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Converting LPs to Digital: How to Clean LPs
Arts and Media
When you convert you LPs to a digital format, then your audio will only be as clean as your vinyl. Below is a compiliation of ideas and techniques used to insure clean vinyl. You have several options available, from using the D4 method to using sophisticated LP cleaning machines.
Cleaning LP Records
Proprietry cleaning fluids
Discwasher IV is what the Library of Congress recommends.
First cleaning liquid made by Nitty Gritty followed by Disc Doctor.
D4 – Previuously available from Tower Records
Parastic fluid for the round Parastatic roller
QED Record clean (small spray can)
LAST Record preservative
"Genie-a-Bottle" from Acoustic Sounds, Salinas Kansas... Use 2 drops Genie (NOT a household cleanser, but an excellent product mfg specifically for LPs) to 40 oz of a stock solution of 25% ANALYTICAL GRADE Isopropanol and 75% distilled water. Trust me, this is the best and I've tried ' em all... I also clean hundreds of LPs per month and know the difference! Dbk
DIY cleaning fluids
A generally accepted recipe based on suggestions by Laura Dearborn and others is:
- 3 parts distilled water (triple distilled, de-ionized)
- 1 part Isopropyl alcohol, 70% commonly available but 91% lab grade preferred.
- A few drops of photographic wetting agent – if possible Triton X-100, Triton X-110 or Triton X-115 or Monolan 2000, not Kodak Photoflo which is ‘reputed’ to leave a residue (though used by some). Recommended is 12 drops per gallon or 2-3 drops per litre, though some use up to 8 drops per litre. If you add too much, the fluid gets sudsy on the record.
Replace the wetting agent with washing up liquid or windscreen wash fluid (reputedly pure) or industrial glass cleaner e.g Micro (a laboratory-glassware cleaner) or Liquinox
‘’Lately, I've been using straight windshield washer fluid. It's the only mixture I've tried that leaves no static film or visible residue on glass. It definitely cleans’’.
‘’The solution I used to use consists of a quart of distilled water, a pint of 99% isopropanol (from Safeway) and 3 drops of Dawn dishwashing detergent’’. .
‘’Photographic "wetting agent" is soap. I have cleaned and repaired Navy reconnaissance cameras with it. Ivory dishwashing detergent was the usual and natural choice for this as it is the mildest out there. A little Ivory and a lot of distilled H2O will do many good things for you. The Navy spent big bucks on this solution. Then a tech rep spilled the beans and we made our own’’
Use other alcohol types. This issue is controversial. Examples proposed include Denatured alcohol (90% ethyl, 9.5% methyl, .5% pyridine) BUT this is a carcinogen, and ethanol..
After washing the record with this cleaning fluid, rinse with pure distilled water to remove any residue.
After cleaning, dry the record in any of the following ways:
- Use a soft cotton cloth
- Leave to dry in air
- Put in a clean dish rack and dry vertically
- Hang vertically using something through the center hole
- Put it on a clean mat with rubber fingers sticking up, so liquid runs off
- Remove liquid with a vacuum cleaning machine.
- ??? Spin on a high speed power drill?? (mythology)
The Kitchen Sink method
Supplied by Peter Larsen
Disc cleaning brushes, preferably those with a lot of hairs.
Allergy safe discwashing liquid
Moderately warm water
Clean and preferably many times used and washed towels
Vinegar, as chemically clean as possible
1) wash LP's in moderately warm water with a few drops of discwashing liquid
2) rinse under lukewarm tap
3) dry with first towel
4) rinse in slightly acidic water (this is vital! - prevents calcium stains and "pearls off of the surface")
5) dry with second towel
6) rinse with alcohol and a second disc-brush, the purpose of this is not to remove dirt, the record should be clean by now, but to remove water!
7) dry with third towel
8) let record dry completely before returning it to its sleeve
- Handle records carefully to avoid fingerprints
- Don’t put them on dusty surfaces
- Keep your turntable mat clean by washing it. If you have a felt mat vacuum it instead.
- Keep the record inner sleeves clean
- Use antistatic sleeves if possible
- Use a dust cover on the turntable to keep dust off. Some leave this up while playing because it can be microphonic, others find this is not a problem – depends on the unit.
