cleaning solutions-namely, soap and water. 

Use of wet cleaners, therefore, is a necessary compromise, and their proper use becomes paramount, specially the drying operation. That same report warns of the danger of fungal growth spurred by dampness and nourished by surface contaminants, paper liners, and record labels. A growing fungal colony*(see note below) because of the acidity of its metabolic by-products, will permanently etch the vinyl surface. If you are in the habit of cleaning records after playing, make sure that their surfaces are perfectly dry before replacing them in their protective sleeves. - Saulo Zucchello


*In tropical countries this occurrence is stunning.