Ever Damage A Stylus Using Cleaning Brush?

I’m having a moment of audiophile anxiety. Help me Obi Wans of this forum!

I’d been using the DS Audio ST50 gel cleaner for my Benz Micro Ebony L cartridge. Due to recent uncertainties about the possible liabilities of those type of cleaners I bought a carbon fiber stylus brush, from boundlessaudio.

I use the Audio Intelligent cleaning fluid.

Everything has been fine, and I’ve never been sure how much pressure to apply to brushing the needle, so I’ve always tried the lightest touch possible. Sometimes, though, the middle aged hands aren’t as steady and I can give it a bit more pressure than I was planning.

So last night I lifted up the needle mid track to clean the needle. Couple of very light brushes just skimming the bottom of the needle, always back to front of the needle as recommended. With the system still on I can also hear how light or not I’m brushing, hearing the sound coming through the speakers. But the last brush stroke went up a bit higher, slightly submerging more of the stylus giving it a bit of a bump up and a louder sound through the speakers. Didn’t think too much of it. But when I sat back to listen I could swear the sound had altered slightly, like the sound had gotten a tiny bit lightened, brightened, forward vs the "inky black background" I’d just been listening to.

Just how plausible is it that I may have damaged or shifted something in the stylus?

In thinking it through it seems to me if any real force had been applied, since the stylus was not at all locked in to the holder, it would have bounced the arm up somewhat. But didn’t. Second, it seems to me there is at least as much force simply dropping the needle on to the record.

But I could be wrong. And I don’t know if the tonal change was all in my head. (I’m hoping it is...but even listening today I still seem to perceive a slightly different tone).

Any thoughts on this truly First World problem?




Snap off the cantilever on my Clearaudio Talisman  putting on the outer record     weight 

How about visually inspecting it with a magnifying glass? And after you verify it looks ok, listen to another record you are familiar with to confirm whether or not you’re hearing things.
Also, probably not a great idea to let all this come thru the speakers. I usually mute my preamp when I use the stylus brush.

A cartridge that has lost it's stylus sound awful. You will know it right away. You can not damage the stylus itself but you can remove it entirely as in many cases it is only held on by a gob of glue.

@faxe , gel cleaners are bad because if you bungle the tonearm just slightly you can easily tea the stylus off on cartridges with the stylus held on only by glue. If you defeat the antiskating and use your lift you are in less danger. 

I clean my stylus with an artist's brush with the bristles cut back slightly. You can wipe the stylus in any direction. The Lyra cleaning fluid comes with a great brush and really works well which is why it costs so much. I always use some sort of magnification to check my progress.

Ah yes, I remember the audiophile nervosa from my first few years of high-end MC cartridge’ing :) 15 years now, some 2 dozen MC cartridges, lots of cleaning, and never any damage caused by cleaning. The real risk is too little cleaning.

It’s almost impossible to hurt a cartridge with proper bushing. If the bristles seemingly hurt the stylus or cantilever, it was on its way out anyways - how will it survive the vinyl grooves?! And yes, a damaged or missing stylus will be VERY obvious. Not slightly apparent.

I hate those little circular pad brushes with very short bristles. It means you’re getting hard plastic bits very close to the stylus / cantilever, which requires more caution (use your 2nd hand for bracing the 1st hand as necessary). Longer bristles (~ 1cm or so) also allow you to clean up & down the cantilever, keep "beards" off the front yoke piece (especially that crucial hole for the cantilever), and you can more thoroughly clean the stylus from different angles.

I don’t like carbon fiber bristles. Too soft to really knock gunk off. I like some rigidity. Cheap & cheerful nylon is fine. Artist brushes are fine (but careful if the metal ferrule is magnetic! Benz uses some very strong magnets).

I also have a Benz Ebony L (among many others) and brush it often. Great cart!

I think that you've either smoked too much or too little and need to adjust it first.

Your stylus at this moment is fine. You could not damage it with brush

From: Andy@ Needle Clinic <needleclinic@gmail.com>

He has saved many of us who's stylus is not removeable.  Good pricing, great communications and the fastest turnaround anywhere.

