Several times this summer, I have come back from thrift or antique stores with a small collection of vintage 78s.  The Beloved, who loves hot jazz and loves to see me happily in my element, encourages such pastimes.  But her nose is sensitive to mildew, mold, dust, and the aromas that accompany elderly objects (records, paper sleeves, albums, and sheet music) stored for decades in basements, attics, closets.

Do any readers have suggestions for de-funkifying such precious artifacts?

Because the rainy season here is not yet upon us, I have left the records and albums and sheet music outdoors at night and for part of the day (watching them carefully so that they do not bake and warp in hot sun) but I would welcome other advice. One thought is to discard the paper and purchase new 10″ heavy paper green sleeves for the discs.

For the moment, I thought some of my readership would appreciate the view of Roger Wolfe Kahn, Ray Miller, Philip Spitalny, Gene Austin, “Chester Leighton,” the Light Crust Doughboys, Buddy Rogers and his Famous Swing Band, Mildred Bailey, Fats Waller, and a few others*, lazing in the Novato sun, with the Beloved’s beautiful garden as a backdrop.


*You can’t see it, but there’s a real oddity, presumably from the late Forties, there — an RCA Victor promotional disc, with the singer Mindy Carson warbling the timeless ditty I WANT A TELEVISION CHRISTMAS.  Same song, both sides.  Could I resist such weirdness?

Several hours later.  I have disposed of all the aromatic paper sleeves and washed all the records in perhaps a rudimentary way. From top: clean, almost-entirely dry discs, rinse water, soapy water, clean, much-wetter discs, arrangement of succulents (courtesy of the Beloved);

stage 2 records 001

And for those collectors who are horrified that I would be doing this outdoors, and without a toothbrush, I understand.  But I watched the records carefully (it was cloudy) so they didn’t bake and warp, and my sole toothbrush is right now used for dental purposes. The result is several piles of clean — or less dirty — records, so with luck Hooley and Helen Rowland, Lee Wiley and Ray Miller, Helen Rowland and Dale Wimbrow, Bob Howard and Stirling Bose . . . will be happier and sound better.

May your happiness increase!


  1. Robert D. Rusch

    there are commercial record cleaners even several record cleaning machines

  2. I cannot say that my advice here is correct, only that it is what I do with my new shellac, and that it is a composite of three very similar methods of three collectors known and respected as experts within 78rpm circles…

    1) Lay paper towel on a flat surface.
    2) Run water in sink to room temp/slightly warm
    3) Tilt record under running water while slowly spinning on finger,
    to get water on shellac but not label. Try to keep label dry.
    4) Use soft-bristle toothbrush with one drop of dishwashing liquid
    and make concentric circles so that the bristles can be felt in
    the grooves. Clockwise, counterclockwise a few times untiil
    the record is lathered, then rinse under water.
    5) Repeat for other side
    6) Carefully dry record, starting with label. Place on flat surface
    and DO NOT PLAY for awhile, as the shellac may have softened
    a bit, and should be permitted to harden again.
    7) Store in NEW sleeve rather than the stinky old one. If you want to
    collect your vintage paper sleeves, put them into individual clear
    plastic sleeves to preserve them. If you store all the sleeves together,
    then you’ve got a whole other new thing to collect and obsess about.
    If you want to have the relationship between the record and the
    appropriate sleeve continue, make a note on your new sleeve that
    there is a vintage sleeve that goes with the record that is in your
    sleeve collection.
    8) Do not forget to eat, sleep, pay your bills and spend time with your
    family. Remember: these shiny round things are ONLY RECORDS.

  3. I have just gone through the labourious task of re-sleeving all my 350 records, and writing discographical information on each one of them. I have kept all the original paper ones for posterity, and I may sell them on with the 78s as and when they leave me.

    But by all means, the above “toothbrush” method works very well with my records – but get them in new sleeves, sitting them in 90 year old bits of paper covered in tobacco and god knows what isn’t healthy for them at all.

  4. I’ve used this method for deep cleaning shellac records reliably for several years now: http://youtu.be/gU6k4N0vj2o This method totally removes the mild solution of soap and water almost immediately. I definitely favor a soft paint brush over a toothbrush. And I sure wouldn’t use moldy old sleeves after cleaning them. (And I’d never leave them outdoors–yikes!)

  5. William (Bill) Nikkel

    I have recently purchased some cleaner for records that are badly fouled. I think this stuff would help you with the records themselves. There are two products: Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions – enzymatic formula and super cleaner formula. They are available on-line from the Needle Doctor, http://www.needledoctor.com (I have found this company to be excellent in helping with technical needs and questions – very responsive and reliable). As for the record sleeves, I have no solution; you may want to discard the old ones and start new.
    I greatly enjoy your daily missives about matters jazz. Please keep them coming.
    I live part time in the Petaluma area. I recall that you mentioned a couple of places in Novato and Petaluma to check for old recordings. Could you give me some specifics, as I’m builiding a collection of 78’s as well as CDs and LPs?
    My best,

  6. Thanks for the information. I have had very good — but intermittent — luck with Goodwill in both locations, and there is a lovely store called ALPHABET SOUP (proceeds to benefit the Petaluma schools) but record-treasure-hunting is a matter of serendipity. One day it’s Teddy Wilson 1935 Brunswicks; the next day nothing but CDs by bands you wouldn’t enjoy. Keep looking! Maybe we’ll bump into each other (causing no harm). Michael

  7. I’ve spent a lot of time ‘crate digging’ so I’ve had my fair share of funked-out records, LPs, 45s and 78s.

    My cleaner of choice is 78 GROOVY CLEANER from Bags Unlimited.

    They also have one for LPs and 45s too LP Record Cleaning Fluid.

    This stuff works.

    Although my good buddy Scottie Wenzel over at Mosaic Records runs old school when it comes to 78 cleaning using mild soap and water solution.

    He came to my place several times and cleaned a ton of 78s and there were absolutely no problems.

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