Even if the surface of a record appears dust free to the naked eye, dust may have penetrated into the bottom of the grooves. To remove deeper dust, the usual method is a carbon fibre brush, which have been available from various sources (Decca etc.)
An effective roller cleaner is – or was - the Rolling Cleaner by Nagaoka, where the roller surface is sticky and picks up the dust from the disc’s surface. The roller part is washed to clean it.
More effective is - or was – a gunge-like substance called Discofol which is spread on the LP surface, allowed to dry into a rubbery film and then peeled off. There is no obvious source for this. The same principle is used for Camera lens cleaners, though these are expensive (and untried so far on LPs). Reputedly Old Colony Sound Labs used to sell a kit which provides the necessary polymer - you mix it with distilled water and a bit of glycerine (I believe…) to make the solution.
Disc Cleaning Machines
‘’Only the vacuum-type systems like the Nitty-Gritty or the VPI really get to the bottom of the groove’’
VPI HW-17 record cleaning machine
It works exactly like a record player. You place the record on the platter and clamp it down just like any VPI turntable. Then you squeeze some cleaning fluid form a bottle onto the rotating record/platter, then apply a brush. You just hold down on the brush, the record rotates beneath it. You do this to your hearts delight, then you swing over a sping loaded vacuum "Tonearm" assembly which spans the record and flip on the vacuum switch. The suction actually lowers the mechanism to the record and, again, the record rotates underneith it. All water and debris is swept up though a slot running the length of this arm.
‘’Extremely well made – a class act’’
‘’Michael Fremer (Stereophile) gave the tip to use a spare clean mat on top of your VPI platter when cleaning the first side and remove it when cleaning the second side. That way your clean vinyl always sits on a clean surface’’
Nitty Gritty 1.5 or 2.5 Fi record-cleaning machine
’’I have a Nitty Gritty 1.5, which does offer a couple things I like... when not in use it's compact and it does all of the work. You simply apply the cleaning solution to the pads at the cleaning slot... let the record rotate for a while... then flip the switch to the rotate/vacuum position. I have not used the VPI, but I recommend buying the excellent VPI brush even if you go for the Nitty Gritty. There is even a storage slot for the VPI brush!
‘’I personally purchased a Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi and I am very happy with the results. You do need to make sure the roller that turns the LP is at the proper height as the bristles needs to be able to brush the groves
but if there is too much pressure the bristles will flatten and not clean within the groves’’
‘’The reason that Nitty Gritty does not use a full size platter is that IF you have a dirty record and you set it on the platter of a VPI and clean from the top as you do, the platter is no contaminated and has to be
cleaned before flipping the record to clean side two. A secondary reason is that Nitty Gritty wanted to pull the dirt and fluid off from the bottom using a slot that is direct coupled to the vacuum, rather than an arm tube that works from above...against gravity. I use care with manual scrubbing. I see guys talking about "using a stiff brush with lots of pressure". I ask myself if a hard brush would scratch’’.
Keith Monks record cleaning machine
- These products have all received good reviews in "Stereophile" magazine and others
(Discwasher system - not comparable to the above machines)
Cleaning procedure using a machine (e.g.VPI)
1) Clamp the dry album in place and keep the vacuum off. Turn on the motor for rotation only.
2) Apply with a squirt bottle several squirts of First cleaning liquid made by Nitty Gritty (or equivalent). Spread this liquid around evenly applying moderate pressure with a hand held brush that is only used with this liquid. With a second brush (also hand held) allow the rotation of the platter to spin the album while holding the brush motionless in an absorbing position. Once the album has rotated twice, remove the brush and let the album dry by itself (this will occur rapidly with the above mentioned fluid). You have yet to turn on the vacuum. The album is still spinning.
3) Apply several squirts of the following disc cleaner . . . Disc Doctor. Unfortunately, there is no substitute. This stuff works miracles. Brush it aound with your regular brush (not one of the previous two) and
watch it foam up somewhat. It has a very good wetting agent which will get into all the gooves.
4) Now turn on the Vacuum and whoooosh . . . it's gone.
5) Repeat step 3 TWO (2) more times with De-Ionized water and vacuum it away each time. Don't forget to brush.
You may notice a small buildup on the stylus after doing this, but it will occur only once and not be harmful. You will notice a big improvement. The Disc Doctor formula can be diluted to your needs, but be sure to only use de-ionized water. Technique supplied by Carmen Margiatto
mechanical cleaning utensils required but not
DIY record cleaning machine using a wet vacuum cleaner.
