If you are a newbie in purchasing vinyl records, picture this. You come home after a long day at work, settle into your comfy armchair, you put on your favorite record, just to notice small scratches on your treasured possession. Your picture-perfect evening is ruined. It doesn’t have to be that way. That is why we are here to answer the following question: Are small scratches on vinyl normal? 

It depends on how you define a small scratch. A lot of people also like to point out that sometimes scuffed records sound excellent, whereas good-looking ones crackle. In all honesty, you can’t know for sure whether a scratch is normal, serious, or minor unless you play the record. Oftentimes, even a small scratch can produce clicks that are audible.

In this article, we’ll answer the following question in more detail: Are small scratches on vinyl normal? We will also give reasons why vinyl scratch, what you can do to prevent it, and how to take good care of your records. If this sounds like something that interests you, stick around for plenty of useful tips on vinyl. You may also want to check out our blog to learn what to do with stickers on records.

Are small scratches on vinyl normal?

As promised, we will once again tackle the question from the title. Small scratches on vinyl are normal, as long as they play pop free. If it’s a hairline surface scratch, it usually won’t affect the quality of the sound, as it only affects the tops of the groove. 

However, if it’s a deeper scratch it can affect the groove itself and cause noise issues with the stylus. Deeper scratches are typically those that you can feel with your thumb when you are gently rubbing it.

There is even a widespread belief that records from different eras sound different. A number of people claim that records from the ‘60s are better quality than newer ones and that they are the most forgiving when it comes to scratches.

What is also worth mentioning is that loud and noisy music can mask some clicks. On the other hand, a scratch is likely to interfere with the sound if it is in a quiet section with a lot of smooth tones

Why do vinyls scratch so easily?

There are many ways how vinyl gets scratched or damaged and here are some of the most common ones:

  • Mishandling – vinyl records can get scratched if you accidentally drop them, especially when removing them or replacing them in sleeves.
  • Improper storage – packing records too tight can cause harm and even deep scratches. Cheap paper inner sleeves can be the culprit as well.
  • Cueing up vinyl records improperly – if you cue up records and change tracks without using the cueing lever, chances are that the vinyl will get scratched.
  • Improper placement – when you put your vinyl record on different surfaces without its cover, you risk scratching it.
  • Dirt and dust – even the brushes that you use for cleaning your records can trap dust and debris that can cause scratches, so make sure to be extra careful.

Why are vinyl records so fragile?

There is a general conception of vinyl records being fragile. This is true to some extent. Vinyl records are not so fragile that they will break like china. In fact, if you throw a record, it might even survive the impact, especially if it hits something on its edge. 

If for example, you try to break a vinyl, you will be surprised at just how tough the record is. You have to exert a lot of pressure or put a lot of weight on top of vinyl to break it. That being said, vinyl records can still sustain damage by scratching the top of the record, leaving the record in direct sunlight, etc. Read our blog to find out if warped records are worth anything.

Despite the fact that vinyl records are not so fragile, certain bad habits that you may have unconsciously acquired may affect their fragility, or even destroy them. Next are 5 bad habits that you should watch out for, or break yourself of.

Person playing a vinyl record using a wooden phonograph player.

5 bad habits that can damage your vinyl

Touching the surface of the record

Touching the surface of your record can damage your record. It’s not the fingertips that will damage the record, but rather the oils from your fingers that will attract dust. The grime compounding dust and dirt can build up over time, which can contribute to stylus wear.

If you touch the surface of the record by accident, try to clean it as soon as possible, before you play it, or store it. In the case of a record’s surface being handled a lot, it’s best to use a record-cleaning machine. Remember to handle your records by the outer edge to avoid damage to them.

Stacking your records horizontally

If you’ve acquired a habit of stacking your record horizontally, get out of doing it. When you stack records like this, you apply excess weights to the records which can render them unplayable. Make a habit of storing your records vertically. Find out how long vinyl records can be stacked in our blog.

Leaving the record out of its sleeve

The only time you should take the record out of its sleeve is when you intend to play it. If you leave a record on a platter, a side table, or a chair for extended periods of time, you risk damaging it and it will gather dust. Get into the habit of returning your record back to its sleeve once you are done playing.

Carelessly putting back the record to its sleeve

Be careful when you return the record to its sleeve. To avoid damaging both the record and the sleeve, don’t just let the records drop. If you are careless, you can punch the hole in the bottom of the sleeve and drop your record on the floor. You can also scratch the surface of the record. Make sure to always open the sleeve widely and reduce contact with the record. 

Picking up the record before it stops spinning

Being impatient in this situation will surely lead to scratches on your record. No matter how eager you are to flip your favorite record and enjoy the music, never pick up the record from the turntable platter before it stops spinning.

How do you clean a vinyl record without damaging it?

To enjoy listening to music on vinyl to the fullest, you need to make sure that your records are clean. In this section, we will give you a couple of tips on how to clean your vinyl records without damaging them. Check out our blog to also learn how to remove shrink wrap from vinyl without applying excessive pressure.

Use a vinyl record vacuum cleaner

Using a vinyl record vacuum cleaner is the best choice for cleaning vinyl records without damaging them. However, it comes with a price tag. The price range of vinyl record vacuum cleaners is from several hundred dollars to several thousand for professional ones. If you are a casual collector of vinyl on a budget, you may want to consider other options for cleaning vinyl that we will cover below.

Use a vinyl record cleaning kit

Most vinyl record cleaning kits are affordable, their price being around $20. It is a worthy investment and good value for money. A vinyl record cleaning kit usually contains:

  • Carbon fiber brush or a velvet brush
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Record cleaning solution
  • Storage pouch

A step-by-step guide to cleaning vinyl records

In this section, we will present you with a detailed guide on cleaning vinyl records using a vinyl record cleaning kit.

Step #1 Cleaning with an anti-static record brush

Make sure your hands are clean and carefully put the record on the turntable and set it spinning. Gently place the bristles of the brush on the record surface. Hold the body of the brush without touching the bristles. Don’t apply excessive pressure to the brush, as this will only push dirt deeper into the grooves. Keep the brush stationary for a few revolutions and move it up gently.

Step #2 Cleaning with a record cleaning solution

Remove the record from the turntable platter and put it on a flat, clean surface. Make sure to protect the record label. Spray the solution evenly across the surface of the record, from a distance of about 6 inches or 15 cm. Leave the solution for about 2 minutes.

Step #3 Cleaning with a microfiber cloth

Once a record cleaning solution has worked its magic, use a microfiber cloth to wipe the cleaning solution off the record. Do this in a clockwise, circular motion. If your cleaning kit has a velvet brush, you can use it before a microfiber cloth. A velvet brush will remove the bulk of the solution, whereas the cloth will remove any remaining traces of dirt.

Bonus tip

Leave the record to dry well and if the record is particularly dirty, you may need to repeat steps 2 and 3. You should repeat the whole process on the other side once the first side is dry. Once both sides of the record have been cleaned, you can repeat step 1 to eliminate static charge before you store the record.

Final thoughts

We here at Music Gear Heads hope you’ve enjoyed reading our article which has plenty of useful tips on how to take care of your vinyl records, how to clean them without damaging them, and what scratches you should and should not worry about. Taking good care of your record collection will ensure that you always enjoy the best possible sound. If you want to learn how to save hype stickers, make sure to read our blog.