Thanks folks.

I'm not an expert on the turntable stuff so still learning.

My concern arose from thinking about just how minute an adjustment it can take to alter the sound with a stylus.  For instance I use the arduous mint protractor when I have to set up my cartridge...requires insane precision, and I've noticed even differences practically not noticeable by eye with a loop or USB microscope can mean slightly different sound.

So I wasn't wondering if I'd ruined my stylus, but rather if perhaps I slightly put it off adjustment somehow, just enough to alter the sound.  

But I infer from the replies this is unlikely.  Is that because to move the stylus off center at all it would actually require a movement of the whole head shell, like when one is adjusting tracking?  (I'm quite sure I didn't budge the position of the head shell).   And that a bit harder brush pressure would be unlikely to bend the cantilever itself off adjustment?



But I infer from the replies this is unlikely.  Is that because to move the stylus off center at all it would actually require a movement of the whole head shell, like when one is adjusting tracking?

It's because any forces the stylus / cantilever / suspension assembly is subjected to during proper cleaning are equal to or LESS than the forces it will be subjected to during normal playback. You ever cue the needle onto the lead-in of a 45 RPM 12" and watch it SLAM into the 1st music groove? Or accidentally drop it a bit onto the vinyl without aid of the cueing lever? I've even had an end groove fail and watched / heard my expensive stylus eat paper label a couple times. It should be fine. 

On the other hand a cleaning lady with a feather duster can exert snagging forces 100X - 1,000X greater than the above forces. That'll kill your cartridge dead, every time! These things are robust within "expected forces" of a certain range. Keep within that range, and try to relax!

I will agree with others that it is unlikely that you did damage.  The difference you are hearing is probably more a product of anxiety over your actions.  I would make the following recommendation:  At all times, when not actually playing a record, make sure the cuing lever is in the up position.  If you accidently bump the arm, the needle will not contact anything if the arm is cued up.  This is really the simplest thing to do--when play is over, cue up and leave the lever in that position even when you return the arm to the rest.  Do not actually lock the arm in the rest--there is no need to do this because the arm is cued up.  If the arm or stylus is accidentally bumped, it is better that the arm and cartridge are free to move from the force applied, and there is no problem with that movement leading to the stylus hitting anything if the arm is cued up.  Only cue down in order to play.  When cleaning the stylus, the cued up position, without the arm being locked down to the arm rest prevents damage from excess force applied to the stylus and cantilever--the arm would move from that force instead of excessively stressing the cantilever.

Thanks larryi, I do indeed always keep my turntable arm unlocked for those reasons.


That's what I figured.

As to the cleaning lady....

When I made my big turntable upgrade it was from my old micro seiki (donated by my father in law) to an expensive (second hand) Transrotor Fat Bob S, Acoustic Solid arm, and the Benz Micro Ebony L cartridge.  (The cartridge was essentially new, worth thousands).

I spent a month or so specially re-constructing my equipment rack to handle the turntable, including an elaborate isolation shelf.  The turntable sitting in it's box while doing so.  Finally after all that effort I was able to play a bit of a record, just before getting out the door for a family vacation.  It sounded great and I couldn't wait to get back and play my new expensive toy!

Well, we got back, I went to cue up a record and...WTF?  Somehow the whole cartridge was twisted almost all the way sideways!  I was utterly horrified and baffled.  How?

Then I remembered:  Maybe the cleaning lady decided to come while we were gone.  I phoned her.  Sher enough when I politely inquired she said "Oh yes, I came and did your house.  There was that big new shiny thing.  I was cleaning around it and heard a big bang noise.  Then I noticed the long straight thing was hanging down (arm).  So I put it back up.  I hope it's ok?"

Yeah...her cloth had snagged the cartridge.  Luckily it wasn't by the needle.  Ultimately I was able to get it back working again (though I think she did something permanent to the arm).

