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Tape Head Cleaning - Questions Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 13th July 2011
Gear Maniac

Tape Head Cleaning - Questions

I apologize if this is in the wrong forum.....

I have been transferring some old demos from cassette to digital format, and find that I need to clean the heads and transport mechanism of my cassette deck but no longer have any tape head cleaner.

Does anyone know where I can locate good tape head cleaner, preferrably in Toronto, Canada?

I have read and heard totally contrary opinions about using Isopropyl alcohol, so would appreciate any comments and advice that people have about this. For example, the person here advises avoiding anything but 99% Isopropyl alcohol, and recommends American Recorder S-721H Head/Pinch Roller Cleaner, and says that the use of Xylene is O.K..

On the other hand, the person here Cleaning and Demagnetizing says that 91% Isopropyl alcohol and denatured alcohol are fine to use.

In the past, I have used denatured alcohol, but would like to use what is best.

Any ideas where I could get the American Recorder S-721H Head/Pinch Roller Cleaner?

Old 13th July 2011
Lives for gear
MickeyMassacre's Avatar
for the heads themselves I have never used anything but isopropyl.

you can get roller cleaner on ebay for less than $15
Old 13th July 2011
Gear Maniac

Hi Mickey Massacre,
Thanks for this.

I also found the American Recorder S-721H Head/Pinch Roller Cleaner here,

I also notice that the American Recorders site has those cassette head cleaners (in the form of a cassette), but I thought that that type of cleaner could actually damage cassette decks because it is a relatively 'rough' method of cleaning.

I also found a couple of bottles of Rubber Renue Rubber Cleaner, for cleaning the rubber rollers, that I don't think that I ever used - I'm a bit put off by the fact that it says on the bottle that R.R. contains poison, and that one should not get it on one's skin. Does anyone know if it is safe to use this?

Thanks, once again,
Old 13th July 2011
Lives for gear

I always used 91% Alcohol on tape heads, and I actually use some automotive tire cleaner I got at Wal-Mart on the rubber, and I have never had any issues. Unless you use alot of it over a long period of time, it's not going to hurt anything. The rubber cleaner you have is probably fine. I'm guessing any rubber cleaner is made to clean and protect rubber, so anything made for rubber should be safe. S demagnetizer would be good. That might be useful. I bought one once on ebay, because I couldn't find one in a store. But come to think of it, I didn't check radio shack. Also, I always use Q-tips to apply the solvents.
Old 13th July 2011
Lives for gear

91% isopropyl (you can sometimes find 97%). Pour a little out into the upturned cap and use that to wet the q-tips. Toss what you don't use. Most cassette decks need tape path cleaning after every side when recording, unless you have one of the few exotic decks like the Nak Dragon that had a great transport with lifters to hold the pressure pad away. Clean the whole tape path - there is a surprising amount of detritus that accumulates here and there and can muck things up. I guess you know to use new tape for every recording. (I never understood why you can play a cassette tape 100 times and not hear any dropouts, but if you use that same tape to record something new, you may get dropouts... but then I don't know much.) When done face the Netherlands and bow three times.

Cassette was such a rotten standard (thank you Philips) but could sound pretty amazing. Come to think of it, CD is a rotten standard (thank you, again, Philips) and that can sound pretty good too.

Old 13th July 2011
Lives for gear

"Come to think of it, CD is a rotten standard (thank you, again, Philips) and that can sound pretty good too. "

The format is fine, how it has been abused is another thing entirely.
Old 13th July 2011
Gear Head
django's Avatar

+1 on the alcohol, make sure it's a high% i normally use lighter fluid on a cloth. Make sure the cloth is smoothe though and wont scratch the heads etc.

Make sure you clean everything in the tape path while your at it!
Old 13th July 2011
Gear Maniac

Hi Stevens119, WW, [email protected], and django,
Thanks very much for your replies.

Some great ideas here.

And, being half Dutch, I think that we should thank Phillips

Just playing the tapes, for transfer to stereo .WAV file format of some of my demos.

Will also be doing the demagnetizing 'dance' at some point, too.

