My home studio is plagued by dust! It seems to get everywhere. Obviously, I vacuum and so on, but it's really hard to remove from my keyboards, my mixer and the various cables that hook it all up — I keep sucking up little things like screws and plectrums. Is there a 'right' way to clean this stuff?
SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton replies: I'm not sure about a 'right' way, but there are certainly ways and means. The simplest way I find to tackle dust on fiddly surfaces with knobs, keys or faders on them is to use a vacuum cleaner, but to use a paint brush or old-fashioned shaving brush to loosen the dust from all the nooks and crannies; as it comes off, it flies straight into the vacuum cleaner. Most of the cheapo handheld things don't seem to have enough 'suck', and while a good chunk of money can buy you a more powerful one, I prefer to use a regular vacuum cleaner with the head detached, and stop it from guzzling tiny gadgets by putting a filter over the end of the tube that allows air and dust to pass through but nothing larger. If anyone in your house is throwing out some old tightspantihose, that material will do nicely: attach firmly with a rubber band and you can de-dust to your heart's content.
Don't forget to clean the dust from all the less obvious places it tends to collect, like the tops of any acoustic panels, shelves, door frames, keyboard stands, chair legs, underneath sofas and so on. I find that cables can be real dust magnets, especially if you have an old-school analogue setup with a console, patchbay and multicore snakes everywhere. A damp cloth will get rid of most of it easily enough, so it's worth making sure you can easily get behind any racks or console.
A lot of mixers have jack/XLR sockets on the top panel, and dust falling into these can cause problems in the signal path.
Once you've given the place a good deep clean, the surest way to keep the dust at bay from something like a mixer or keyboard is to invest in dust covers. Dedicated ones come in various forms, from branded accessories to match your keyboard, to universal stretchable spandex ones. If you're a cheapskate like me, unfitted cotton twill dust sheets from the DIY store work well. Not only can you cut them up to cover several bits of gear with one sheet, but you can chuck them in the washing machine from time to time.
It's worth noting that this isn't just an aesthetic issue: a lot of mixers have jack sockets on the top panel, and dust falling into these can cause problems in the signal path (interruptions, crackles and so forth). The dust cover will also protect against that too. If it's already a problem, try squirting in a bit of Deoxit D5 and pushing a lightly burred (ie. sandpapered) jack plug in and out of the socket.
Another thing to consider is oil and grease. Every time you put your mucky fingers on your gear, you leave behind a thin layer of grease, not to mention the residue of any sneaky studio snacks you may have been indulging in. You might not even see it, but the grease can be a bit of a dust/dirt magnet. I usually use isopropyl alcohol to remove it but you could also try glass cleaner. It's better to put this directly on the cloth and rub the surface than spray the liquid on your gear. Needless to say, don't use a cloth that will leave fibres behind; microfibre ones such as those used to clean spectacles and camera lenses seem to work pretty well.
That's about it for the day-to-day stuff — cleaning inside faders and pots is a whole different story!