ULTRA SONIC RECORD CLEANING

MAY 2017

INTRODUCTION

MY ASSOCIATE'S FIRST USC EXPERIENCES

MY FIRST USC EXPERIENCES

RUSH PAUL "POSITIVE FEEDBACK" ESSAY

EXTERNAL LINKS

INTERNAL LINKS

INTRODUCTION

Until 2016, neither I nor any of my associates have had any direct experience with Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning (US). In contrast, we have had decades of experience using "traditional" record cleaning machines, which first apply cleaning fluids to the vinyl and then vacuum dry the record, all at once or groove by groove. This has now changed. First my associates, and then I, used the Ultra Sonic method and we can now report the results.

I decided it would be best to make this a three part report for now. In Part One (below), an associate, with the most US experience, will discuss ultra sonic cleaning in general, along with some observations of the actual results. Part Two, coming next month, will be much more detailed. I will first go over my record cleaning history. I will then discuss my own sonic results, as well as the specifics of the actual models and machines that were used. I will also provide more US cleaning protocol details, and even include some pictures and relevant links. Meanwhile, Part Three is an article from Rush Paul, who has more experience with ultra sonic cleaning than anyone I know. Paul's article was originally posted in Positive Feedback. Paul has promised future updates on his article when necessary.

My Associates's Observations and Advice

MY ASSOCIATE'S FIRST EXPERIENCES

Editor: Only minor editing and my bold:

"The topic of properly cleaning vinyl has been discussed for decades with a consensus adopted that dictates that all LPs should be subjected to a high quality vacuum machine with a variety of recommended fluids. Many have claimed that washing a record in this manner will not only substantially improve the sonic performance, but will preserve the vinyl and eliminate or substantially reduce noise and static of the vinyl. There are a plethora of such machines in existence at various price points, but all essentially accomplish the same goal, albeit with varying levels of convenience and ease of use.

There is no doubt that a well scrubbed record will sound better and survive longer than a dirty LP littered with human finger oils, dog hair, dust and other sundry contaminants. However, over the years, the overall performance advantages seemed to be overstated and, surprisingly at times, barely evident. What has changed all that? The answer is ultra sonic cleaning of records (or "cavitation"). This method comprises the purchase of an ultra sonic cleaning machine (employed in industry for years to scrupulously clean jewellery, machine and car parts etc) and an adapter kit, where the LPs are mounted and a motor spins them very slowly in the liquid bath. (Editor- I will provide details concerning the specific ultra sonic machine and adapter kit models in Part Two.)

The requirements of the US machine are that its tub capacity be a minimum of 9 liters and that it has an integral power limiter. The former is necessary so that LPs will fit comfortably in the tub for proper cleaning, while the latter permits the reduction of the ultimate power operating parameters to a maximum of 60%. Full power operation will cause permanent damage to the vinyl with the attendant sonic degradation. The complaints coming from some quarters about high end roll off after an ultra sonic cleaning are due to full power output during the cleaning process. Furthermore, the records should not be in the cleaning tub for longer than 15 minutes.

What does this ultra sonic cleaning process actually accomplish that conventional vacuum based machines do not? A revelatory experience, that’s what. To begin, we compared US cleaned records to the VPI 16.5 RCM; two identical recordings, same pressing, same condition (Villancicos - HM 1025*) were the test subjects.

One copy was put through the US process, while the other had been cleaned with the VPI machine using L’Art du Son fluid. The VPI cleaned copy was auditioned first. As usual, the sound was glorious in every way. Villancicos is an exceptional recording with demanding, full range music with stunningly natural, transparent sonics. Hard to find any faults. Then the US cleaned copy was auditioned. After 15 seconds of the first cut, the improvement in sonics was startling. The sound floor was substantially lowered, surface noise was non existent, while previously there was a slight amount of hiss present. The record visually appeared pristine which corresponded to how it sounded. The sense of immediacy, expansion of the soundstage, the revelation of low level detail and more complete harmonics was instantly apparent. Ambient cues created a greater awareness of the size and volume of the recording venue. Dynamic gradations were dramatically expanded.

