Many of the records in my collection date back to the pre-CD days—some back to the 1960s. Most of them have been played a lot over the years. And until 1972 or so, I regret to say, I didn’t have anything with which to clean them. So some are a bit grungy.
Ditto for some of the used records I’ve bought in the last several years. I was a dedicated Discwasher user until I discovered the GrooveWasher, which does a good job on records that aren’t too dirty.
A friend who has a Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII recently loaned it to me to see if I thought it did a good job. As a test, I pulled out ten of my oldest, most beaten-up LPs and cleaned them in the Spin-Clean. The results were quite interesting.
According to Spin-Clean’s website, the record cleaner was initially developed by Fidelitone, formerly one of the largest makers of replacement styli for anything from Fisher-Price record players to sophisticated cartridges. For many years, they also made other hi-fi accessories. Fidelitone originally called their record-cleaning device the Spin ’n Clean.
When Fidelitone changed businesses from styli to logistics, they dropped the Spin ’n Clean. But Paul Mawhinney, owner of Record-Rama, a fabulous record store in Pittsburgh, PA, couldn’t get enough of them. In 1975, he bought the rights to the device and took over production and marketing of the product, which he renamed the Spin-Clean. His son, Mark Mawhinney, who now runs the company, exhibited the current MKII unit at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in 2010. He told me the current Spin-Clean features heavier plastic molding, more precise rollers, and better drying cloths than anything Fidelitone ever thought of offering.
Spin-Clean is now affiliated with Pittsburgh’s Northern Audio (Mark Mawhinney’s retail store), a great bricks-and-mortar audio retailer in the North Hills area, and Music to My Ear (Mawhinney’s other retail store), which offers new and used vinyl and CDs. Spin-Clean handles sales of the product in the US, Canada, and South Africa, while Pro-Ject Audio Systems distributes it elsewhere in the world.
The Spin-Clean system consists of a deep, narrow basin for the cleaning solution; two rollers to allow easy, precise rotation of the records while they are being cleaned; and two long, absorbent, fabric-covered brushes to do the cleaning. The basic package, the Record Washer MKII Complete Kit ($79.95, all prices in USD), is accompanied by a 4-ounce bottle of alcohol-free cleaning concentrate and two washable, lint-free drying cloths. Mawhinney told me this set is good for cleaning 700–800 records, depending on how dirty they are. An upgraded system, the Deluxe Kit ($124.95), includes a 32-ounce bottle of the cleaning concentrate, an extra pair of brushes, and five drying cloths. And, in celebration of their 45th anniversary, the company is offering a Spin-Clean Limited-Edition, Translucent Anniversary Deluxe Kit. It features a translucent basin instead of the company’s classic bright yellow. It also includes Spin-Clean’s carbon-fiber, anti-static record brush, available separately for $15. The Deluxe Kits will clean 6000 records or more. The original yellow color, by the way, was chosen to make it easy to see the dirt extracted from the records you had cleaned.
Spin-Clean notes that the cleaning fluid “encapsulates” dirt on the record and “forces it to the bottom of the basin, preventing it from being re-deposited onto the record.” I wanted to see if this was, in fact, the case.
Mawhinney told me that some people who have vacuum cleaning machines will use a Spin-Clean to clean their records and then use the vacuum unit to dry them. Given the price of such machines, this is a credit to the Spin-Clean’s effectiveness.
The Spin-Clean is fairly simple to use. Pour one capful of the MK3 concentrate into the basin (or three capfuls if you have the older MK2 fluid), followed by enough distilled water (or tap water if you don’t have any) to reach the line on the inner wall of the basin.
Insert a record into the basin, turn it three revolutions clockwise, then another three counter-clockwise. Once you’ve completed this task (and it takes a bit of grunt, especially with heavyweight vinyl, because the brushes hold the disc tightly), remove the record and dry it with one of the cloths, wiping with a clockwise circular motion.
If you have the time and arm strength, one bath will clean 20 to 50 discs, depending on how dirty they are. And you can see the results by looking into the bottom of the basin; the removed dirt will be there.
When you’ve cleaned all your records, you’re advised to remove the brushes and rinse them thoroughly with warm water, then press out any remaining fluid and let them air dry on the top of the basin.
Spin-Clean recommends that the user set aside enough time to clean as many records as possible. If only a few records are cleaned at a time, the solution can be saved in the basin for up to a week (the kit includes a top to cover the basin for such occasions). But they stress that it’s important to rinse the brushes and allow them to air dry after every use. Then, you need to thoroughly rinse the rollers and interior of the basin. Once everything is dry, put the rollers and brushes back in place.
Mawhinney told me that while replacement parts are always available, they shouldn’t be needed. “Not even the brushes?” I asked. Mawhinney said no; the components are sturdy enough that if they’re cared for as described in the manual, they should last for years.
In a phrase, the results were surprisingly good. Two of the records I cleaned had already been subjected to cleaning with my GrooveWasher. I played bits of silent tracks and music to judge how clean they were. They were passable but retained some junk in the groove after the GrooveWasher.
When I cleaned them with the Spin-Clean, the surface noise, clicks, and pops were far less apparent. Frankly, I was amazed.
Then I cleaned a few other records that had not had the GrooveWasher treatment. Several of these discs dated back to the mid-1960s and have not been babied. One, The Kingston Trio’s College Concert was noisy throughout, particularly on soft passages. After the Spin-Clean, there was still some surface noise (probably a wrecked groove that resulted from playing it on my first, really lousy turntable), but the clicks and pops were greatly reduced.
Some of the newer LPs I cleaned came out sounding incredibly good. There were virtually no clicks or pops, and they seemed to generate less surface noise when I played them. In all, only two of the ten discs I cleaned didn’t show significant improvement, and these were ancient folk music records that I’d played over and over while trying to teach myself the songs on guitar.
When all was said and done, there were small particles of dirt and grime collected in the bottom of the basin. Mission accomplished.
Obviously, I can’t claim “this record was 50% quieter than before” or anything similar. What I can say is that almost all the records I cleaned with the Spin-Clean system came out sounding a lot better than they had before.
I’ve been a strong supporter of record cleaners like the old Discwasher and the current GrooveWasher. The latter is good if your records aren’t very dirty. But if you haunt used record stores the way I do, or you want to keep your new vinyl in tip-top shape and a vacuum machine is beyond your budget, the Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII is a must-have product.
. . . Thom Moon
- Turntable: Dual CS5000.
- Cartridge: Sumiko Oyster Moonstone.
- Preamplifier: Apt Holman.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 powered subwoofer.
- Phono cables: Dual (captive with CS5000 turntable).
- Interconnects: Wireworld Luna 8.
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research (14-gauge), terminated with Dayton Audio banana plugs.