Thoughts of static charge on vinyl records…(long and somewhat technical)

Discussion in 'Turntables' started by phantomrebel, Dec 7, 2016.

  1. It's wintertime again and we are seeing many threads on issues with static so I decided to re-post a blog entry I wrote on the subject (with some updates). Most old timers here know this info and have their own methods of dealing with things, but I thought I'd throw my $0.02 in (again) for the sake of discussion:

    Where does static charge come from?

    All matter is made of atoms. Atoms have a nucleus of positive change surrounded by electrons with negative charge. Loosely held electrons can transfer from one material to another, creating materials with opposite net charges. The ability of a material to surrender its electrons or absorb excess electrons is a function of its conductivity. Good conductors like copper have a rigid molecular construction that doesn’t allow its electrons to move about freely. Non-conductive materials (insulators) like plastics and glass ceramics are easily disrupted and take on a charge with minimal friction, heat, or pressure. Some materials tend to give up electrons and become positively charged while others tend to collect electrons and become negatively charged. The comparative tendency of a material to charge positive or negative is represented in the “Triboelectric Series”. If you look up one of these charts, you will see PVC and related polymers like to take on a negative charge. So when a vinyl record becomes in contact with, then is separated from, a material like a paper sleeve, it can become negatively charged. Without getting into physics and Coulomb’s Law, suffice it to say that nature likes to balance charges so positively charged particles like dust are attracted to this negatively charged insulator. Hence, you end up with a dirty record with non-structural audible deficiencies.

    How does one minimize static issues?

    Handling is very important.* The surface area of contact, pressure, and speed of separation affect the amount of charge transferred. Hence, it is recommended that records are removed slowly from sleeves and sleeves of a neutral insulating material (polyethylene or polypropylene but NOT PVC) are used. Sometimes these sleeves contain or are treated with antistatic agents (discussed below).

    One can also increase the charge on a record chemically, by using the wrong cleaning agent (a negatively charged detergent or acid for example). This is why most preservationists (e.g. Library of Congress) recommend non-ionic detergents for cleaning records and frown upon SDS/SLS containing dish soaps which leave negative charges behind. How a record is dried after rinsing can also have an effect. Wiping with a cloth can transfer charge for example.

    Simply putting a charged vinyl record on a grounded turntable will not dissipate the charge. The record (a PVC-PVA copolymer) is non-conductive, which is why it holds a static charge. So one option to reduce static charge is to make the record more conductive. Formulators of vinyl compositions have included various compounds in their mixes to deal with charges. For example, carbon blacks are included that help evenly distribute the charges. Positively charged antistat compounds have also been added to vinyl mixes and become incorporated into the pressed record. While these compounds can help with normal handling, there is a limit to how much charge they can neutralize. Furthermore, negatively charged compounds are produced when the vinyl is subjected to heat, UV light, and air pollution. PVC breakdown is autocatalytic: the products (mainly HCl) promote further breakdown (and negatively charged compounds). The vinyl formulations include scavengers and stabilizers to help with this (without them, hot pressing of vinyl would not be feasible) but again, they can become exhausted over time. Hence, additional measures are often necessary to reduce charge build-up on a vinyl record.

    Water can be conductive so a well humidified room works to help balance charges within a space. It also reduces the risk of electrostatic discharges (ESD) that can damage equipment.**
    One can also rinse their “charged up” records with water, which efficiently dissipates the charge. Unfortunately, the best rinses leave no audible residue so distilled or deionized water is required. As the conductivity of water is directly related to the amount of ions in solution, these types of water preparations have no lasting effect after the record is dried.

    One can wipe the record surface with something conductive. This is how most antistatic brushes work as carbon fiber is electrically conductive. Hair is on the positive side of the Tribolelectric series so some recommend natural (e.g. horsehair) fiber brushes. Some brushes contain radioisotopes (mainly Polonium 210) that emit alpha particles (positively charged helium atoms) that ionize oxygen and nitrogen atoms in air to balance charges. Polonium brushes aren’t cheap and they need to be replaced annually as the isotope decays but in the right hands they can be effective. High voltage ionizers like the handheld Zerostat or desktop emitter devices work similarly through air, but can be difficult to get consistent results in practice or are rather cumbersome. Either way, brushes and ionizers are transient solutions since they only balance charges on the record at that very moment: the method often needs to be repeated after the record contacts and is separated from another surface (e.g, each time it is taken out and played).