In short, a transformative experience. One that was completely unexpected in its magnitude. No longer could I listen to any further LPs in my collection without a US cleaning. Within a few days, more than 200 records were cleaned. LP after LP exhibited the same results as that initial Villancicos experience. NOT A SINGLE LP did not exhibit superior sonics with much lower surface noise. Some to a greater degree, others slightly less so. It was as if my record collection was replaced with super 45 RPM versions. The degree of improvement was clearly apparent to every listener who took part in this experiment.

Cleaning your records with a US machine is absolutely necessary if the goal is to hear every last detail of musical information buried in those precious grooves. There is NO downside. This represents a clear cut win- win proposition."

*Editor's Note- Villancicos/HM 1025 is one of only 25 records in the highest category of The Supreme Recordings: THE DIVINITY

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MY FIRST USC EXPERIENCES

Introduction & Short History

Like many "first experiences" in life, I still vividly remember the first record cleaning machine (RCM) I purchased and used. It was back in 1981, just a few months before I opened my audio store in Toronto, that I purchased the Keith Monks (KM) record cleaner. I had seen the KM being demonstrated at audio shows and just had to have one for myself, despite its very high cost, especially for that time. The entire concept of wet/vacuum record cleaning was more than just appealing to me, I felt it was also an audiophile requirement.

The KM worked well, though it did have some "eccentricities". The wet part was fine, with the platter turning very fast (like a 78 RPM turntable, and unlike later VPI/Nitty Gritty models). The drying part was slow though, with a tonearm device sucking in the fluid from only a single groove* as the platter rotated. This method is claimed to have an advantage by the KM's proponents, though it will obviously take much longer than the later approach used by VPI (and many others). Further, the KM tonearm had a string going through it (for various reasons) which also had the potential to cause problems. In the end, I don't believe I sold even one KM machine, though it did earn some income for the store by cleaning customers records for a small fee. Once the VPI RCM became available within the next year, I eventually sold the KM and never looked back.

The original VPI RCM was a popular breakthrough because it finally brought record cleaning machines into the mainstream. It had two important advantages over the KM model: 1. It was much less expensive. 2. It dried the record much quicker (using a tube to vacuum up the liquid over all of the grooves* simultaneously). The VPI was noisier though and also still somewhat expensive, so most of my customers still paid a fee to clean their records. (By this time, the VPI had become so familiar that I had the customers clean their own records.) Eventually, many models became available using this same basic VPI design, and this is still true today. Bottom Line for all phonophiles: Record Cleaning is a Necessity, period, and this is especially true if purchasing used records is part of an audiophile's life.

*Yes, I realize that there is only one groove on a record in the strict literal sense, but I'm discussing this issue in visual terms.

In the long run, I ended up with a Clearaudio (Double Smart Matrix) that was well built, worked very well and even cleaned both sides at once, saving precious time. Still, based on my decades of experience (along with my associates), I don't believe there is a significant difference between any of these machines in actual cleaning abilities, regardless of cost, even admitting there are separations of noise, build quality, ease of use and one or two-sided cleaning. However, I did discover the one critically important factor when cleaning records with all of these wet/dry machines, regardless of their design and price: the Cleaning Fluids. In short, I strongly believe the record cleaning fluids are more significant to the final results than the actual machines themselves. I ended up using Audio Intelligent cleaning fluids (see link below), though others may do just as well.

This brings us to the present and our experiences with ultra sonic record cleaning, which is a totally different method than the now standard wet/dry cleaning machines. My associate's experiences are already posted above and mine are below. It is also important to note that I deliberately ignored the details of my associate's experiences, so as to avoid any bias.

My Results

Critical Perspective- Ultra sonic cleaning (USC) has a very different sonic impact when compared to "standard cleaning" (SC). SC removes foreign material and particles, some even visible, which cause the annoying ticks and pops. In contrast, USC removes invisible, micro-sized, foreign material that SC is not able to remove in our experience, regardless of the machine, fluids and/or number of cleanings attempted. In effect, SC reduces the audible problems which are already audible and known, while USC removes the previously unknown audible problems, which only become actually known if and after they are removed.

It is also important to note that all the records I am basing my reporting on, using USC, were previously cleaned using a VPI, Nitty Gritty or Clearaudio RCM. In fact, most of these records had been cleaned twice. The Clearaudio was always the second machine because of the improved results I reported on, which were mainly due to using superior cleaning fluids. In short, these "experimental/reference" records were already as clean as I was able to get them using SC. And, finally, this is what I consistently observed...