It's amazing how many cleaning women horror stories there are regarding turntables.  Makes an electric fence seem like a plausible investment :-)


It’s because any forces the stylus / cantilever / suspension assembly is subjected to during proper cleaning are equal to or LESS than the forces it will be subjected to during normal playback.


That’s the first thing I thought of.

It’s far from easy to damage a stylus with any proprietary brush.


As an aside, do people still prefer to use a brush?

I can still recall the days when the likes of Linn would recommend using a matchbox to clean the stylus!

I did wonder if anyone out there tried cleaning their Troika/Karma or other high end carts in such a manner?

Luckily I had one of those vibrating Audio Technica devices. I wish I’d kept hold of it when I sold off the LP12. Especially after seeing the prices they seem to fetch nowadays.

Also, wasn’t there a more recent craze for using magic sponge/eraser as a means of cleaning styli?

Is there even a consensus as to which method is best?


I leave my tonearm locked with the cuing lever up when I’ve finished listening for the day. There are enough earthquakes in my neck of the woods to keep me sufficiently paranoid.

A back-to-front brushing has never hurt my stylus or cantilever in my sixty-very odd years of spinning discs, no matter how stiff the stylus brush might be. It’s fun, too, to hear the "rriiiipp!" through the speakers as I do this. Just don’t have the volume set too high. Every couple days or so, I wet the stylus with stylus cleaner and sit it down for a few seconds on my "Professional" brand buzz-o-rama battery-powered stylus cleaner. If I feel the need to give my stylus an extra pat on the head I’ll gently stroke it with an artists’ brush. In all my years, I’ve only accidentally ripped the needle/cantelever off a cartridge once or twice.


Anyway, I’m sure I’ve mentioned my various snafus before on this website. I’ve had a couple good scares when I’ve clumsily cued the cartridge down at a spot where it falls off the edge of the spinning record. I’m even less happy when I do this on a spinning 7" 45. Will it happily make it into the lead-in groove or will it scoot off onto my SOTA’s hard rubber turntable mat? Then there are the records where the lead-out groove is close enough to the label for the cartridge to scrape/bang against my LP hold-down clamp.

I use the cueing lever to lower the stylus into a circle of Magic Eraser glued to a NON-MAGNETIC coin. Follow up with stroking cantilever back to front with an artist’s brush, to remove any trace of ME fibre. It’s easy and foolproof. Even me-proof.  So far.


Not yet prof. 

I lightly touch the stylus with Magic Eraser a few times followed by a a back to front swipe with a fine brush. Also keep the volume on while doing this, as it's a pretty effective gage for judging force.   

A dab of Blu Tack or Blue Stick on a coin works well also. Just put the combo on your platter (TT off of course) and lower & raise the stylus into the dab a couple of times. You don't have the worry of the Magic Eraser's fibers catching on the cantilever.

Most would cringe at my Magic Eraser usage. I use a drop of water, and do a dip and then a gentle back & forth "rotational scrub" before lifting again 😂 Then repeat on a dry section. Plus a few simple dip & lifts for good measure. Use a dry brush afterword. The key is being aware "is this within NORMAL playback forces"?

I’ve done this over 3 years on my primary Koetsu Blue Lace DC cartridge. Plus other high end MC’s, too. No problems. I don’t do this quite every session - once every few sessions.

Brush the stylus well after each and every side. NO EXCEPTIONS. Brush up & down the cantilever and front yoke after every session.

I also use LAST liquid stylus cleaner after sessions when I don’t feel like doing the Magic Eraser thing.

I’ve used the Onzow and DS Audio gels in the past, when I felt like being lazy. NO PROBLEM with these. Well, the problem is that they don’t clean very well. They remove easily visible dust bunnies, sure. But if you’re collecting such large blobs on your stylus then your cleaning regimen SUCKS! The Magic Eraser and liquid cleaners help keep you diamond free of plaques & blackening (visible under magnification) and shining like new. Clean your records too, obviously. I haven’t seen a dust bunny collect on a stylus for years.