    For a longer-lasting, inexpensive solution, one can treat records with an antistat, in a manner similar to what is done in industrial settings (hospitals, electronic parts manufacturers, flammable liquid handling facilities, etc.) for treating hard surfaces. These solutions have been adapted for home use in products like antistatic sprays, fabric softeners, and hair conditioners. The most common ingredients are quaternary ammonium compounds (“quats”). Typically these are in the form of surfactants containing the positively charged ammonium head group with long carbon chain “tails”. Many commercially sold antistatic record cleaners, groove lubricants, and record conditioners consist of these compounds. Antistatic sprays or sheets made for other household purposes are not recommended for use on vinyl as they can contain additional chemicals that can leave residues or damage your records (e.g. oils or solvent propellents). They are useful for treating carpets, furniture, and cables within the listening space however. You can also easily and cheaply make your own quat antistat solution and there are threads describing this (I adapted the use of Hepastat 256, for example). The quats balance charge and like most detergents, even after rinsing, some molecules are left behind on the surface (presumably via hydrophobic interactions with the carbon tail). This molecular layer is thought to trap water molecules and make the surface more conductive. They also reduce friction as the stylus moves across the record (which is why quats are included in “groove lubricants”). Most quat surfactants have antimicrobial properties, which is another useful property in record cleaning. When used properly, the quats do not form a residue or have any audible effect. In fact, according to patent filings, they have been included as antistats in proprietary vinyl formulations for years. They are also frequently incorporated in “anti-static record sleeves”.

    So there really is no excuse to live with excessive static charge on vinyl records. They can be handled, treated, and stored in ways that practically eliminate the issue and allow for a more enjoyable playback experience. Happy, noise free, listening!




    *Side note 1: One can measure surface charge with an electrostatic voltmeter. These are routinely used in the printing industry (I got mine from a friend at Xerox). The highest readings I often observe are from brand new records. Clearly there are few static control measures employed in the production/packaging plants.

    **Side note 2: Most of the electrostatic discharge shocks you feel (like when rubbing across a carpet and touching a doorknob) are in the 3000-5000V range. No wonder ESD is such an issue in industrial settings.
     
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  2. ripblade

    ripblade Super Member

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    A fine primer on the subject, thanks for posting.

    Just one question if you can answer it: How many plays can one expect for an 'average' formulation before the stabilizers become exhausted?

     
  3. Thanks Ripblade, but I have no idea. It really depends on too many factors: the amount and type of stabilizer used, how hot was the vinyl during pressing, how much exposure heat in storage, how much exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors. I'd really like to know the answer to this as well. I'm not sure how playing effects them either. Maybe someone can chime in. That said, I have incubated old records with water, measured the pH after removal, and found acidic conditions on records as young as 5 years.
     
  4. needlestein

    needlestein AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Great post! This is especially important reading for those of us who favor direct drive tables as the major disadvantage to them is that they can behave like a electrostatic generator especially in winter. When I use a certain cartridge and stylus on my P Mount deck, the ticks and pops are so loud that I often wonder if I'm not hearing static sparks jumping between the tip and the groove.

    I use Pfan-Stat in the winter and it really does make difference.
     
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  5. ripblade

    ripblade Super Member

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    I would've assumed a rubber belt would generate more static. Isn't that the principle behind the Van De Graaff generator?

    My understanding is that playing them is principally how the HCL (?) is released, assuming the record is otherwise properly cared for.
     
  6. Interesting- I never thought about the actual turntable drive. With regards to Pfanstat...great stuff, same quat ingredients as Hepastat 256 but much more expensive/oz. (http://www.mcmelectronics.com/content/ProductData/MSDS/21-20715.pdf)
     

     

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  7. I would agree to that, given that it is heat dependent and calculations by experts that show quite a lot of heat generated at the stylus tip during play.
     
  8. needlestein

    needlestein AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I suppose so, but I'd never heard of Hepastat 256 and I'm pretty sure this bottle of Pfan-Stat is going to last me my entire life for the $4.99 I paid for it. I Googled the Hepastat 256 and it doesn't seem like it's easy to get. Can't beat $1 for 32 oz though. Perhaps Pfan-Stat is nothing more than Hepastat 256 in a spray bottle and a significant markup.

    Maybe Hepastat can be found at a cleaning supply store or something. I did find some reference to it over on the VPI forums as a constituent in concoction of some other things like "Tergitol," for record cleaning machine solutions.

    Where do you get yours?
     
  9. Actually, that isn't a bad deal for Pfan-stat so I would stick with it. Your $1 search for Hepastat was for the spray bottle only...not the fluid. Hepastat (available at Staples, Amazon, or quill: http://www.quill.com/brighton-profe...r-handy-mix-dilutable-64-oz/cbs/51805647.html) is about $25 for 64 oz but it is 10x more concentrated than the Pfan product. So about 4 cents/oz if quick calcs are correct.
     
  10. Hajidub

    Hajidub Ready for Winter! Subscriber

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    Live in Colorado, dry as anywhere, and never experienced an issue with static and records. I do have tile floors (no carpet in the house), stock platter mat, and use a neo-brush prior to play.
     
