Cleaning your turntable needle on a regular basis can provide you with a better listening experience and it also ensures a longer life for your records. There are several ways of practicing stylus hygiene, you can use some cleaning products (brushes, sponges, cleaners) and different techniques.
In this article, you’re going to learn why and how to clean your turntable needle, how often you should do it, plus some other tips on how to do proper maintenance on your turntable.
Why should you clean the turntable needle?
The cartridge is the electromechanical device that translates the information in record grooves into an electrical sound that can be amplified and produce music. The most important (and fragile) element of the cartridge is its diamond stylus, which is the only part that actually touches the records. Dirt, dust particles, and many kinds of debris are caught and stay between the groove and the needle while playing. This is basically how dirt gets accumulated over the stylus and it grows worse and worse any time you play your records causing playback issues and damaging your records.
In fact, no cartridge will sound good with accumulated layers of dust on its needle. In order to provide the most accurate sound reproduction, the diamond stylus needs to have close contact with the record grooves. Dirt interferes with this contact causing lack of details and mottled or scratchy sound.
Stylus debris is also one of the most common causes of mistracking since a dirty stylus is far more likely to jump out of the record groove.
Dust, dirt, and debris are also abrasive against the record so that, in the long term, a dirty stylus can damage your records.
How to clean your turntable needle
There are many ways of cleaning your turntable needle: you can use a brush or sponge with or without a fluid cleaner. There are also more advanced and some DIY methods you should know about.
1. Using a stylus brush
The most traditional method of cleaning a needle is using stylus brushes. Cartridge manufacturers often provide accessories such as stylus brushes with specially designed bristle hairs that you can purchase for a few dollars.
To use a stylus brush, you can simply move it across the needle. You need to do it very gently and carefully: the stylus is the most important element of the cartridge and most fragile.
2. Using a Fluid Cleaner
Sometimes a brush alone won’t be enough and stubborn deposit may remain on the needle. What you need in this case would be a cleaning fluid that can help remove dirt more easily and efficiently. Some brushes actually come with an include liquid fluid. However, you should pay even more attention than usual when using a fluid cleaner. There are less and more aggressive cleaners on the market. We recommend using the less aggressive ones, and, in any case, you should always be careful when using it: using cleaners can dissolve the glue that binds the stylus to the cantilever. So, when using liquid cleaners, always avoid touching the cantilever with it.
3. Using a stylus sponge
Another method to clean your turntable needle is to use a proper sponge. The sponge would essentially replace the fibers of the brush. A cleaning agent is also often applied to the sponges so you need to use the same precaution you’d use with a brush: be delicate, careful and only touch the stylus avoiding other elements of the cartridge.
4. Zerodust stylus cleaner
There are also some sophisticated and more advanced methods that you can use to clean your turntable stylus, and these are more indicated to those who are not known for their steady hands.
The Zerodust stylus cleaner basically provides a small gel pad where you can gently lower the stylus on and then lift it and repeat the gesture until the stylus tip is free of dust and debris.
5. Electronic stylus cleaner
An electronic stylus cleaner can clean your turntable needle using ultrasound frequencies. A special fluid is bumped on the base of the device where the needle needs to be lowered. The device uses ultra-high frequencies that are able to break the deposit around the stylus and remove it.
This is a very effective method of cleaning a turntable needle and it has the great advantage of reducing (if not eliminating) the risk of damaging the needle during the cleaning operation. Unfortunately, it’s also the most expensive one: electronic cleaners cost about $150.
6. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
Some internet users have reported using the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser as an effective DIY cleaning method. You can buy it in supermarkets or purchasing it online. Cut a small square piece of the product and there gently lower the stylus on it. Lift it and repeat the gesture until the stylus stops leaving residues behind.
How often should you clean a turntable needle?
The most effective maintenance strategy is to prevent dirt from accumulating over your turntable needle rather than removing when it’s already causing sound issues.
To prevent dirt from accumulating on the stylus you need to clean it regularly. The amount of dirt that is going to end up on your stylus depends on how often you play your records. So, if you are a regular listener you should be cleaning your stylus about once a week.
Another thing that you should do – since the dirt accumulating on the needle basically comes from the records – is to clean the records every 2 or 3 times you listen to them. If you have old vinyl records covered with layers of dust you should use a specific record cleaner before putting them on your turntable.
Taking care of your records and turntable is part of the nuance of using such vintage devices. After all, we’ve chosen them to seek good-quality, warm, analog sound and we’ve spent money on them, why should we let some dust affecting the sound and damaging our items?
The cleaning must be done often – on the other hand, it’s a quick and easy process and, you’ll see, it’s totally worth it.