Well, even though I could swear the tone changed a bit, things still sound fantastic so I'll have to go with "it was my imagination."




Well, even though I could swear the tone changed a bit, things still sound fantastic so I’ll have to go with "it was my imagination."

I can admit that I had a similar experience many years ago, with an Ortofon Windfeld MC. A good friend brought over a "Bad Company" LP, and unaware to both us it had a single very large granule of hard baked-on grit (even after cleaning) near the end of a side. It made a ridiculously loud BANG through my speakers and I was worried of stylus damage. Of course now I realize how audible any damage would be. But for a while I was quite paranoid "does it really sound 100% as good as it did before??". Psychology is a hell of a drug. And we also have day-to-day changes which shift our perceptions. It took me a while to settle down the paranoia. The cartridge was fine.

Since then, I carefully inspect any new-to-me records under light before playback. 

Well, there's also the fact that the reason I lifted the needle in the first place is that I've had this occasional distortion problem.  I'll be listening to an album and then the sound will start getting very fuzzy, finally shrinking in to totally distorted.

If I lift up the cartridge and place it down again in another spot the distortion is gone.   Doesn't happen very often, but it's very mysterious and mirrors a similar distortion problem that drove me insane trying to trace it, a couple years ago.

As I remember it turned out to be the cartridge, which I replaced.   But this one (same model) isn't very old at all, so don't know what's going on.


I'll be listening to an album and then the sound will start getting very fuzzy, finally shrinking in to totally distorted.

If I lift up the cartridge and place it down again in another spot the distortion is gone.


The mystery deepens, and it's not looking good for the health of the cartridge.

I'd check the cartridge wires and possibly replace them first before trying anyhing else.

These are precisely the scenarios where a detachable headshell is a blessing.



Yet another in a long line of informative posts.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.


The cartridge is only about a year and a few months old.

I actually don't want to fiddle with it unless absolutely necessary.  After a very arduous cartridge alignment session a while back I hit "gold" and got the best sound I'd ever had.  Not sure how easily I can repeat it. 

Been using my old dishwasher stylus cleaner for as long as I can remember...not once have I damaged a stylus while using it.  I highly recommend a 10x jeweler's loupe. It is brighter than say a 20x...it really shows you the status of your stylus. Those smaller stylus brushes, at least to me, are harder to use than my go to dishwasher stylus cleaner/brush. I seldom use the fluid, mostly only if I see a stubborn piece of debri on the stylus while viewed through the loupe. 

audioguy85 -- Love your word processor’s auto-correct feature! And oh yeah, remember to put the dishwasher on pots n’ pans after playing your 78’s.

The cartridge is only about a year and a few months old.

I actually don’t want to fiddle with it unless absolutely necessary. After a very arduous cartridge alignment session a while back I hit "gold" and got the best sound I’d ever had. Not sure how easily I can repeat it.

Is is possibly still breaking in? You got at least 40 hours on it? I really like my Ebony L (despite having many other fine MCs to choose from here), but there have been PLENTY of ups and downs with it, since new. It always sounds at least good, but sometimes it’s really GREAT.

It’s still probably right around only 50 play hours. It also seems quite finicky with partnering gear for sonic matching, even down to which amp I’m using. Sometimes its bass response has been a bit reticent and other times it’s like HOLY WOW. It’s actually been sounding stellar lately (on my back arm), and I’ve resolved to leave everything as-is for a while and just enjoy the ride.

My front arm is a FR64S with a Koetsu Blue Lace almost permanently affixed (and always sounds stellar), so when the back arm & cart is nearly matching that, I know it’s doing something right!

How to clean with a stylus brush.

Free the arm from the armrest/lock and leave the cart between rest and platter.  Lower the lift and allow the arm to drop to its lowest level in that open space.  The arm will now be free to move upwards in response to any pressure on the stylus.  You are probably tracking between 2g and 2.5g.  Load your chosen stylus brush with a small drop of your chosen stylus cleaning fluid and brush it longitudinally along the stylus from back to front - no sideways force.  Yes, leave the sound on low so you can hear what you are doing.  Repeat brushstrokes 6 or 8 times.  If you apply too much upward force the arm will just lift in response, so you will never apply more than the downforce you have set on the arm.  The cantilever and suspension are designed to withstand a bit more than the 2.5g downforce as when playing a record the stylus is dropped onto its surface and will react to the downward force.