Frank Gales: This is the description of a record cleaning machine I built. It uses an industrial wet vacuum cleaner with 1000W to suck the cleaning fluid from the record. The fluid is applied by swinging a tube over the record and pumping with a manual pump. The platter is rotated manually and a normal paint brush can be used to get the dirt out of the grooves. I use a professional brush from a Moth record cleaning machine. After that the sucking tube is swinged onto the record (please don't forget to glue the velvet onto the tube, or the first record you cleaned is cleaned to death) and the vacuum cleaner is switched on. One or two spins should be enough to suck all the fluid with the dirt away. The plinth is a box which is about 10cm high. I used MDF because it is good if the whole thing is rather heavy, so that the machine does not move while vacuuming. The vacuum is rather high as the air slit is very small compared to a cleaning tube of a vacuum cleaner. Frank Gales Germany
DIY record cleaner plans are available from Bruce Kinch of Primyl Vinyl. He should have the back issue with the relevant article. ‘’Air post to the UK is about $1.80. On overseas requests we have to ask that postage be prepaid-usually people send $2 in US cash. Regards, Bruce
Bruce C. Kinch Editor Primyl Vinyl The Audiophile Record Collectors Newsletter’’
The Wet Vacuum Cleaner method
Put the record on the kitchen table after washing, on your first clean towel. So far you have added iquid that will 'carry' the dirt
Then remove the liquid, that is what washing is all about. When you reach the last stage, of washing off the acidic water with alcohol (alcohol dissolves water, just as water dissolves alcohol ... ) then it is vital to dry off as much as the alcohol as possible, because the point of it all is *not* to let [whatever] liquid evaporate from the disc surface and thus leave contaminants behind.
Then use a wet vacuum cleaner, with a piece of rubber tubing connected up to the usual metal tube. Glue a stiff brush on :the end of the rubber tube. Use brush in a rotary fashion round grooves to clean record. Advantage - the vacuum cleaner also does your carpet! And is less expensive than a machine, which doesn't.
Q: Is a water+washing up liquid bath better than an Isopropyl+distilled water one?
A: Most dirt is more likely to dissolve or at least be carried away in water+washing up liquid than in alcohol. If a washing liquid evaporates, then it leaves the dirt and grime it dissolved or carried behind, right - that is why the approach is water+""soap"" to wash dirt away, water+very_weak_acid to wash water + ""soap"" away, and then alcohol to wash water+very_weak_acid away.
Use standard record cleaning brushes, either the nylon a godzillion hair brush, I think it was from Parostatik - with nylon hairs that end in a single molecule or similar carbon fiber brushes. Lots of other record brushes existed back in the old days. Try vinyl sales. The problem with cleaning records is that the groove bottom and undulations are very fine, which is the reasoning for the outlined manual washing concept as well as for the Keith Monks machine: leave the problem of getting there to the liquid, and trust it to carry the grime away, and then remove the liquid so that it does not by evaporating leave residue. That way you avoid damage by brushes. If you can't find brushes, perhaps you can find finely wowen velvet ...? (Peter Larsen)
The VPI nylon brush seems to dig down deeper into the groove than felt brushes – some recommend it, others don’t.
The Hunt brush is good
Playing records 'wet'.
a) DON'T! - during playback the stylus and groove does in fact heat up a bit, and this is essential for the vinyl to be able to flex when the stylus can't really follow the groove. IF you cool the pickup by using the Lencoclean wet play back device, then mistracking (it always happens, cutting heads always can and will cut more than any pickup can track on playback) will lead to a chipping type damage of the groove wall that is irreversible instead of the usual recoverable bending.
b) As someone pointed out, there is a train of thought that wet playing damages the groove. I have a study done about 20 years ago that used microphotography to study groove damage, and wet playing didn't have any significant effect on wear. What it can sometimes do is cause plasticisers etc in the vinyl to leach to the surface and dry unevenly, causing a *slight* increase in the general surface noise. If this happens, you'll have to play the disc wet from then on. (Don Hills NZ)
Library of Congress maintains a vast collection of LPs. Archived vinyl must be rotated a quarter-turn periodically so that the vinyl doesn't warp and deform due to gravity. The Libarary of Congress does this every few years or so for each of their LPs.
