8 ways to make your videotapes last longer

July 28, 2015

Videocassettes may be a thing of the past, but there's no need to leave them there. Here are eight ways to make yours last longer.

8 ways to make your videotapes last longer

1. Don't rewind videotapes

  • Although most of us have been trained to rewind tapes when we're finished watching them, videotape manufacturers recommend forwarding videos to the end of the reel when storing them.
  • This protects the beginning of the tape when it's inserted and removed from the VCR. Rewinding tapes just before viewing them also ensures that they are loaded properly into the VCR and that the proper tension is maintained throughout the reel.

2. Dampness equals destruction

  • Exposure to high humidity, in particular, causes magnetic tape to degrade.
  • Excessive ambient moisture can result in fungus growth and, in some cases, "sticky shed" syndrome — a condition that occurs when a tape soaks up excess moisture from the air and actually sheds its coat of magnetic oxide when played back.
  • Sticky shed syndrome can happen to both audiotape and videotape and is extremely damaging to the tapes themselves as well as to your playback equipment.

3. Keep tapes cool

  • Regularly watched videos can be stored safely at room temperature, but infrequently viewed tapes will last longer in a cooler environment, about 13°C (55°F), but no lower than 2°C (35°F).
  • When you want to watch a tape that's been in cold storage, let it acclimate to room temperature for at least 24 hours before playing it to minimize the risks of forming condensation inside your VCR.

4. Don't mingle with magnets

  • Always place your home videos away from all magnetic sources — including stereo loudspeakers, TV sets, musical amplifiers, and anything with an electrical motor.
  • A magnet placed even 30 centimetres (one foot) away can cause unrecoverable damage. This applies to prerecorded video too.

5. Practice the three-year stretch

  • Proper storage is essential to preserving your home videos, but so is some periodic exercise.
  • Tapes left sitting idle on the shelf for years on end can develop problems.
  • In particular, when a video tape is tightly wound, the polyurethane binder on the tape can get stuck to the adjacent layers and tear off the oxide particles from the base when it's inserted into a VCR and played.
  • That's why experts recommend rewinding and fast-forwarding your tapes at least once every three years.

6. Use the right case for cassettes

  • The cardboard sleeves that videocassettes come packaged in offer little protection for your valuable tapes, and those translucent plastic cases used by many video rental stores are no better.
  • In fact, such containers are sometimes made of materials that deteriorate over time and may even damage the cassette itself.
  • A far better way to go is with a polypropylene storage case, which is inexpensive and reusable and can provide additional protection against natural disasters like floods.

7. Keep tapes upright

  • Don't stack your videotapes on top of one another; it leaves them prone to warping and other types of damage.
  • Rather, stand them upright with the full reel on the bottom.

8. Check your VCR before inserting a tape

  • Malfunctioning hardware is the leading cause of videotape damage. If you're uncertain about whether a VCR is working or not, conduct a "test run" with a tape you don't value.
  • If the tape plays, rewinds, and ejects without any signs of damage, the VCR is probably safe to use.
  • If you observe any problems while testing, or if the tape shows signs of fraying after it's ejected, reconsider using the machine.
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