Opinions about how to clean your vinyl records are 10-a-penny. You can purchase equipment that costs thousands of dollars, or you can do it yourself with a few carefully chosen chemicals and a brushes. I’m a squeekyclean Vinyl Record Cleaning machine myself[1]https://squeakycleanvinyl.com/products/squeakycleanvinyl-mk-iii. This post isn’t about that, it’s about something I’ve never seen before, cleaning the actual vinyl album sleeves.

I doubt anyone has albums that have travelled as far as a lot of mine, especially the white A&M / CTI design from 1967-1970. Many of mine were imports to the UK as new records. In 1983 they went by sea to New York; in 1986 they went back to the UK by sea and in 2004, they made their way back to New York, then on to Texas, and finally to Colorado.

The journeys in the 80’s were before the abundance of cardboard boxes and cheap plastic outer sleeves. For the sea journeys they were shipped in tea chests surrounded by clothes, bedding and some carpet underlay. When pulling the albums for one of my recent projects, I noticed how grubby most of them were, also how over the years, either purchased or done myself, some of them had acquired markings.

In early 2022, I replaced a couple of albums that had significant surface noise. Rather than sell a couple of duds cheap, I decided to experiment with cleaning the covers. I tried a number of different methods with varying results on the old covers.

  • Bleach wipes – Just no. These worked great as step-1 but seemed to cause a yellowing after a month or so.
  • Dawn dish soap – Hmm maybe. It worked to remove the dirt but was less effective than other methods on everything else.
  • Mr Clean Magic Erasers – Has downsides when cleaning very shiny covers, without wiping it can leave a residue.

The “Mr Magic” eraser worked pretty well on the old test covers, with one mess-up. So about a month ago I decided to pull the entire CTI A&M album catalogue off the shelf and clean them. I made a video and took some pictures of the albums so you could see before and after.

Here is one of the worst albums from before. K & J.J. “Israel” – SP 3008. This was one of the replacements. I bought this VG sleeve to go with my original VG++ viny record. Exactly the same press, labels and covers. My cover had split down the spine and was splitting along the top. Here is the before of the cover, typically grubby, the cover art doesn’t “pop” anymore, and it has writing on the back in pen, and a green X on the front

Minus the writing, this condition is pretty typical for album sleeves that are some 55-years old.

What Do You Need?

As you can see from the video, I used my kitchen island. It is spotlessly clean and non-absorbent polished concrete. I’d completely avoid doing this on a wooden desk or similar, that is absorbent. It needs to be perfectly flat, I don’t remove the albums from the sleeve, that’s up to you.

  • “Mr Magic” Eraser – split up into 8x equal size pieces
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Cotton towel

One of the tricks I learned from my test efforts is that if you try to use a complete Mr Magic eraser, after a couple of albums you end up spreading dirt you’ve already removed. It’s much better to split the erase into eight small pieces, Use one side for the front, the other for the back, and the four smaller sides can be used for the edges and the spine.

What Do You Do?

There are a few tricks in this.

  • Work fast, you don’t want to allow any liquid into the actual card stock.
  • If you have badly bubbled or split laminate on the covers, either skip them or be very careful.
  • Don’t try to clean labels that have been stuck to the cover
  • DO NOT rub hard or for too long. Again, the trick here is speed. If the mark/pen, stain isn’t going to come off after a few circles, you risk damaging the cover.
  • DO NOT use the eraser pieces on the inside paper of the gatefold. It will remove the print, cause color discoloration and other damage.
  • As well as using a new piece/side for each cover, make sure you rinse the microfiber cloth thoroughly and squeeze out after each album cover.
  • Keep the work surface clean.

Finally accept that the nature of the compounds in a “Mr Magic” eraser, it will both dull the laminate and leave micro-scratches. This is particularly observable on the high gloss dark sleeves found with SP-3010 (Barbary), SP-3017 (Adderly), SP3019 (Nascimento) also (independent) CTI 500, 6000, 8000 series and the Kudu pressing sleeves.

  1. Wet the eraser, do not soak it, just damp all the way through.
  2. Wet the microfiber cloth thoroughly and squeeze the excess out.
  3. Start in one corner, pressing lightly rub in straight lines up a section of the cover, move to any section until one side is complete. If you have stubborn marks/pen etc. rotate the eraser over them in small circles no more than 3-5x, again very light pressure.
  4. Set the eraser aside and quickly and lightly run the damp microfiber cloth over the side cleaned with the eraser, set the cloth aside and grab the towel.
  5. Rub lightly until it is dry.
  6. Repeat for the back and edges
  7. Discard the eraser, rinse and squeeze out the microfiber cloth, clean the surface and wet a new eraser

You can do the laminated edges inside the gatefold, ber very careful though, if you rub the color printed paper it will discolor. If they are grubby, you can wipe gently with the microfiber cloth, and dry. Here is a video of me cleaning this album, as well as a flip video of almost all mt CTI/A&M albums after they were cleaned. The whole set took some 2-hours.

As I say in the video, there are some definite downsides of doing this, mostly because the eraser is is actually uniquely abrasive and uses small air pockets in the material to lift stains when damp. The abrasion will dull the laminate of the paper stock the covers are made of. On balance I think it was not only a risk worth taking, the covers look much better after cleaning.

I’d caution using this method without doing you own tests.

Did you try this, or something else, how did it work out for you? Leave a comment below.

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