Why Do Vinyl Records Crackle? (Is it Avoidable?)

Vinyl records crackle due to the build-up of static electricity, the accumulation of dirt and debris in the record’s grooves, and damage made to the record’s surface. Vinyl crackling is avoidable but demands continuous, zealous care from the record owner, including routine clean-ups.

What Exactly Makes Vinyl Records Crackle?

Vinyl crackling occurs when the stylus finds an obstacle.

Static electricity is a problem because it produces microscopic electric discharges that will interfere with the stylus. Dirt, debris, and damage to the vinyl record grooves are also harmful because they cause the stylus to jump and make a popping sound.

How Can I Prevent Vinyl Records From Crackling?

There are four main things you need to do if you want to keep your vinyl records in pristine condition: clean them routinely, handle them with care, store them correctly, and keep them in an appropriate sleeve.

If you have a huge record collection, you should probably get a record cleaning machine. They can be expensive, but they’re worth it in case you’re a serious vinyl collection with hundreds of records at home.

Record cleaning machines are not a must-have, though: if you put in the work, you can keep your records pristine with nothing but a few cleaning products.

What’s the Best Way to Clean a Vinyl Record?

There are two fundamental types of vinyl-record cleaning: dry cleaning and wet cleaning. For dry cleaning, all you need is a carbon fiber brush. For wet cleaning, you should have two microfiber cloths, record cleaning fluid, and distilled water.

Dry cleaning is something that record owners should do routinely. Just pick up the carbon fiber brush (don’t forget to make sure it’s clean) and use it to sweep the grooves. Make sure you use gentle strokes to avoid damaging the record.

There are two purposes for dry cleaning: the first is to remove any tiny particles of dust, dirt, and debris from the grooves; the second is to get rid of the static electricity that’s naturally stored on the record’s surface over time.

Wet cleaning is a tougher—albeit more effective—process. First, you’ll need to mix record cleaning fluid with some distilled water (make sure you’re not using tap water). Then, apply the mixture to the record’s surface; be careful and don’t use more than what you need. Finally, use the first microfiber cloth to clean the record and the second to dry it.

How Should I Handle Vinyl Records?

The number-one rule for handling vinyl records is: don’t touch the grooves!

When storing or picking up records, always grab them either by the center (where the label is) or by the sides. You should never touch the area of the record that will interact with the stylus.

If you need to touch the record’s grooves, make sure you’re wearing gloves. You should never touch the record’s grooves with your hands—even when they’re clean—because the oils in your skin can get inside the grooves and ultimately cause interferences to the stylus.

How Should I Store Vinyl Records?

Vinyl records should be stored in a dry, clean place that’s not directly exposed to the sun. They should be stored vertically because records can warp over time when kept in a horizontal pile. Heat and humidity can also cause warping, so you should keep your records away from moist, warm areas.

What’s the Best Sleeve for Vinyl Records?

You should keep your vinyl records inside a sleeve at all times. These are designed to protect records from getting dirty and damaged, and they’re included in the box for a reason! Any sleeve beats no sleeve 100% of the time, but poly sleeves are a much better alternative to standard paper sleeves.

You’re probably familiar with paper sleeves: they come inside every brand-new vinyl record and are made of, well… Paper! What you may not know is that paper sleeves are not ideal for storing records.

There are two reasons why paper sleeves can ultimately lead to vinyl crackling: because they can scratch records if you slide them in too fast, and because they can release paper dust that can get inside the record’s grooves.

If you’re looking for the very best for your record collection, you should get poly sleeves. Made of polypropylene, a resistant thermoplastic polymer, poly sleeves will never scratch your record or release any kind of dust. They’re also easier to slide inside the record’s artwork. The only downside is that they’re more expensive than paper sleeves.

How Do I Reduce Static Electricity in Vinyl Records?

Since vinyl records are made to spin on the top of a turntable, they will eventually get charged with static electricity. To deal with this issue and prevent vinyl crackling, you should clean your records routinely and go for advanced antistatic products.

If you want to take your love for vinyl to the next level, antistatic products are the way to go. Poly sleeves are antistatic, so they’re highly advisable. But the turntable platter mat where your records spin is also important. To reduce static electricity, replace your felt platter mat with a cork, rubber, or leather platter mat.

For a more precise clean-up, you can also try antistatic products, such as antistatic cleaning sprays and antistatic brushes. These were made by audiophiles to audiophiles, and they were specifically produced to deal with vinyl record static, so they’re highly commendable.

Can a Bad Turntable Cause Vinyl Crackling?

Most definitely. If all your vinyl records crackle, there’s a good chance you have a problem with your turntable.

Loose cables can lead to loss of sound quality and perceivable audio issues such as crackling. The same goes for weary turntables that have a warped belt.

To prevent your records from getting damaged, I’d advise you to check every cable in your turntable (look for loose connections and physical damage to the cables). If you notice a warp in the turntable, the only solution is to replace your turntable’s belt with a new one.

Summary

Vinyl records come in many shapes and sizes, but they’re all equally fragile. Vinyl crackling is a very common issue and, in most cases, it’s solvable. Keep your precious collection stored in a dry place, commit to regular clean-ups, and invest in a few appropriate products whenever you can—record cleaning fluid is a must!

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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