Thanks, once again,
Old 16th July 2011
Here for the gear

isopropyl, check.. Rubber cleaner, um..

I`ve visited forums here a bunch of times but have only been inspired to register now. What a lovely surprise to see this conversation happening *exactly* as I am going through the same situation as the OP.

Except that in my case I am transferring field recordings made on cassette as long as twenty years ago (possibly older, as I'm tracking down some others). I have the luck to be using the original machine that recorded a bunch of then, a Sony TC-D5 Pro II, field recording standard for its day. It's owner has taken great care of it and I was able to transfer quite a few hours of audio with no problems until recently the left channel started playing back at 1/2 or eve 1/4 of the output of the right channel. I am really hoping a simple head cleaning will fix this right up.

Trouble is that I am doing this work in a small town in the interior of Brazil. Just finding isopropyl alcohol that isn't low-percentage `consumer grade` is quite difficult: I had to buy it in a place that sells medical equipment to hospitals in the capitol city 67 kilometers away. The good news is mine is 99.5% pure and comes in heavy glass bottle that seems designed to keep out UV rays and all that. I actually bought it a while back for use in my homemade vinyl-cleaning solution, so at least I don`t have to make a special visit.

Regarding cleaning the rubber pieces... "Windex" brand doesn't exist here and I hesitate to use home-cleaning products on audio equipment in general... Can anyone tell me the active ingredient in these rubber cleaners, so that I might be able to find something here where I am? Also, what are the potential risks if I just skip that step and clean with only Isopropyl?

(as an aside -- I don't think cassettes were a bad medium at all for a lot of applications, like (surpise!) field recording. The natural tape compression that happens when your levels are too hot mean you can still have a very natural sounding recording even if that happens. Try letting a digital recorder go 'in the red' while you are looking the other way dealing with chaotic conditions of some in-the-field, non-controllable recording situations, and see how happy you are with the results. Don't get me wrong, I've been getting some great results currently with a good stereo microphone and a Zoom H4N, but in this huge box of cassettes I am digitizing I have heard some stunningly high-quality stuff. If you know how to record, didn't reuse tape, and stored them properly, they could be just fine. Hell, I can probably resurrect my old 4-track cassette home records much easier than my first digital multitracks made at home using the Digi 001 when it first went on the market...
Old 17th July 2011
Lives for gear
soundbarnfool's Avatar

Regarding cleaning the rubber pieces... "Windex" brand doesn't exist here and I hesitate to use home-cleaning products on audio equipment in general... Can anyone tell me the active ingredient in these rubber cleaners, so that I might be able to find something here where I am? Also, what are the potential risks if I just skip that step and clean with only Isopropyl?

You'll dry the rubber out. I use "409" on the rubber when cleaning the transport rubber like pinch rollers...

Inglewood SoundBarn
Old 18th July 2011
Gear Maniac
Barnabas's Avatar

For 30 years I used 91% isopropyl on the heads and pinch rollers of all my decks -- cassette, R-R, 8-track, VCR, DAT. I've never had a pinch roller go bad.
Old 18th July 2011
Lives for gear
fireberd's Avatar
I used to use Zippo Lighter Fluid to clean heads. Never had a problem with that, even on an 8 track Teac recorder.
Old 18th July 2011
Here for the gear

"409" ??

You mean Formula 409?? Again another product that doesn't exist here

Could somebody please answer my question about what the key ingredient is? I am guessing silicon. Which I've obtained from a gas station. It has some annoying fragrance added to it seems like a little on a Q-tip isn't going to destroy anything.

I never meant to argue or be confrontational about 91% vs 99% alcohol. I already have 99% so I might as well use it.
Old 20th July 2011
Here for the gear

...nobody answering me about 409..

looking around, it seems that the basic silicone liquid I have ought to work.