There were only improvements and no downsides at any time. The sound was more immediate, naked and direct. It is similar in type to what you hear with a direct-to-disc record, or when bypassing a line stage (going "direct") or a signal cable, though not to that same degree. The sound was also cleaner and purer, at all volume levels and frequencies (particularly in the highs). There was less noticeable homogenization, especially during complex and challenging passages. There was a greater natural sense of space, longer decays and better image focus. Transients were faster, cleaner and more precise. The "background surface noise" was reduced, along with the entire sound-floor. Some improvements were subtle, while others more easily noticeable. The most concise description of these improvements I can make is this: The records all sounded more like "The Master Tape".

Cleaning Details and Protocols

I have followed only one USC protocol. It is the exact same protocol that my associate used earlier and which Kuzma recommended based on their experiments. Why? This would allow me to definitively confirm or contradict my associate's findings, which has to be my main priority at this time. There will obviously be plenty of time and opportunity to experiment with other protocols in the future (and I will provide links to other interesting USC protocols below). Here is a description of our shared protocol, with any minor differences noted:

1. I used a 10 liter container ("bath"), which is manufactured in China (picture below). It has the same liquid capacity of the model my associate used, but the dimensions of my model were slightly different. This difference allowed me to clean 11 records simultaneously, while my associate's machine was "only" capable of cleaning 9 records at a time. Both machines had timers, temperature controls and, most importantly, power controls (see below).

2. The settings I used with my ultra sonic machine were basically the same as my associate. I used the same temperature (33 C), around the same power (80%, based on video evidence of his machine in operation), but the cleaning time was a little longer (15 to 20 minutes) because I had (22%) more records to clean.

3. I used the exact same cleaning solution as my associate: two gallons of distilled water (Walmart $ .68/gallon), plus some Isopropyl alcohol and a few drops of surfactant (Photo-Flo or Triton X-114). I continually replaced the alcohol and surfactant with every other cleaning, while the entire solution was replaced around every dozen or so cleanings. In effect, the solution cost of cleaning each record is around $ .01, which is basically "free" for an audiophile.

4. The records were air dried after removing them from the "bath" and shaking off any excess fluid. It takes around 30 minutes to an hour to dry them, depending on the temperature and humidity of the room. I usually gently brushed the records to remove any remaining loose dust particles and then placed the records back in their original sleeves. It's very easy to create a simple routine to make certain that the records go back into their original sleeves.

5. It is also important to note that, like my associate, all the records I cleaned with this protocol were either brand new or had been previously cleaned with a standard RCM.

Picture One - Cleaner "On" (Warming Up)

The machine is turned on around 15 minutes prior to use to reach the proper fluid temperature. The On/Off switch is in the back. The three front controls, left to right: Temperature, Power and Timer.

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Picture Two - Agitated Fluid in Empty Bath

This is the inside of the machine before the records are placed in the bath, with the ultra sonic devices turned "On". The visible ripples are the result of the ultra sonic vibrations.

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Picture Three - The USC in Operation

The Kuzma's specific function in the cleaning process is now clearly evident. The On/Off switch for the Kuzma is in the back. The records rotate at the speed of around 1 RPM.

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Picture Four - Close-Up of Records being cleaned

It is important to make certain that no record is touching the side of the bath, which will stop its rotation, while still maximizing the depth of the LP that is in the bath. The space between the two outside LPs and the parallel bath wall is around 1.5". The current spacing between records is .5", while some prefer a 1" spacing (link below).

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Models and Options

There are currently available two basic methods of ultra sonic record cleaning:

1. Cleaning multiple records simultaneously, usually with a DIY type device (such as the Kuzma) working in conjunction with a generic ultra sonic machine or

2. Cleaning one record at a time, using a custom machine dedicated just for that purpose (which are usually expensive because of the poor economy of scale). The most famous models are Audio Desk and KLAUDiO.

None of us has had any direct experience with method #2, but it should be superior for One-Step cleaning, assuming it is implemented properly, with the caveats of extra costs in both time and money. The #2 machine itself, because of its greater mechanical complexity, will also inevitably require more service and common maintenance (plus it will have more breakdowns). Still, for those audiophiles who have the required funds, I can understand the demand for this type of machine, since it should produce outstanding results as well as its convenience when having to clean only a single LP (a common experience, especially if you have regular visitors).

