How to Clean Vintage Stereo Equipment

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How to Clean Vintage Stereo Equipment

Unfortunately, old and neglected components are often found in pretty rough shape, which means you’ll need to learn how to clean vintage stereo equipment before use. The steps below will walk you through cleaning the interior of any audio component using a basic contact cleaner.

1 Purchase a bottle of contact cleaner which is labeled as “safe to use on plastics.”

Good choice is CX-80

Avoid WD-40 (a renowned metal contact cleaner not always necessarily safe on all plastic parts)

This is extremely important. Contact cleaner is a spray or liquid product that is designed to dissolve corrosion on metal electronic parts, typically the main cause of scratchy and popping sounds while moving volume controls or intermittent rotary or push-button switches (for speaker selections, modes, source) headphone or microphone jacks, etc. While all contact cleaners work on metal-only parts, most will actually destroy plastics and safe lubricants found inside and outside of almost every volume control potentiometer and switch.

Choosing a contact cleaner which will restore and not harm your equipment is always a better choice than using a low-cost contact cleaner, as replacing your original part once the hidden internal plastics cracked or melted, or the metal shaft seized, are often impossible and tedious at best, so you are better to not attempt to clean with a questionable product and instead live with the unit as it is until you can obtain a suitable contact cleaner which will not harm your precious treasure. You can usually purchase a safe bottle at a decent electronics store or over the internet though it is important to be certain shipping of the product is approved by the shipping service as many contact cleaners are flammable and sometimes cannot be shipped certain methods or to certain locations.

2 Look for a brand that offers quick-drying, no-residue application, as you won’t be able to wipe many of the internal components dry.

CAIG DeoxIt is a popular brand of contact cleaner and they have “D5” specifically for cleaning vintage stereo equipment correctly without harming the plastic components. They are an industry leader in contact cleaners for audiophiles and offer product support and product suggestions for specific applications. “D5” is an industry standard in the broadcast world and safely removes oxidation from the metals while avoiding harm to the internal plastic pieces and lubricants that most audio potentiometers contain.

3 Spray compressed air throughout the unit’s interior if needed.

If the interior components look particularly dusty, you can clear away the dust using a spray can of compressed air. Do not attempt to wipe dust away using a cloth, as a clumsy hand can easily dislodge or damage delicate electronic components, or scratch a shiny plastic faceplate.

4 Spray contact cleaner on parts to be cleaned sparingly.

Contact cleaner can be used to remove corrosion or stubborn dirt from many of the stereo component’s internal parts, but typically you will want to clean contacts that cause problems beyond looks. Spray a fine, even coat of the contact cleaner on any component that is believed to be problematic due to oxidation, applying a thicker coat in areas that display significant corrosion. Spray jacks, plugs, any switches or removable connectors that are not soldered, and certainly battery contacts if any as these cause the most problems and may even require additional friction to clean or replacement if eaten away by alkaline battery acid.

The contact cleaner may air dry in a few hours; no wiping is typically necessary, but… avoid spray on things you don’t want affected that should not be sprayed, such as rubberized belts, friction wheels, pulleys, motor shafts, meter displays, light bulbs, audio or video heads, window or dial faces. Good luck cleaning any of those off if they get a mist on them. Be certain to not soak high voltage power switches as they may at some point ignite so please don’t flood your high voltage power switches with contact cleaners, they almost never need to be cleaned and are safer to replace if they would.

5 Clean the potentiometers with contact cleaner.

The pots, or knobs, are the components most likely to display corrosion. To clean them, find the small hole in the back assembly of the pot or typically larger opening where the pins are soldered to the board. Spray sparingly an amount of contact cleaner into the hole or into the openings of which there are typically two separate openings for stereo potentiometers, and then work the knobs back and forth frequently for about a minute. This will spread the contact cleaner throughout the inside of the pot.

6 Allow the unit to air out for several hours.

After applying contact cleaner to any part of your vintage stereo equipment, let the unit sit with the case off for a few hours. This helps ensure that all the contact cleaner has dried.

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