Assuming you did this you will not have damaged the stylus or suspension of the cart.

Guys who leave the sound on while cleaning: has that ever actually saved you from anything? Seems like by the time you're aware of a mishap, it would be too late. Plus a large sudden JOLT of sound thru the speakers is just as likely to damage the cartridge from your reflex reaction. 

I do it in silence. Be VERY aware of your hands, clothing, forces being exerted, etc. Be in the zone. This can mean the difference between enjoying a Koetsu and tolerating a 2M :) 

If you have a cantilever, a brush is fine if you are careful. An "ultrasonic" cleaner is even better - quotation marks are because they are just vibrating brushes and don't get into the ultrasonic range of frequencies. My Hudson is cheap and effective.

BUT, if you have a pickup with no cantilever - a Decca, London or equivalent - a dry brush is all that is allowed. No stylus fluids, no liquids on an 'ultrasonic' cleaner. The fluid will migrate onto the armature holding the stylus and cause rust to destroy it, or even get up into the coils and loosen them and make the pickup extremely microphonic. Ask me how I know...



I usually clean the needle after my system is shut off.  But sometimes it's on.

When it's on, it's a bit easier to register the pressure I'm using because I can hear it through the speakers.  It's not too loud.

In fact, I'm not sure how even "too hard" pressure could ruin the speakers. 

The signal level to the speakers is obviously limited by the volume setting.

I mean, if I was just playing Van Halen the signal was already as close to as loud as it would get coming out of the speakers based on that volume setting.  I don't see how a hard brushing would be louder and more threatening to the speakers.

"Guys who leave the sound on while cleaning: has that ever actually saved you from anything"?

@mulveling - Good question. I guess I can't say for sure... I don't think "sound" is necessary at all with a soft brush, but with the Magic Eraser I want to only touch the stylus tip until I hear it through the speakers.  That stated, from your earlier post (& experience) it sounds like I could give it more pressure without hurting anything.

FWIW, I'll probably stick to hearing it though since that is what I'm used to.

based on what you’re describing, if you’re hearing distortion I would look into the usual suspects…
1. your records are either dirty or worn out

2. the cartridge overhang is off. Have you set the overhang properly?

3. check your anti-skate

4. check your VTA and azimuth

5. see if the cartridge is adequately secured on the headshell and you’re not pulling it out of alignment little by little every time you brush the stylus.
6. your cartridge is done…needs replacement 

@tylermunns no problem. I stopped using the ZeroDust and instead use the brush included with the Hana cartridge.
Every 5-6 records I clean the stylus with MoFi LP-9 liquid stylus cleaner. 

Considering my concern for my stylus now, having read Fremer’s article regarding the hazards of the Onzow Zerodust (which I’ve used regularly for years, every side, at least two quick dips at a time) I’m feeling like I need to trade in my Clearaudio Concerto v2 now.  I don’t know how many hours it’s had.  I’ve had it for 4 years, but with plenty of protracted periods of non-use.  Darn.
Those cantilevers protrude in such a precarious way, I feel if I were to try and clean it and the stylus with the rigors the job demands, the risk of snapping the cantilever off completely or causing undue strain to the suspension would make the project not even worth it.  Might be best to ditch the Onzow, adopt a better stylus-cleaning method, and start fresh.

@tylermunns My take on it would be to just stop using Onzo and give the stylus some good cleaning with a liquid stylus cleaner. Use magnifying glass or a USB microscope (if you have a digital camera with macro lens that can work too) to inspect the stylus and the cantilever. If you’re not seeing anything scary there, I’d just continue enjoying the music. Hey…didn’t mean to make you this worried…but I guess it’s too late for that hahaha. 