Vinyl being typical of hydrocarbon-based plastics, requires the addition of a plasticizer to achieve its plasticity. These plasticizers (dioctyl pthalate being one example) are volatile enough that it is a concern over the long term, especially with the increase in airborn pollutants. Extreme cases of loss of plasticizer result in your dashboard cracking after several years: the new car smell is, in fact, the smell of the volatile plasticizers slowly evaporating. Under controlled conditions, the loss of plasticizer and the resulting embrittlement of vinyl LPs can be controlled: it cannot be eliminated. ALL media deteriorate. The idiocy of "perfect sound forever" invented by a digital marketing hack is absurd as claiming that analog media last forever with no deterioration. The difference is that it is absolutely impossible to make an exact copy of an analog source to forego the effects of deterioration. On the other hand, it is a trivial exercise with digital media: you can make, and you can also verify, that exact copies are being made.
Dick Pierce - Professional Audio Development
My experience with old mono LP's is that with some (the earliest and some labels only) you'll need a genuine 1 mil LP stylus to avoid the stylus touching the groove bottom. To my experience with most mono LP's the best choice is an elliptical shape. Stanton has the best selection of styli for the early LPs and 78 rpm disks. I have had bad experience with special shapes on mono LPs (I can't recall how the shape was called, the cartridge was Glantz). Probably the tip of the stylus was touching the groove bottom. My preferred stylus for all old or worn LPs, mono or stereo, is Stanton D5100EL for the 500 series of cartridges at 3 grams tracking force. For good condition stereo LPs use whatever your hifi budget allows. Heikki Kuisma
Denatured alcohol is a carcinogen and probably not the greatest thing to have in your living room.
FWIW, I have been doing a subjective comparison between Nitty Gritty and Disc Doctor which states that it is made from substances not harmful to vinyl. My subjective trials indicate to me that the Disc Doctor stuff leaves the records sounding slightly brighter than the NG. The Disc Doctor stuff produces more of a soapy cleaner than does the Nitty Gritty. The Disc Doctor stuff is a two step process as opposed to one for NG. First step clean, second step wash. It seems that the vinyl has a slightly greater sheen with DD as opposed to NG.
I've used the DD system for a while (like 1.5 years now), both with and without a record vacuum cleaner (Audio Advisor's Record Doctor 2 which is the same as the lowest end Nitty Gritty). The vacuum assisted cleaning is better. NO ticks and pops at all, amazing.
Dust itself is not the cause of ticks and pops. It's what's in the grooves, which you cannot see with the naked eye that causes them. Needless to say, it's much more likely that a dusty record has stuff in the grooves than a cleaned record. The carbon fiber brushes work by getting the very thin fibers INSIDE the grooves thus pulling away lots of the dust that do cause ticks and pops. If you want to thoroughly clean your records you need a vacuum cleaning machine, there's no way around it (and believe me, I've tried). Miguel
I've also used a Record Doctor and found the same effects as the Disk Doctor--cleaner sound, same surface noise. In fact, I think DD might work a little better. In my experience ticks and pops are caused by noisy vinyl. I agree. When I look at noisy records under a bright, point-source light (fluorescent is bad for this, as is the sun except at certain times of the day) I see little scratches. The second source of ticks is detritus stuck in the grooves, which can usually be removed with your fingernail, never with a carbon fiber brush, and not usually with a wet cleaning. In a very old Stereophile (possibly V. 3 or so) they mention removing such detritus with a razor blade.
Anecdotal experiences: -
A) used records in plastic lined inner sleeves have much less surface noise than used records in paper sleeves, which often look unplayed (or may even be still sealed) but have some surface noise.
B) Since I started using Discwasher sleeves, my records don't acquire any surface noise, whereas records I bought 4 years ago and played only a few times have some surface noise (though I've always handled my records very carefully)
2.50 liters IPA
0.70 liter acetone
2.00 liters distilled water
0,05 liter Berol IMP
I do not know what Berol IMP is, but I use a few drops of dishwasher detergent and it works fine. Nitty Gritty claims that the acetone is necessary to dissolve the special film that was applied in the record pressing process. I have used this solution for years and it works fine in my Nitty Gritty record-cleaner.
‘’13.3% acetone by volume is a lot considering it melts vinyl. Fortunately, it evaporates quickly’’.
