Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tip for Restoring White Record Covers

Are some of your favorite white LP covers looking shabby and dull?

You've tried washing them. You've tried bleaching them. You've tried throwing things at them. You have even tried putting them in a hermetically sealed, gold plated energy pyramid suspended betwixt a triumvirate of old-growth sacred cedar trees on the eve of a total lunar eclipse—all to no avail!

Are you at your wits' end with nowhere to turn? Have you been told the situation is hopeless? Take heart, friends, you are not alone. Even the finest albums from the most well-kept collections can end up severely blighted in time. I am here to tell you help is just around the corner. No longer do you need to live with the frustration and woe of black ring marks, marring, and blotchy discoloration.

 Even the severest cases of ring-around-the-cover are speedily cured!
Read on and you will see that a quick, easy, and cheap solution is well within reach. Also be sure to check out the included video where you will witness two classic album covers regain the luster of yesteryear before your very eyes.

Rubbing Off and Shining On
As you've probably already gathered from the photo below, our great white record cover revitalizer is simply a common pencil or pen eraser.

Eraser used on the Wish You Were Here cover
Now, there are many types and brands of erasers to try. Some are more abrasive than others and also will be more or less effective on different surfaces. So far, I've worked with three erasers: the classic pink/red pencil eraser we are all familiar with, a Papermate brand ink/pencil combo eraser, and a "kneadable rubber eraser" made by Prang. Ideally, you would assemble an arsenal of different ones and experiment on some records borrowed from a friend before attempting to restore your own prized covers. Just kidding about that last part. The great thing about thrift store records is, they are so inexpensive, you don't have to worry so much about damaging them and you can always pick up a few you don't care about at all if you just need a guinea pig for cleaning experiments.

White, White, White is the Color of Our Cover
With very little preparation or planning, I grabbed two very popular, very common, and in this case, very shabby looking records: Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here and The Beatles' self-titled "White Album" and (rather haphazardly) went right to town on them with two of the erasers (see video).

Some observations and findings:
The Papermate eraser worked exceptionally well on the Pink Floyd cover, but had trouble gripping the surface of the Beatles jacket (which has a distinctly different sort of glossy surface). For that cover, the Prang rubber eraser did the trick.

I noticed very fine, light scuff marks were left on the Pink Floyd cover by the Papermate eraser. The scuffing is not very noticeable unless you are really looking for it and holding the cover at an angle under a light. I'd say it's not a bad tradeoff when you recall how the cover looked before the eraser was used on it. I think both the pencil and ink sides of the eraser worked fine, but I might have noticed the ink side working a little better (it may have been more abrasive too?)

Before and after shots of Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here cover

I've since tested the Prang kneadable rubber eraser on the back of the Pink Floyd cover and could not detect any scuff marks from it. I also tried it on a non-gloss white cover (Aerosmith's Draw the Line) and it proved both effective and non-damaging. I would say that the kneadable rubber eraser was maybe all-around best, as it seems to be the least abrasive/damaging while still being effective on a variety of surfaces. The worst thing about it was its tendency to crumble and shed relatively large bits of itself. The standard pink/red pencil eraser was the worst performer. It required some extra rubbing and pressure for it to work, and at the same time, I think it could wear away more of the cover's surface in an uneven, damaging manner. It was more difficult to control the action and outcome with that one.

"Kneadable rubber eraser" at top
For this demonstration, I just gathered some erasers I already had around, but if I were looking to buy another one expressly for cleaning covers, I think this Sanford Magic Rub Non-Abrasive Vinyl Eraser might be a good prospect. My Prang rubber eraser is about 20 years old, but it looks like the same kind is still available. Update: I have now also tested a Sanford Design Artgum eraser and while it was non-damaging, as described, it also did not really work so well for this purpose.

You'll generally want to stay on the white background and avoid rubbing over—and consequentially erasing—any printed areas of a cover. But with a light and careful enough touch, using the right eraser, it may be possible in some cases to also safely reduce or remove some marks without causing great harm to the underlying artwork. Just be very careful and choose your battles wisely. Once that ink is erased, it's gone forever.

For the final buff & shine, I just used a solution of white vinegar and water, wiped off with a paper towel. Some might tell you to never apply liquid directly onto a cover, and that may not be bad advice, but spraying a mild cleaning solution (typically in a fine mist) and immediately wiping dry has not caused me any trouble. Use extra caution when dealing with older non-glossy covers.

This thrift store sourced 1968 pressing of The Beatles' "White Album" will
remain in the "poor" grading category due to the torn section along the bottom,
but it now shines a whole lot brighter and whiter after getting the eraser treatment