as reviewed by Steve Lefkowicz
For anyone who owns and listens to records, a proper record cleaning system is essential. I think it is obvious for those who buy used LPs, why this would be the case, but for over twenty-five years magazines and writers have been commenting on the benefits for new records too. I won't discuss the need for a record cleaner in this review, other than to reiterate, if you have records, you need a way to clean them.
Having started with a good old Diskwasher brush and fluid way back in the mid 1970s, I made the big plunge around 1984 and bought a real, vacuum system, namely, a Nitty Gritty 2.5fi. Back then it was considered expensive at about $380 for the fancy version with the real wood trim. That model is still available from Nitty Gritty, though time and inflation have taken their toll, as it now lists for $935. I will say it was a superb unit, built like a tank, cleaned deeply, was very easy to use, and made cleaning records simple, quick, and something you would just do.
So, why don't I have it anymore?
Well, many of you have heard this story ad nauseum, but back in the early 1990s, while I was living on my sailboat, and had most of my possessions in a storage facility, someone broke in and stole a bunch of stuff. This stuff included about 700 records (about a third of my collection) and my Nitty Gritty. Bastards!!
Since moving off the boat in 1998 and living back on land, I, of course, resumed my lifelong fascination with high quality audio, but much to my chagrin, have had to make do without a proper record cleaner. I did manage to bring records with me when visiting friends who had a VPI or Nitty Gritty, and had to bring a few to try out an acquaintances Loricraft, and even bought an Allsop Orbitrac when they reissued that some years ago. But for the most part, I have had to live without proper record cleaning, as buying a new Nitty Gritty or VPI was just not in the budget (hint – having a kid play ice hockey in California is way too expensive, and if they are a goalie, well, there goes the audio budget…).
That brings us to the Spin Clean. The Spin Clean has actually been in production in America since 1974, though ownership of the product changed hands shortly after that. The Spin Clean is a model of simplicity, and proof that sometimes, simple simply works. Simply put, it is a small, molded plastic tub, with rollers to support a record and allow it to be spun (by hand), and a pair of soft padded brushes that scrub both sides of the record while it's spinning. There's no motor, no vacuum, nothing to plug in. Simple!
Using the Spin Clean, though not at simple and easy as a Nitty Gritty or a VPI, is still fairly easy. Start by placing the rollers in the appropriate slots for the size records you plan on cleaning. There are slots for 12, 10, and 7 inch discs, so you can clean all your LPs regardless of speeds. Next you install the two brushes in place. They just slide into position. Then you fill the tub with water up to the indicated fill line. Spin Clean recommends filtered drinking water, like Aquafina, not distilled water, and the tub holds a little more than one standard disposable bottle. I used bottles of filtered water from the grocery store, which were $3.99 for a 36 pack.
After filling with water, you put the cleaning fluid in by pouring a small amount over the top of the brushes; three capfuls if you have the small bottle and two capfuls if you have the large bottle. According to Spin Clean, filling the unit like this should be good for up to fifty records. Now, having completed all that, you are ready to start cleaning.
I started with a batch of ten records purchased used, that were in various states of need for cleaning. The worst looked like they might not even be playable, and the cleanest just had an array of fingerprints and other schmutz. None were something I would drop my Dynavector stylus on without a proper cleaning first.
So, to clean a record, you just slide it down in between the brushes until it is up against the rollers. Then you spin it one direction for three revolutions, and the other direction for three revolutions. If a record is extra dirty, as a few I tried were, you might spin it four or five times in each direction. It does take a little effort to spin it while keeping it down on the rollers, otherwise the record has a tendency to lift up in the direction you're spinning it. Surprisingly, none of the water dripped onto the label while cleaning.
After you've spun the record sufficiently, you lift it out, and dry it with one of the supplied lint free drying cloths. I used two; one to help hold the record without putting fingerprints on it, and the other to sweep around in a circular motion until dry. Even after drying, a quick check with a magnifier showed there was still a little moisture down in the grooves. I put a few large drinking glasses out to rest the records on until they finished drying, which took about an additional two or three minutes. At that point they were ready to put away or play.
The big question of course is how good a job did the Spin Clean do in actually cleaning records? Quite good, actually. All ten records came out looking very clean, and played well, with that crystal clear, quiet background you expect from a freshly cleaned record. Did it clean as well as my old Nitty Gritty? I can't really say, as I haven't had that to use since about 1988. But I will say again, that the records I cleaned all played with very quiet noise levels. An inspection with a 20X magnifier showed grooves that were free from obvious dirt and grit.
As a comparison I did clean one record with my old Allsop Orbitrac, though I no longer have any Allsop fluid—I used fluid from the Spin Clean instead. The Orbitrac cleaned about as well as the Spin Clean, though takes longer as you have to clean and dry one side at a time. But, I had the feeling that the Orbitrac might be prone to leaving some stuff behind, as it relies on dirt and debris sticking to the brush, rather than staying in the wash basin (and settling to the bottom) as with the Spin Clean. Regardless of whether the Spin Clean actually cleaned better than the Orbitrac or not, doesn't really matter, as the Orbitrac has been off the market for several years. Even so, I much preferred using the Spin Clean.
There are two packages to choose from when buying a Spin Clean. The standard package for $79.99 comes with the Spin Clean, one 4 oz bottle of Washer Fluid, one pair of brushes, one pair of rollers, and two washable drying cloths. Or, for $124.99 you can get the larger package that includes an additional 32 oz bottle of fluid, an extra pair of brushes, and seven drying cloths. This saves you about $25 over buying these items afterwards. If you plan on using the Spin Clean more than just once or twice, the larger package is the way to go.
I suppose if spending $500 or more isn't a big deal to you, then a new Nitty Gritty or VPI is still more convenient, and quicker in terms of cleaning and drying a record. Plus, they are more efficient if you want to clean individual records, though you can clean one record in the Spin Clean, and they claim you can leave the fluid in the unit for up to a week.
I would personally prefer to have both a Spin Clean and one of the lower priced Nitty Gritty units to use as a dryer... but let's be clear about this, the Spin Clean really does clean well enough that, used on its own, it is all the cleaner you really need. I have about two hundred used records sitting in storage that have been waiting for cleaning, including early pressings of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and a bunch of other rock bands that I literally found in a dumpster some years ago. I'll probably batch them groups of ten or twenty at a time, and they should all be fine after cleaning.
If you have records, and have hesitated in buying a record cleaner due to cost, there is no reason to wait any longer. The Spin does the job, and does it well. All you give up is a little convenience. I do love a bargain! Steve Lefkowicz
Spin Clean Record Washer