If you really care for your records, don't use photoflow wettig agent. It leaves a very thin film that clogs your stylus. Get some industry wetting agent that is guaranteed not to leave any residue. Use very very little, one or two drops are enough for one litre. As for the mixture: I use 70% aqua bidest and 30% of 96 IPA. You can vary between 60:40 and 80:20, it doesn't really matter. The more IPA you use, the faster it will evaporate and not stay on your record long enough to really clean it.
20+ years ago my grade 11 chemistry teacher and I decided to try and find out what DiscWasher record cleaning fluid was made of. We found it was made of distilled water and a little Ivory brand dish detergent. So since then I've been using a mix of 1 litre of distilled water and 5 drops of Ivory. Works great and I can't see any problems on records I used it on 20 years ago. For really grungy yard sale finds I use more Ivory (10-15 drops) and rinse well.
When you play an LP "dry", the friction between the diamond stylus and the vinyl (and the pressure - tons per square inch!) is so high that a very thin layer of the vinyl actually melts. This melting acts to lubricate the contact point.
When you play an LP "wet", the water carries the heat away from the diamond/vinyl contact point (or contact line, for Shibata and similar styli), and the vinyl doesn't develop a melted layer along the contact. As a result, the vinyl is subjected to a higher degree of stress due to the high pressure of the contact, and the vinyl surface can develop stress fractures and tearing, and its condition will deteriorate more rapidly than would be true in a "dry playing" environment.
I use a HUNT EDA Mk.6 brush for general cleaning and another for cleaning off the mould release agent grease which is done with HUNT P2 fluid.
Tap water in Kent in particular is full of Carbonate and if you clean with tap water you will leave large lumps of chalk in the bottom of your grooves. I tried to clean records in the way you suggest when I lived in Kent, they were unplayable after. Also, you can't get the detergent out of the grooves either, it clings to the surface of the vinyl like mad. If you must do this, clean with some warm distilled water and very little detergent (certainly not Fairy Excel or the likes). Then rinse in surgical spirit. Better, use a Keith Monks and suck the alcohol and dirt out. Works a treat.
I use Goldring Magic to clean the black beasties. It's very easy to use and I've rigged together my own little record cleaning machine using an old turntable (which I've rigged to run backwards - very important) and a Hunt brush. Works very well. We sniffed the stuff and reckoned it was chloroform. Anyway, another chap who uses solvents here for de-greasing space qualified surfaces has a sniff, and immeadiately pronounced it as tri-chloroethane (C2H3Cl3). He reckoned it is similar to cloroform but that trichloroethane has a "very distinctive smell" and he'd spot it at 100 paces. NMcB
Fluids: I use a mixture of 80% demineralized water, 20 % 2-propanol (or ethanol) and a little trace of liquinox (a detergent that does not leave a netting, like most others; available at your local university :-). The detergent is necessary for a better `evaporation' of the fluid (changes the hydrophobicity of the fluid, so most of the fluid runs to the bottom of the record if you hold it vertically.) Evaporation time ~ 15 min. % of water/propanol may change within broad limits; Even 50/50 will do, but is more expensive. Anyway, don't buy expensive bottles of prefab stuff.)
Brushing is a bad idea while the MRA (mould release agent) is still there. It has to be said that most people do not treat their records with the Hunt or Last stuff which does remove MRA. The key to truly clean vinyl is the removal of the mold-release agent left in the grooves after an LP is pressed, and that the only suitable solvent is ethanol purer than 96%. He (Rudolph) rubbed this into the grooves with a standard applicator, then vacuumed it with a VPI record-cleaning machine. He then applied a further refinement in the form of just a couple of drops of a lubricant called "Squalene." This tiny quantity of oil apparently spreads itself throughout the groove during an LP's first few plays." P Messenger
First it was Johnathan Scull telling us to add Tilex to the solution, which can and will strip Varathane. Tough stuff. Now it's Squalene which is known to leave a residue behind. What's next?
If it's for a record cleaning machine just mix 2 parts distilled water with 1 part grain alcohol. I recommend getting a product called Everclear at the liquor store. It's a fairly cheap source for grain alcohol and it will get some looks if your friends see the partly used bottle. Good listening. Fred AudioNow!
