Cleaning a stylus can be time consuming and a practice in patience. It’s not easy maintaining high standards on a vinyl rig. Just read all the posts in this Record Care series to see what I mean. Of course you have to keep the record clean. You have to store them properly. You should protect them with anti-static inner sleeves and plastic outer sleeves. And then there’s the stylus… or, as we old timers call it, the needle.
A dirty needle will ruin a listening experience. A stylus that has some lint or hair clinging to it is prone to skip. A gathering of filth at the end of the stylus can make one channel disappear. This will make you go nuts trying to figure out if the problem is the speaker, the cable, the amplifier, or all of it.
Because the stylus is in charge of extracting the music in the record grooves it’s imperative the stylus is clean.
Honestly, though… of all that is required to maintain a clean and satisfying listening environment, the stylus should require the least amount of work. The reason is simple. Do not play a dirty record. Only listen to clean records and your stylus will rarely get dirty. The added bonus is increasing the lifespan of the stylus.
Whatever you do, don’t put any form of liquid on a stylus. You can use a lint free brush to dry clean the needle. The proper way to wipe is back to front. But use liquids at your own risk. I used some formula a while back to clean my stylus. It wasn’t a formula that contained alcohol. In fact, it was a product designed by a reputable vinyl company. The end result was, although it did get the stylus incredibly clean, over time the formula literally rotted away the plastic casing of the cartridge, essentially rendering the stylus useless.
That’s the last time I ever used liquid on my stylus.
I never use a dry brush either.
My main strategy is, as I said, to not play dirty records. But occasionally dust and other crap will still accumulate on the stylus. To clean it, I use some funky gel formula. There are two companies that make this product, Extreme Phono and Zero Dust. I originally had one made by Zero Dust. I paid something like $90.00 six years ago and it was a great investment. It lasted for a solid three years and through 2 different styli. When it was time for a replacement I bought a similar product by Extreme Phono for $50.00.
I just use the tonearm lever and gently place the stylus into the gel. It sits for a brief second, and then I raise the stylus and all the debris stays behind.
Here’s how it works:
The Extreme Phono gel seems more difficult to find than the Zero Dust. From my experience, the Zero Dust is a slightly better product anyway… not necessarily $40.00 better. But the good thing is, the Zero Dust now costs about $45.00… so the decision is easy. You can get it here.
These two products, other than records, are the only things in the last six years that has directly touched any of my styli.