For most audiophiles though, method #1 will be the best practical and economical choice, and there are also a growing number of models as well to choose from. In particular, I, along with my associate, can enthusiastically vouch for the Kuzma. The Kuzma is very well built, well thought out and versatile. I've also seen other models (links below), though none of them, so far, match all the Kuzma's strengths, but they do have an advantage in cost, which can be critical for some.

As for the ultra sonic "bath", my industrial model (seen above) works well and it's economical. However, I had a serious problem with the model my associate is using, causing the delay of this article, though his version has worked fine. This problematic model has now been discontinued, so it is irrelevant at this point. There is also a complete USC from Poland that looks interesting and is also very economical. There will be links to all of these models, and others as well, below.

Questions, Answers and Comments

1. Are there any other benefits with USC besides improved sonics?

Yes!
1. There is much less record static. In fact, there is basically no static charge that I can notice after the cleaning and air-drying. This is in stark contrast with the same records before the USC process, when my arm hair literally would stand on end when close to the records stacked on the Kuzma spindle.
2. It is rare now to see "dirt" on the stylus after playing an LP which has been ultra sonically cleaned. Before USC, there was usually visible debris on the stylus after play, even with new records and/or those records cleaned using the standard method. (I still clean the stylus after each play though, just to make certain, or maybe it's force of habit.)
3. Records look cleaner than you have ever seen them (even when new), which may be an aesthetic pleasure for some.
4. Records have a longer play-life after USC, which should be obvious and, accordingly, they should also be more (monetarily) valuable (see below).

2. Are there sonic differences in the results based on the record manufacturer or when the LP was pressed?

None that any of us have observed, so far. The improvements we've heard are as described above on all the labels and all years of pressings. We can state this observation though: In general, the better the LP was originally (before USC) in sonics, the greater the noticeable improvement, which makes sense. However, I have noticed something unusual: "Digital Records" (LPs with Digital Master Tapes) seem to be particularly improved, though more experiences/tests are still necessary for confirmation of this observation.

3. Is ultra sonic cleaning new technology?

Sadly, no. Ultra sonic record cleaning, particularly Method #1 (which we are using), could have been technologically accomplished decades ago. Of course, that means we've been using a compromised and incomplete record cleaning method for almost 40 years, but there's nothing we can do about it now. The good news is that USC does exist now, with numerous options, and it can be economical.

4. Does USC obsolete "standard" record cleaning machines, such as those from VPI, Nitty-Gritty etc?

No, but! Ultra sonic cleaners, using Method #1, are not good for really dirty records (those with smudges, fingerprints, oils etc.). Only standard RCMs, utilizing quality cleaning fluids and brushes, can clean records with foreign materials that are actually sticking to the surface. However, the ultra sonic cleaners, using Method #2, combine both cleaning methods, which is why they have an advantage and also cost more, and they DO obsolete standard cleaning machines.

USC should be thought of as the final step necessary to remove the last remaining (usually invisible) foreign materials from the record. On a personal note, while I sold my Clearaudio, I will eventually purchase another standard RCM. I still purchase the odd used record and their condition is always "a crap shoot" (a standard RCM can also quicken the drying time). There may be some audiophiles with entire record collections, either already cleaned with a standard RCM, and/or new and unplayed, who can get away with only an USC, but for everyone else I advise having both a standard RCM and an USC.

5. Does USC have any relevance with the use of the ELP (the laser turntable)?

Yes, both positive and negative. The ELP uses lasers that respond to even the tiniest of foreign particles, thus making them (annoyingly) audible. So, using USC is even more important for the ELP than a standard turntable system. In fact, I would say it is an absolute requirement. Ironically though, USC also makes a standard turntable sound more like an ELP, because of the reduction in surface noise and the resulting greater degree of intimate direct contact of the stylus with the inner grooves.

Conclusions

I, and my associates, came late to Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning, which I now regret, but I will do my best to make up for lost time. As of today, my main goal is to confirm that USC is indeed a real "breakthrough", even though the technology is many decades old. Further, there is no substitute for USC, as only USC can remove the final remaining foreign objects from the tiny grooves of the LP. I must also stress that the resulting sonic improvements do make a definite positive difference in "involving" oneself in the musical performance. Further, once these improved sonics are experienced, an audiophile can never go back, which to me is the ultimate test. However, there is arguably even a more important reason to celebrate USC...