Well, if you have any lacquer (did I spell that right?) discs you'll discover why alcohol is not advisable. You'll get purple cleaning fluid and a destroyed disc. I presume it is safe for regular records, but there were some other materials used over the years that can't be safely cleaned with alcohol. I seem to recall RCA Dynaflex as one of them. Also, note that many alcohol products have other solvents added to make them un-drinkable, and those solvents may not be safe for records.
Taking a record that is not particularly dear, ideally a new one that will probably get traded, look at the run-out groove area, where there is significant smooth vinyl record surface area without a groove cut into it. Look at this area when under the right kind of lighting to see the character of the surface. Even the finest scratches or scores should be visible to the eye if any are there. Do a representative scrubbing routine with the brush in question on this area, dry, and look at the run out area under the good lighting again. If the brush is hard enough, fine scratch marks can be seen on the vinyl. The result can serve as a first approximation of the brush's appropriateness for the application.
I use an electric toothbrush which spins one way (not back and forth), and has a very (very) soft and fine fibers. A dry cleaning also works. I clean it while the platter is spinning, and very gently press the electric brush over the surface. However, the record becomes static and needs to be grounded.
I was at the drug store, and I noticed something that would make a good record cleaning brush. It was a brush that was intended for cleaning under your finger nails. The bristles are the right stiffness for cleaning vinyl. Stiff enough to get into the grooves, but flexible enough not to damage the vinyl. I've also found that lint brushes (the kind of brush you would use to get lint of clothes) work well too.
I tried the blotter thing and let the solvent's evaporate to near dryness, washed with distilled water, also added a couple of more things and listened for changes in background static on the lead-ins instead of changes in tone (was a clean, new record I only played twice so the lead-ins weren't scratchy).
- ethanol. 95% (everclear from liquor store). no visible or sonic changes from untreated part.
- isopropanol, slight mark washed off, no sonic change
- 1,1,1 Trichlorethane (guess they don't sell this anymore but it was a popular tape-drive/head cleaner and ink solvent). no change in sound but did leave a visible ring around where the solvent was which was not removable via D4. sounded like sandpaper. so much for chlorinated hydrocarbons.
- Krylon electronic contact cleaner (unknown petrolium distillate... probably whatever they are using in place of freon these days). no change in sound, white visible mark around solvent drop but rinsed off in distilled water, no sonic change.
- Windex (clear... no blue dye). no mark no sonic change.
- naptha no mark, no sonic change.
- white-board cleaner (Sanford "Expo"), mark washed off, no sonic change.
- acetone (chief constituent of nail-polish remover) totally destroys vinyl and reduces it to a sticky goo
Tricholrethane is probably contraindicated though due to the permanent marking. Seems vinyl is pretty tough stuff. Looks as though it might be safe to briefly apply naptha if alcohol/water-detergent are ineffective (works on non-polar oils and seems to be about the only thing that touches that &*$%! glue the use for UPC and price stickers these days too, so it might be worth a last ditch effort to save some Goodwill goodie nothing else seems to clean up. And Windex might be useful if they somehow got waxy stuff on them since ammonia cuts a fair number of waxes) Pam
The susceptibility of vinyl to different agents is common knowledge and I'm sure that information can be found on internet or in the library. Fisher Scientific has a table which lists the effects of different solvents. More importantly though is that you don't know what the long term repeated use of these agents does, nor the chemical changes or removal of other critical components in the LP are--like plasticizers (a record is more than just PVC). Second, since you aren't aware, VPI has used a few drops of Windex in the RCF for many years now--though they don't say if it's the NH4 or not version. Myles B Astor
Let's see, records are made of vinylite aka vinyl choride/acetate copolymer (PVC/PVAc) and so should maybe react a little like latex and vinyl flooring, in which case ammonia and alcohols probably aren't the best for long term use
As any old art or architecture student knows, Bestine rubber cement thinner isn't named "Best"ine for nothing. I have been using this miraculous solvent for over 35 years, after having discovered it in architecture school. I use it as a dry-cleaning spotter, or to clean just about anything and to remove those nasty labels from cheap wine we bring to our dinner hosts. I never thought of using it to clean records since I have always been pleased with dish detergent and water. It seems to clean and remove with out leaving rings and is not so "hot" as to melt things. I just checked the label and it contains heptane, along with a litany of safety warnings.
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