How To Clean A Record Needle

Cleaning the needle

Cleaning the record needle of a Ortofon 2m Red MM Cartridge on Wrensilva turntable.

Vinyl naturally has a sound that feels more organic and “present.” Little crackles and pops are common, particularly on vintage vinyl; but left unchecked, “little” can become big. Next thing you know, your tonearm skips and skates across the whole disc, risking damage to your favorite record.

Keeping your record needle clean will help to protect your vinyl from damage and retain the rich sound quality that you expect from your records. Here are some tips on when and how to clean a record needle.

Table of Contents

Why Cleaning the Record Needle Matters
How to Clean a Record Needle: A Step-by-Step Guide
Regular Maintenance Tips

Why Cleaning Your Record Needle Matters

A needle, or stylus, is the first point of contact to the sound embedded in a record. Any foreign material on the needle interferes with this contact and causes muffled or scratchy sound. Even the smallest bit of dust or grime can cause audio quality to be compromised.

Left unchecked, a needle can accumulate dust and debris that can lead to tracking problems that ultimately cause skipping. Over time, the debris can cause abrasion on the needle which can cause permanent damage to the grooves.

To safeguard against a negative listening experience, here are some tips on how to clean the needle on a record player.

How to Clean a Record Needle: A Step-by-Step Guide

A dirty and clean record needle
Dirty record needle on the left and clean one on the right.

Inspect the Needle

It’s relatively easy to spot the build-up. Usually it’s a bit of fluff hanging on to the needle. To get a really good look, use a magnifying glass to determine how much of a “deep clean” it needs.

Gather Your Cleaning Supplies

There are several ways to clean the needle on your record player.

There are commercial cleaning solutions available like GrooveWasher’s SC1 Stylus Cleaning Fluid or a mixture of distilled water and a few drops of isopropyl alcohol also does the trick.

You’ll need a soft, fine-bristled brush to apply the cleaning solution.

A gel cleaner removes dust with just a light touch of the needle to the gel pad. It’s one of the least abrasive ways to keep your needle clean. KAIU’s Anti-Static Turntable Stylus Gel Cleaner is both chic and functional with a wood case and a mirror for a close inspection of your needle.

For a convenient, cost effective solution, a small square of a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will remove needle grime. Similar to the gel cleaner, use light taps of the stylus on the magic eraser. Just make sure that you don’t wet the eraser (the traditional way to use it for cleaning in your home) and that it is a chemically untreated version of the product.

Proper Needle Cleaning Technique

Whichever cleaning method you choose, gentle is the keyword. If you’re too rough on the fine diamond point of a stylus, it can cause abrasions that can accelerate wear and tear on your vinyl. Steer clear of harsh chemicals and when using a brush, make sure to brush in the direction that the record spins to avoid damage during cleaning. Never brush from side to side, as this can risk pulling the needle right out of the cartridge.

Wrensilva’s Director of Electronics advises that prior to doing anything to the needle cartridge, tape or use a twist tie to hold the tonearm in its cradle to keep it safely in place while cleaning.

Regular Maintenance Tips

Stylus cleaning brush
Stylus cleaning brush

Frequency of Cleaning

How often you should clean your needle is directly related to how much playing time it gets. Each time you prepare to drop a needle on a record, take a quick look to ensure there isn’t a fluff hitchhiker. A quick swish of a stylus brush will clear the way for uninhibited listening and help to keep build-up at bay. A thorough clean is recommended every 15 -20 plays, and more often if you listen to a lot of well-loved vintage records that naturally have accumulated more debris over the years.

Storing Records and Equipment Properly

Vinyl is a dust magnet. Static electricity caused by plastic (vinyl) rubbing against a soft surface, which could be the album sleeve or a cleaning cloth, attracts the tiny particles that can upset your listening experience.

Always keep your vinyl safely tucked away in its inner and outer sleeves. You can replace the standard sleeves that are sold with your records with anti-static inner sleeves to help minimize dust. Store vinyl upright with the opening to the inner sleeve facing upwards when you place it in the album jacket. This will keep the record from rolling out of the cover and provide extra protection from dust.

Keep your needle and turntable covered. Invest in a turntable dust cover and stylus guard to keep your equipment dust-free when not in use.

Post Cleaning Troubleshooting

You might find that even after a thorough stylus cleaning, dust bunnies are quick to return. The culprit here is likely the record itself. Keep the dust out of those grooves with an anti-static record brush or record cleaning machine like the Okki Nokki One.

Anti static record brush
Anti-Static Record Brush


Choose your cleaning method and make it a habit. Keep your stylus brush, gel or Mr. Clean square close by to make regular cleaning a no-brainer. Inspect your record needle every few weeks to determine if it needs a more thorough cleaning.

Tiny dust particles can get everywhere and, left unchecked, they can cause long-term problems. Wrensilva consoles protect the custom integrated turntable with a hinged hardwood cover. With proper storage of records and equipment; and good cleaning techniques dust and debris won’t hinder your listening experience.