Even if there were no audible improvements with USC, I would still be a strong advocate for its use, for one simple and fundamental reason: the resulting minimization of groove damage of the LP during play, which thus allows the record to be played the maximum amount of times without damage and sonic compromise. That reason alone, protecting our precious records*, makes USC well worth it. In fact, I no longer play an LP on my system unless it has been ultra sonically cleaned, knowing I would actually feel "guilty" if I did otherwise. I believe records, ultra sonically cleaned, and even those records still to be cleaned, are more valuable than ever before, because their "life expectancy" has now been increased.

*USC will also protect and extend the life of the stylus, another bonus.

The Bottom Line is simple: All serious audiophiles should use ultra sonics to clean their entire record collection, which for me, and my associates, has become a required project. I understand that some of the USC machines are unaffordable for most audiophiles (including me), but there are economical alternatives (see links below), and USC machines can always be purchased by a group if need be. As for myself, I not only plan to clean my entire collection, as I stated above, I will also experiment with different procedures and methods and report back on the results.

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RUSH PAUL POSITIVE FEEDBACK ESSAY

Over the past several months I've invested a fair amount of time exploring ultrasonic cleaning because I've fallen way too far behind in my record cleaning. With over 6000 LPs, I needed a faster way to clean than my trusted multi-step manual wet/vac cleaning process. That manual process got the best results I've ever found, but I was not keeping up with my collection and it is just painful to me to play a record that I've not cleaned.

In exploring ultrasonic cleaning, my hope was to find that I could complete multiple LPs in a single US cleaning cycle and greatly speed up my rate of cleaning records. My goals were to FIRST do no harm and then SECOND see how close I could get to the results of my manual cleaning regimen.

My past experiences with ultrasonic cleaning demonstrations were completely underwhelming. What I heard did not approach the excellence I was achieving with my multi-step wet/vac cleaning regimen. What I've learned, and now apply in my new ultrasonic cleaning regimen, are multiple elements to the cleaning process that must be used in combination to achieve the best possible results. And these results have far exceeded my expectations.

Credit where due: My results are the synthesis of a lot of work reported by others in a variety of online forums. I've certainly not come up with any of this on my own; I'm simply compiling elements that, when applied systematically in one cleaning regimen, give outstanding results. I've listed at the end of this report some of the online threads I've found particularly valuable.

Summary

I've now cleaned over 100 records using my new ultrasonic cleaning regimen and detergent solution for my tank. What I hear exceeds the quality that I've been able to achieve in the past with my multi-step manual wet/vac cleaning regimen, and this has surprised me given what I'd heard with ultrasonic cleaning demonstrations elsewhere.

The key characteristics that I'm hearing (using a 40kHz tank, DIY formulated detergent solution, 31-35 degree Celsius heating, approximately 3 revolutions in 10 minutes, double high purity water rinse, vacuum drying between rinses and filtering the tank water between each batch of LPs) are:

The critical elements to the process that makes for the improvements I'm hearing versus other rather non-compelling ultrasonic demonstrations I've heard in the past are:

Cost

total investment (including ultrasonic tank, device to rotate multiple records in the tank, vacuum machine for drying the records, chemicals for mixing your tank detergent/surfactant solution) can be under $1,400.

Equipment

Here's what I'm using for a setup that cleans four records at a time…

Ultrasonic Cleaning

Why only four records at a time? Why not eight or more? It depends on the size of your ultrasonic tank. With a 10L tank, records can be spaced an optimal 1" apart and not overload the capacity of the tank. Some are trying to fit records more tightly than 1" apart, but my research suggests strongly that they are overloading the cleaning capacity of their ultrasonic tank. If you want to do eight records at a time, get a 15L tank. If three or fewer records at a time works for you, you can get by with a 6L tank.

Why not use a 60kHz or higher frequency tank? Using a 60-69kHz tank should be fine; it might even be ideal given some of the technical data. I've not personally tested the difference, but Harry Weisfeld has. He bought one of each for testing and reports that he CANNOT HEAR any difference in the results. (See his report in the VPI forum thread.) I know I'm getting great results with my 40kHz tank and it's about $400-600 less expensive than any of the 60kHz tanks I could find. I'm also convinced that a 40kHz tank does no harm to the vinyl. It's the frequency tank used in a number of commercially sold ultrasonic record cleaning machines and I've not seen any reports of problems.