I am presuming I should apply it after cleaning with alcohol, to lubricate the heads and pinch rollers and prevent drying out? Also, probably not something I want to do after *every* cleaning? or should I?

any help is appreciated, this is the first time I've done 'home grown' cleaner and applied it myself
Old 22nd July 2011
Gear Maniac

Originally Posted by Bolderdashed View Post
Regarding cleaning the rubber pieces... "Windex" brand doesn't exist here and I hesitate to use home-cleaning products on audio equipment in general... Can anyone tell me the active ingredient in these rubber cleaners, so that I might be able to find something here where I am? Also, what are the potential risks if I just skip that step and clean with only Isopropyl?
Hi Bolderdashed,
Don't know if you have managed to find anything to clean the rubber pinch-roller, but wanted to try to answer your question.

The Rubber Renue product that I mentioned in my message above, is still sold in some places, I think, and lists the following as 'ingredients':
"CONTAINS: Dimethylbenzene CAS# 1330-20-7. Methylsalicylate CAS# 119-36-8".

I have no idea what any of that means, so please don't ask me

Another suggestion that I have is to contact a company here in Toronto that sells analogue tape machine cleaning products, and ask them your question. (Miraculously, I took delivery of my order a couple of hours after placing the order - that's service for you!).

The company is called Teletech, and the cleaning products are made by Wilcan (here is the link, and you can find the contact information on other parts of the website

The Wilcan rubber cleaning solution tins/cans don't list the ingredients, but I would guess that they are similar to the Rubber Renue contents.

I have used the Wilcan products a couple of times since I received them a few days ago, and everything is going fine.

Another suggestion would be to contact Wilcan - from what I can see, this is their website Computer sales BRAMPTON, but I could be wrong (the people at Teletech would probably be able to tell you more about that).

I hope that this helpful.

All the best, and please let us know what solutions you come up with (please excuse the pun!),

All the best,

Old 8th April 2014
Here for the gear

Best stuff around SR-Audio tape cleaner for capstan removes everything from the heads and tape paths. Your Q-Tip will be allot dirtier than using rubbing alcohol also. The SR-Audio pinch roller cleaner rejuvenator removes all the tape oxide,grease,wax and grim from the pinch rollers leaving them with a very smooth satiny feel at touch. Plus your tape will track smoother and last longer using a cleaner and conditioner that it is.a formula of a Grammy winning producer / recording engineer.

Rubbing Alcohol has water so its not a good cleaner at all nor do you want to use water to clean the heads and tape path.

link for purchasing:

Last edited by Audio456; 8th April 2014 at 10:13 AM.. Reason: left some out
Old 8th April 2014
Lives for gear

Some of the pinch roller cleaners that were available back in the 70's and 80's were made with wintergreen oil. You might try looking in a health food store or apothecary. Also, if you do buy a demagnetizer, study up on how to use it, you can actually polarize the heads by using it improperly, and demagnetize before cleaning.
Old 7th June 2016
Here for the gear

Tape Head and Drive Wheel Cleaners

I just discovered two bottles of Teac cleaning fluid that I had put away with my stereo gear. Unfortunately I just sold me Pioneer 10" reel machine, but I'm keeping my cassette.

I noticed that most people were discussing using alcohol to clean. But both Teac bottles -- which I also decided to keep -- specifically mention that they contain NO ALCOHOL. There's some sort of verbiage about "aromatic" fluid. I put some of the rubber cleaner on my finger and it definitely feels like ultra-fine penetrating oil.

So, that's my two cents -- for what it's worth.
Old 7th June 2016
Gear Guru
Brent Hahn's Avatar

Sounds like it's intended for cleaning something other than tape heads.
Old 8th June 2016
Two different TEAC compounds were manufactured for different markets, one for the US, and another for everywhere else. I always found it a little disconcerting.

I use denatured alcohol on a Q-tip for cleaning the oxide out of the tape path. Naphtha for the rubber.

Yawzah. If you want to degauss the heads, be careful. If the demagnetizer is engaged near the heads, they will become permanently magnetized.
Old 10th June 2016
Here for the gear

I hardly think so. The Teac-brand bottles are clearly labeled (I've packed them away now, so I can't quote). One was head cleaner; the other for rubber pinch roller. I would think Teac knew what they were doing -- and selling.
Old 12th June 2016
Lives for gear
Soothing Sound's Avatar
I use Duraglit, it's a similar formula as Brasso. I use q-tips for this, the results are great.

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