  11. grottyash

    grottyash Super Member

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    French bulldog or pug?
     

     

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  12. Drugolf

    Drugolf AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    i need as much help as possible in this regard. Will look for the Hepstat. Staples huh?
    I have a anti static brush from mapleshade but the wire pulled out of it and they won't help me fix it. Thing wasn't all that cheap either.
    thanks!
     
  13. RE: Staples...I know they used to have it on-line, but recently took it down or at least I couldn't find it (they actually sell it as a sanitizer). Same thing happened at Sears and Amazon (currently unavailable). Maybe too much demand as our member Rushton has been telling everyone all over the web about it! (just kidding buddy:cool:). You can always follow Needlestein's Pfan-stat solution as it is essentially the same thing. Let us know how it turns out.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2016
  14. I'm just West of you in this beautiful state and very dry here as well (the reason we have such great powdery snow!). In fact, experiencing problems in this environment is what got me into this subject decades ago. I'm not familiar with the neo-brush...is this one of those battery operated ion emitters?
     
  15. AvFan

    AvFan AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Thanks for the explanation on static. It helped me understand why after a few spins my clean records that I put into MOFI sleeves started attracting dust, hair, yada yada. I've been successfully using the Triton X-100 recipe ( a few drops of 10:1 Triton and a tablespoon of alcohol in about 16oz of distilled water) and now I'm on the hunt for Hepastat 256. I did a little reading on it and it kills a bunch of nasty bugs (HIV, MRSA, SARS, Norwalk, Hepatitis to name a few) and I bet hospitals and doctors offices use it. I'm going to check a couple of medical supply companies to see if they have it and besides using it to control static on my records I won't mind using it around my house to disinfect when the winter cold/flu season ramps up.

    For my 16oz spray bottle how many drops of undiluted Hepstat should I add to the Triton recipe?
     
  16. It's called Hepastat 256 because that is the recommended concentration (256x "strength") so you do a 1:256 dilution or one ounce per 2 gallons for a normal working solution). This is for cleaning and disinfecting and I think is overkill for record use so I have been recommending 1:500 for hand or RCM washing and 1:1000 for ultrasonic bath record washing solutions. The Hepastat also contains a small amount of non-ionic detergent so you can use it by itself for cleaning, or add to your Triton mix. It is a very effective antimicrobial so I recommend at least using the Hepastat for treating cleaning brushes, tanks, etc. so they don't mold up. It is especially well-suited for RCMs like the VPI's where fluid is stored in a tank as those tanks can harbor microbes (they tend to get warmed from the vacuum motor during use and create a nice growing environment!). Fungi like Aureobasidium pullulans can utilize the vinyl disc as it's sole carbon source so it's good to have this additional disinfectant property even though the objective was for an antistat. You will have a lifetime supply after you buy a gallon bottle of the Hepastat (enough for 500-1000 gallons) so it's good to share or use around the house (the concentrate can be stored at room temp indefinitely). I have used it effectively to wipe down listening spaces, even my headphones, and it removed grime and eliminated static as advertised.
    I should mention that companies like 3M (http://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/60040O/3mtm-quat-disinfectant-cleaner-concentrate-5l-and-5h.pdf), ZEP, and Chlorox (https://www.cloroxprofessional.com/...-quaternary-disinfectant-cleaner/at-a-glance/) also make quat mix solutions for commercial cleaning, I just never have tried or investigated them for record use. Also, these cleaners should not be applied with cotton rags as cotton is negatively charged so the quats will stick to them instead of acting on the surface.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
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  17. Hajidub

    Hajidub Ready for Winter! Subscriber

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    No just an off brand anti-static brush.
     
  18. AvFan

    AvFan AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I keep my 10:1 Triton mix in the refrigerator so it doesn't grow mold but I suspect I can add Hepastat to my 10:1 and keep it at room temperature. I'll have to figure out how much to add to get to a final concentration of 1:500 but it won't be much. Speaking of sharing, ETLS is doing that for a nominal cost (probably the cost of shipping and a small bottle) via Bartertown. I'll have two ounces of Hepastat 256 that should last me, well, for as long as I can clean records.

    FYI, I noted clorox and ZEP sell quat cleaner/disinfectant in a ready to apply spray bottle. I'll keep my eye out for it as I still think I'd like to use the stuff around the house.
     
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  19. Vinylmasters

    Vinylmasters Super Member

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    I just stick used dryer sheets under the platter mat. Even with a DD table and felt mat I have no static issues (and that's with forced air heat!).
     
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  20. What brand do you find most effective? I ask because they vary in composition and active ingredient. Some use quats while others use reagents ("softeners") that would be contrary to static control (e.g. Octadecanoic Acid). In any event, I have read many reports of this working, but cannot understand it unless the record has direct contact with the sheet (maybe the mat was charged?).
     

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