What brand ultrasonic tank? Be careful in buying a decent quality ultrasonic tank. Some people report disappointing results only to find that their ultrasonic tank is underperforming because of inadequate design and parts quality. But, cost is not the only indicator of quality. There are inexpensive ultrasonic tanks being sold that are still good quality. Check the brand and do some research. In the U.S., many people are having good results with the Sonix brand. My Trusonik tank is made in China but seems well built and many people have used this brand now for a number of years with good results. A small manufacturer in South Carolina is building excellent 40 and 69kHz tanks under the Vibrato LLC name (but lacks a drain).

Cleaning Solution for Tank

The cleaning fluid in your tank is critical. Many people try to use only water, or water and some isopropyl alcohol, or a bit of Photo-Flo, or a bit of clear dishwashing solution – NO, NO, NO. You will not get the best results. Ultrasonic cleaning is not the magic by itself. The cleaning solution is the magic. The ultrasonic cavitations are just your gentle scrub brushes to help dislodge the contaminants that the cleaning solution is breaking up.

Use a detergent/surfactant meant for the purpose. This means one of the Tergitol variants as recommended by the Library of Congress in its record cleaning preservation formula and by the Canadian Conservation Institute. So, this is: Tergitol S-15-7 (LOC); or a combination of Tergitol S-15-3 and S-15-9 in a 50/50 proportion (CCI); or Triton X-100 (another Tergitol variant).

Also, add a quat (short for quaternary ammonium cation) that will provide antimicrobial properties and strong antistats. The antimicrobial is for longer term storage of your solution and cleanliness of your tank, recycling pump and filtration. The antistats will reduce static on your records. It just so happens there is an excellent commercial cleaning solution that formulated principally of quartz and is available from both Amazon and Staples (of all places. It's called Hepastat 256 and it's sold for hospital and office cleaning services. For an excellent discussion, read the AudioKharma post from an audiophile chemist who recommends this Hepastat ingredient that I've included in my formulation.

Formula for Tank Cleaning Solution

Largely derived from the information provided the chemist posting variously as guest110, vince1 and phantomrebel in the AudioKharma thread Record cleaning- you're doing it wrong!, my cleaning fluid formula for ultrasonic record cleaning today is:

0.13% Tergitol S-15-3 and S-15-9 in a 50/50 proportion (or use Triton X-100 as a simpler alternative)

0.10% Hepastat 256 (a 1:1000 dilution)

5.00% isopropyl alcohol (using 91% grade)

As the chemist in that AudioKharma thread has recommended, I'm finding it useful to premix the Tergitols with some alcohol and to make up enough in advance for several US tank refills. In my case, I'm making up a 4 oz bottle's worth of solution (about 118 ml) that will give me enough concentrated mix for four 2-gallon US tanks when I add the additional alcohol as part of setting up the tank. In milliliters this solution is:

40.00 ml Tergitol

30.00 ml Hepastat 256

48.00 ml Isopropyl to top out the bottle at 118 ml
118.00 ml total as a base solution

This combination neatly fits into one the those readily available 4 oz (118 ml) blue storage jars and is enough to mix up four 2-gallon US tanks using 29.5 ml of the combination per tank and then adding another 400 ml of 91% isopropyl to each tank to reach the 5% alcohol concentration.

Sources for chemicals used in the formula above: It is difficult to purchase the Tergitol S-15-7 (LOC recommendation) unless you are a laboratory or have someone at a lab who will order it for you. However, the other ingredients are readily available for ordering online:

Tergitol S-15-3 and S-15-9 – Talas in Brooklyn NY sells and ships to individuals.
See: http://talasonline.com/Tergitol-15-S-3-and-15-S-9

Triton X-100 – also available from Talas or from Amazon. This is an alternative to the Tergitol variants above and I'm told it will work well, but I've not tested it.

