[Phono-L] (Fwd) Cleaning Edison Wax Cylinders

Clint cspaar
Fri Nov 7 09:29:57 PST 2003

I was able to track down Geoff recently, and I'm sharing this 
information he sent me with the list ... maybe helpful ... etc.

This was his reponse to my question if there was any other 
commercially available detergent solution that could be used to clean 
Wax cylinders.


------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Wed, 5 Nov 2003 17:28:58 -0700 (MST)
Subject:        	Cleaning Edison Wax Cylinders
From:           	gibrown at cia-g.com
To:             	cspaar at prexar.com

Dear Clint:

There is a good reason that I recommend Labtone (and only Labtone) 
cleaning wax cylinders.  I tested a number of lab detergents and
consumer-type cleaning agents for cleaning wax cylinders in 
for transcribing the 3000 cylinder collection at the University of
California P.A. Hearst Museum (then called the Lowie Museum)at 
I was dealing with a mixed collection of commercially cut cylinders 
had been shaved and reused (of many different wax compositions),
Dictaphone cylinders of various types, Ediphone cylinders, etc.  
the things I wished to remove by cleaning were mold residue, all 
kinds of
unidentified grunge, and compounds leeched/exuded out of the wax over

The requirements were simple; the cleaning process had to be:  low-
(we had little equipment or money), simple to accomplish, without
critical operations, thorough and effective so that all the 
were removed, and leave no chemical or physical residue.  Labtone, 
formulated to remove organic residues from glassware and rinse clean, 
the job very well.  Other lab detergents did not remove the 
as thoroughly, and/or left some sort of residue (usually a
wetting-agent).  Consumer-type detergents contain a whole host of
chemical agents intended to be residual, such as wetting agents, 
or color enhancers, glycols, etc.  Photo-Flo, a wetting agent used 
photographic processing, did not clean very well and also is intended 
remain on the surface.

I used Labtone solutions (about 1%) to clean 3000+ cylinders at 
and the same process was used by the Library of Congress Folk Life
Project to clean their 9000+ cylinders, and Indiana University 
of Recorded Sound used it to clean 7000+ cylinders.  Both these
collections also borrowed and used the same transcription deck I had
built and used to transcribe the collection at Berkeley.  A similar
project in Ireland specified the same cleaning process, although it 
have used non-contact transcription technology; unfortunately, it was 

As far as I am aware, there has not been any cleaning agent suggested 
a replacement for Labtone since I first used it in the 1970's.  I and
others have also used it for a wide variety of disks, including 
aluminum, glass, Bakelite, and others (but not shellac, which can be
sensitive to water).  I still use it for CD's.

The procedure is quite simple:
    1.  Mix up a tepid solution of Labtone in purified water.  Add 
dissolve the Labtone until the solution feels slippery.
    2.  Dip the cylinder into the solution to wet it (hold it with 
fingers in the mandrel hole, but don't let it go).
    3.  Dip a piece of polyester velveteen (about 3x6") into the 
to become saturated.
    4.  Lift the cylinder above the solution and gently drag the
velveteen around it so that the pile of the fabric gently "scrubs"
the grooves.  The idea is to let the weight of the saturated fabric
do the physical cleaning -- do not press or rub the cylinder with the
    5.  Dip the cylinder and examine to see if it appears clean.  You 
repeat the cleaning with velveteen as may be necessary.
    6.  Rinse the cylinder thoroughly in clear tepid running tap 
    7.  Final rinse in a container of purified water or pour purified
water over the cylinder to remove any residue from the tap water.
    8.  Blot (not wipe) the exterior of the cylinder dry with a soft
lint-free cloth (old handkerchiefs work well) or high-quality soft
paper towel.  The cylinder will not be wet after rinsing, but will
have some water droplets on it.
    9.  Stand the cylinder on-end on several layers of paper towel to 
the interior air-dry.

You can obtain Labtone only from VWR, although it is possible that 
independent lab suppliers can order from them for you.  Their website 
is <www.VWR.com>.  Search on "Labtone".  The smallest size is 8 lbs,
#21850-027, @ $36.15 plus shipping and handling.

This will be relatively expensive, but it really is the best 
for the use.  As I indicated, Labtone is great for vinyl records and
CD's, as well, and you can use it in your kitchen, perhaps for 
glassware, also!!!  I use it regularly for cleaning eyeglasses, as 
as it removes grease but leaves no streaks, halos, or smudges on 

Best of luck.  Feel free to share this message with others who have
common interests.

Geoff Brown

More information about the Phono-L mailing list