Several DIY methods claim to fix scratches on vinyl records. To see if any actually work, we called upon an expert.
If you collect vinyl records, you know how exciting it can be when you come across a rare find in a secondhand shop or antique store. But just because you score something valuable, doesn't mean it's going to work when you bring it home and try it out on your record player. Since vinyl has been around for decades, it's not uncommon to find a disc that has some wear and tear, which can effect the sound quality of the album if the damage is bad enough. While dust and debris are often easily removed, scratches are a different story. Although there are several DIY methods out there that claim to fix this issue, it's still unclear whether or not you can actually repair a vinyl record once it's been officially scratched. To answer this question, we turned to Nathon Raine, the director of Norman Records, who set the record (pun intended!) straight.
How Do You Know If Your Record Is Scratched?
Before you can fix a scratched vinyl record, you'll need to first determine if the collectible is truly scratched. According to Raine, there are three different ways to do so. "You can see them, you can feel them, and you can hear them," he says. "Some would argue that only the third matters, and up to a point, that's true." Raine explains that a deep, visible scratch may not cause any tangible issues; sometimes, it's the scratches that aren't noticeable to the naked eye or the touch that wreak havoc on the sound quality of your album. In order to assess the condition of your record, Raine says to examine it under a strong light source and look for anything that might cause the stylus to move in a direction it isn't supposed to. Next, gently run a clean fingertip over any grooves that look suspicious. "If you can feel it, you'll almost certainly be able to hear it," he notes. Then, of course, actually listen to the record. Even if you think you've spotted a deep scratch, it may not make any difference when the disc is spinning; the stylus might power through any damage.
Can You Fix a Scratched Vinyl Record?
While there are plenty of suggested repair methods you can easily find online, Raine says that once your record is scratched, your chances of fixing it are negligible. "Nothing fixes a scratch. There are all kinds of homespun remedies—rub at it with a toothpick, press down on the stylus while it plays, press down on the stylus while playing it backwards—but they're all whistling in the wind," he says. Vinyl records are essentially one long scratch carved by a machine, so each record gets just one shot at being properlyetched. Raine explains that if you take this purposefully carved scratch and add some new ones to the mix, you'll "mess things up in a way that isn't recoverable." Instead of trying to fix your record, it's more important to focus on preventing scratches to begin with. To do so, Raine says to handle records with care, use well-maintained equipment, and ensure you're storing your discs correctly.
How Do You Clean a Vinyl Record?
If you notice some damage, don't write your album off immediately; try to give it a thorough clean first. Unlike scratches, dirt isn't permanent. If you think there's a chance that your record is just dirty, not scratched, the first thing to do is give it a good, deep, safe clean—then you can more accurately asses its true condition. You'll need a cleaning solution specifically designed for vinyl, an anti-static brush, and a micro-fiber cloth. Use the brush and the cloth to sweep away that first layer of grime, making sure to follow the direction of the grooves. Then, inspect the record in good lighting, looking for any grease spots, finger prints, and smudges. Once you've identified your problem areas, rest your record on a clean, flat, soft, and non-abrasive surface. Apply the cleaning solution to a micro-fiber towel and gently move in circular movements along the grooves, using light pressure to rub away blemishes. Be sure not to let the cleaning solution touch the inner label of your record, as this may damage it. Let your album dry completely before storing or playing it.
How Do You Fix a Warped Vinyl Record?
Although there may not be a remedy for scratches, another common problem that can hinder the quality of vinyl records is warping—and, thankfully, it's one that can be remedied with care. "Warped records are almost always caused by poor storage, one way or another," Raine says. "Generally speaking, it's all about heat and gravity." While your record will warp quickly if it's left in the car on a hot day, warping most commonly happens slowly overtime, especially if the disc is not stored correctly. To avoid this, Raine says to stack your records vertically rather than at an angle. And while some warping is fine, if it's severe, your album will need to be repaired. "Records are supposed to be flat, and record players are designed to play flat records," Raine explains. "A badly warped record isn't playable, and you'll risk further damage to the record and possibly even to your equipment if you insist on trying." Raine urges people with warped records to find a professional vinyl-flattening service, but notes that there is a DIY method you can try. First, start by sandwiching your record between two sheets of clean, flat, oven-proof glass. Next, preheat your oven to no higher than 120 degrees and place the record-glass sandwich inside for 10 minutes. Then, move the record to a flat surface and top it with a heavy, flat object. Once it's cool, which will take about an hour, remove the vinyl and inspect it—the end result should be a flat record.