A modern version of the BBC record-peel by Dave Platt (dplatt@radagast.org)

This page is a quick summary of my experiments in creating a modern version of the BBC "record peel" cleaning solution, popularized in Audio Amateur magazine some decades ago.


The "peel" is a solution and process which can be used to clean vinyl records, removing grit and dirt and dust from the grooves more effectively than can be done with a dry brush or with most commercial wet-cleaning systems.

To use it, you brush or spread a thin layer of the syrupy "peel" solution on the surface of the record, flowing it into the grooves, and then allow it to air-dry. The solution dries to form a thin, flexible film which doesn't stick to the record surface, and can be peeled off and discarded. The film does stick to, or encapsulate most of the dirt and grit from the record surface, and these come away with the film leaving a clean surface behind. The peel formula includes an anti-static agent, a small amount of which remains as an extremely thin layer on the record surface and which prevents static build-up (which would itself attract more dirt).

The peel solution as described here can be made at home, from commercially available ingredients, and is not particularly expensive. Several records can be treated for a materials cost of less than a dollar.

Off-the-shelf alternatives

There's a very popular modern alternative to the BBC peel available at your local hardware store - wood glue! Specifically, Titebond I and Titebond II can be used for this purpose (do not use Titebond III, as it won't release from the record!). I won't give the details here, as there are numerous web sites which discuss Titebond record cleaning. Titebond absolutely does work, it's not expensive (especially if you buy it in quarts or gallons) and it's easily available. It has one big disadvantage, though - Titebond II (and Titebond I to a lesser extent) tend to leave behind a really ferocious static charge on the surface of the record when they release. This static will immediately attract dust from the air, un-doing at least some of the benefit of the cleaning. The BBC peel (either the original Williamson version, or my modified one) leaves you with a static-free record surface, and long-lasting (I believe) protection against future static build-up.

Ingredients required

The peel recipe I came up with is a modernized version of the formula Williamson popularized, and which was sold for some time by Old Colony Sound Labs.

What you'll need to brew up a batch of the peel solution includes the following:

Optional ingredient for anti-static effect

A useful addition to the formula is benzalkonium chloride - this is optional but highly recommended. BZC is a quaternary ammonium compound, which acts as a surfactant (reduces the surface tension of the water and helps the solution spread into the grooves), cleaner, biocide (kills bacteria and fungi), and anti-static agent. It's also the primary active ingredient in skin-wound cleansers such as Bactine, and is used as a surgical scrub.

A 50% concentration of benzalkonium chloride can be purchased from some aquarium-supply dealers - when diluted it's used to sterilize dip nets to avoid spreading disease from one fish tank to another.

A lesser concentration (a 1:750 dilution) is available from medical-supply houses, as a surgical scrub and wound cleaner.

Reg Williams' version of the BBC formula used a commercial anti-static agent called Cyastat for this purpose. Unfortunately Cyastat is sold as an industrial chemical and is very difficult to purchase in less than full-drum quantities.

The BZC (or Cyastat) do require careful handling. In high concentrations (such as the 50% BZC concentrate) both are corrosive and can damage human skin and eyes. If you're working with these, take all proper precautions: wear gloves, use a face shield, and don't splash the concentrate around.


The recipe I came up with is quite close to Williamson's:

When you're done, you will end up with a scant half-pint of a warm, syrupy liquid. This is what you want. Decant into a squeeze bottle of some sort and allow to cool to room temperature. Mark the bottle appropriately e.g. RECORD CLEANER, DO NOT EAT so that nobody mistakes it for simple syrup or honey or some other yummy sweet.

The solution can be stored in a closed container for several months. It may gel if stored in a cold room. If this happens, you can simply place the squeeze bottle into a bowl of warm water for a half-hour or so - once the gel warms up it should re-liquify.

(You could try pre-mixing the 20 ml of alcohol and the 150 ml of distilled water, adding the Elvanol powder, and then heating the combined liquids in a single step. If you do this I'd recommend doing it outside and not using a gas burner, since isopropyl alcohol is both flammable and not-good-to-breathe. Similarly you could start with a commercial 1:750 dilution of benzalkonium chloride in place of distilled water, add the alcohol and Elvanol, and heat this... once again, do this outside with good ventilation.)

Optional step - making a pre-cleaning solution

It can be very helpful to pre-clean dirty records with clean water and a detergent/surfactant, to remove heavy buildup of dirt, greasy fingerprints, and so forth. A useful cleaning solution consists of 2 to 2.5 mL of 50% benzalkonium chloride concentrate, diluted into 1 liter of distilled water - this creates a solution similar in strength to commercial 1:750 benzalkonium chlorine skin scrub. Wet the record surface with this solution, brush gently with a soft pad, then wipe off the dirty solution with a clean cotton cloth (or rinse carefully under running water and wipe dry, or use a "record vaccum" cleaner if you have one.

Using the peel formula

To deep-clean a record, place the record on a clean cloth towel. Squirt a ribbon of the "syrup" onto the vinyl surface of the record (don't get it on the label). Gently brush it into all of the grooves, using a soft brush, or (gently) a plastic card. You want enough solution on the record to fill the grooves and form a thin layer above them, but you don't need to lay it on thickly.

Allow the solution to air-dry... it takes anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the temperature and humidity. You can direct air-flow from a table fan towards the record if you wish to speed up the drying.

As the peel solution dries, it will form a film, and you should see it begin to "release" from the record surface as it dries. If you watch the grooves carefully you can actually see a change in appearance as the film pops free from the surface of the vinyl.

Once the film is well-dried, press a strip of masking tape down on the outer edge of the film (along the lead-in groove) and then start peeling the film away from the record. It should release easily, holding itself together but letting go of the record. Discard the used film.

Flip the record over and treat the second side in the same way.

Residual anti-static effects

In my experiments, I found that using Titebond II to peel-clean an LP worked nicely, but left the vinyl with a very strong charge of static electricity. The act of peeling the glue film from the record is accompanied by a very impressive crackling of static. Any loose lint, flakes of the peeled glue, etc. will jump right back to the record surface. Enough charge can be trapped on the surface of the vinyl to create the annoying snap-crackle-pop during playback that we're all familiar with.

The inclusion of the benzalkonium chloride (or Cyastat) in the peel solution completely eliminates this problem. The anti-static surfactant is evenly distributed throughout the peel solution, and most of it is trapped inside the peel as it dries and is removed and discarded. A very small amount of it remains on the record surface (I believe it's probably a single-molecule layer) and holds onto just enough moisture to allow static electricity to drain away across the record. I've probed around the record surface with bits of thread and lint, seeing if they're being attracted by the record surface... nope. There's no hint of static-electricity crackle when I play the records.