See: http://talasonline.com/Triton-X-100

Hepastat 256 – Staples online for delivery to your local store for pickup has the best price I've found. See: http://www.staples.com/Brighton-Professional-Hepastat-256-Disinfectant-Cleaner-Quick-Mix-1-Gallon/product_760086

95% Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol) – Reagent grade, used in final rinse as discussed below. Be careful what has been used to denature the Ethanol so it can be sold legally without payment of an alcoholic beverage tax. Look for either methanol or isopropyl as the denaturing additive, not something else that may harm the vinyl. Available from Amazon. See: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01ETU4BB0

91% Isopropyl Alcohol – many pharmacies sell it. Walmart has the best price I've found at $2.58 per quart.

Storage and handling of the chemicals: The Tergitol is expensive enough to want to preserve as long as possible and it won't keep indefinitely if bacteria gets into it. So, good practice is to keep all the chemicals and mixing containers as clean and sanitary as possible. Most of us can't duplicate sterile storage conditions, but we can improve things. Here's what I'm doing;

Water Quality and Sources

For mixing up the tank cleaning solution, any good quality distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water is probably fine. But I prefer to use water as close to Type 1 Reagent Grade water as I can find at a low cost for mixing this tank solution. For my two rinse steps, I do use Type 1 Reagent Grade water. DON'T STINT ON GETTING HIGH PURITY WATER! It is the next step in removing contaminants from the record surface because the high purity water binds those contaminants readily and allows them to be removed as the water is removed in your vacuum drying step. High purity water is critical to both ultrasonic cleaning and the multi-step wet/vac cleaning processes. So, this is nothing new just for ultrasonic cleaning. Good sources of excellent high purity water are:

  1. Whole Foods Market bulk dispensed deionized water for $0.39 per gallon is near Type 1 Reagent Grade water. The company that provides and maintains these dispensers in the Whole Foods Markets in my area is Fresh Pure Waters and they describe their filtration process at their website. They also provide and maintain bulk water dispensers in other organic food stores in the U.S. and Canada.
  2. Fish and Aquarium stores that specialize in salt water or coral growing aquarium supplies. I'm told the salt water aquarium stores often have high quality multi-stage filtration systems that generate near Type 1 Reagent Grade water.

Filtering the Solution in the Tank

The tank solution needs to be kept scrupulously clean. Remember, all of the contaminants coming off our records are being suspended in that tank solution. But dumping a re-filling the tank with cleaning solution with each batch of records is not very economical or time efficient. So, use a filtering process in between batches of records. I've set up a small in-line pump with filter canister containing a 1 micron polyester filter. My setup follows a design posted by bbftx on the diyAudio forum, with some minor adjustments due to parts availability.

filtering_the_solution

Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLHGLx3qrvY

Discussion here: http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/analogue-source/218276-my-version-ultrasonic-record-cleaner-13.html#post3215289

Step-by-Step Cleaning Process

My cleaning regimen now looks like this:

  1. Mix 2 gallons of cleaning solution for the tank using the formula above, add to tank
  2. Degas the water in the tank by running ultrasonics for 10 minutes while also turning on tank heater to bring water temperature up to 30 – 35 degrees Celsius. Do this before adding records.
  3. Mount records to be cleaned on spindle and attach the spindle to the Spin Kit rotating at 3 revolutions over 10 minutes in the tank water. Use tank timer.
  4. Remove record spindle and dismount records one at a time for rinsing.
  5. Rinse on vacuum cleaning platform (e.g., a VPI HW-16.5) using a highly pure water. Vacuum dry.
  6. Re-rinse a second time using the Final Rinse Water described below and vacuum dry.
  7. Set record aside to finish air drying any remaining moisture not removed by the vacuum, then place in clean inner sleeve.

Final Rinse Water

I do a double rinse. The first rinse is with high purity water sourced in bulk. But the second rinse is special. The second rinse is with Type 1 Reagent Grade water to which I've added a small amount of Reagent Grade 95% Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol) to make up not more than 3% of the rinse solution by volume (3 parts to 100). The addition of the Ethanol makes a subtle but consistently heard improvement in the cleaning results as compared to the Type 1 Reagent Grade water by itself. The Ethanol is a surfactant so the final rinse can actually get into the record groove. It is a further cleaning/degreasing agent. It readily binds with anything remaining in the grooves. And it aids in drying.

Why use Ethanol rather than Isopropyl?  I use the Ethanol because I've been told that it is a more volatile alcohol than Isopropyl and even more readily binds with other molecules due to having one less carbon atom. Hey, I'm just repeating like a parrot here.

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