@audphile1 Hey, no need to worry 🤣. I take care of that very well on my own, even under the best of circumstances.  I have been wondering for a while if things sound amiss, constantly vacillating between contentment and anxiety.  Those cantilevers on the Clearaudio cartridges are scary, for sure.

Now back to @prof ’s problem. I’m suspecting overhang is the issue. We’ll wait until he responds if that was taken care of during set up. 




The cartridge is on nice, tight and secure, so I'm sure I'm not knocking it off angle when cleaning the needle.  Also, since I set the overhang precisely with the Mint protractor, I highly doubt it's off.  I'm also not sure why that would cause random distortion, which can happen a track or two in on a record.

My arm doesn't have anti-skate.  Nor, I believe, can I change the azimuth.

I sure hope my cartridge isn't "done" after only a year and a half!  My previous Benz Micro Ebony L lasted at least 4 years of heavy use.  I couldn't afford to replace this one.

The sound is stellar...super clean...no indication at all of stylus wear that I can hear.

It's just this weird, occasional sound turning in to distortion thing.  It's rare, thankfully.  Hasn't happened in a while.



I’d be very surprised if your cartridge is worn after only 18 months. That’s hard to do; your Benz uses a very high quality stylus and doesn't track heavy. With a heavily worn stylus, you’d most likely hear a sonic fuzz/grunge/haze type distortion consistently on inner grooves, with still-good sound quality on middle and outer grooves. If the distortion you’re hearing is not tightly correlated to inner grooves then it’s probably something else.

Also I think in most cases, your overhang / alignment will have to be off by a lot before you’ll notice significant distortion from that. If you’re off by a mm or so it should still sound OK. Even a perfectly aligned cartridge (on a 9 - 10" pivoted arm) is going to be somewhat "out of alignment" for most of the record.

I don't use the ZeroDust, but I know of some issues involving its use.  I know two people who accidentally pulled the cantilever out of their cartridge using the ZeroDust or similar product.  If you lift it out of gel too fast, that force, which is in the opposite direction of the force the cartridge is designed to take, may do damage.  If you use this product, use the cuing lever to very slowly lift the stylus out of the gel.  Secondly, there are people who have reported a very difficult to remove residue depositing on the stylus and cantilever from the product. There was an article in Stereophile (Michael Fremer) about this in the past year.  

As to the OP reporting occasional distortion at about the same point on a record, that is somewhat unusual, but I've seen it happen.  In one case, the arm would slightly bind when in a particular position--I think it had to do with the tonearm wiring.  In the other case, the curing platform did not get completely out of the way when cued down and would slightly lift the arm at one point of play.  

I agree with Mulveling that excessive wear is not likely with a high quality cartridge after such a short time--if the cartridge is at fault, it is either damage in handling or the cartridge suspension is at fault.  I also don't think your alignment can be that far off as to be the cause of mis-tracking, particularly if you use something as precise as a mint protractor.  

@prof and @mulveling worth checking. If we’re not taking mm differences in overhang then you can easily get distortion. Not familiar with mint protractor. I used Dr. Feichert New Generation that gives you more precise adjustments using the pivot to spindle ruler that sets the protractor in the proper position for the overhang adjustment. None of this is exact science anyway. 
Also, I mentioned cartridge wear as the last possible option and yes it’s unlikely in that time frame to wear out a cartridge.

If you’re confident your overhang is correct then I rest my case. Just clean your records before you play them and you should not experience any distortion. 


From your description of the incident I going to say that your cartridge is OK and to guess that when the brush stroke when higher than normal that you cleaned of a speck of dirt that could have been the culprit collecting the dust bunnies .

I've tried the magic eraser and the zero dust but stopped using both , I now use blue tack alternating with a discwasher stylus brush , I use the magnifying glass from the zero dust to see what I'm doing . It helps that my TT is mounted to the wall over the system rack . About once a week I'll use liquid cleaner. About once a month I use The Cardas frequency and burn-in record that creates an ultrasonic cleaning cycle during the frequency sweep band ,