How to Store Cassettes, VHS, CDs, Records, and Laser Discs

From saving rare vinyl records to preserving family memories recorded on VHS tapes, there are many reasons to want to safely store older forms of media. Records, VHS tapes, cassettes, laser discs and CDs can all deteriorate in quality or even become entirely unplayable if exposed to many environmental conditions, so proper storage is essential to extend the life of these treasured artifacts.

Key Point Module

  • 1 Moisture, extreme temperatures and exposure to UV light can destroy delicate media items, so choosing a climate-controlled unit is key when it comes to preserving vintage media.
  • 2 Pay attention to how you stack and store items. Stacking them incorrectly can cause warping over time and make them unplayable.
  • 3 Dust and other nearly invisible contaminants can cause microscopic scratches on records, discs and tapes, so proper packing is essential.
  • 4 Check on your collection regularly to ensure everything is still stacked correctly and no environmental hazards are getting into your storage unit.

Prep Your Collection

Before you put your retro media collection into storage, it’s important to make sure everything is clean and properly prepared. Physically clean the surfaces of records, laser discs, CDs and DVDs using proper techniques. For cassettes and VHS tapes, rewind them before packing them away. If the tape is partially played, it’s better to let it play to the end and then rewind after it has stopped.

While you’re doing this, it’s a good idea to take some time to organize your collection. Although this isn’t strictly necessary for long-term storage, most experts recommend it. Organizing your collection alphabetically or using some other ordered system lets you find desired items quickly if you decide you want to watch or listen later, and it also gives you a chance to sort through them one by one and ensure you’re only keeping items you want.

Choose Proper Packing Materials

Packing your media collection in the right types of cases is one of the most important things you can do to ensure it stays intact and playable. Each type of media needs a slightly different type of storage, but some general guidelines are the same. Look for cases that keep out dust, debris and moisture while being gentle enough to not scratch or otherwise damage the surface.

For vinyl records, plastic sleeves are a good idea, especially ones that are specifically designed for vinyl storage. The best practice is to place the record itself in a sleeve, slip that into the record cover and then put the cover in another plastic sleeve or envelope. CDs and laser discs do best in jewel cases or other sealed, plastic containers designed to store discs. Cassette tapes should be stored in plastic cases, and VHS tapes can generally be safely stored in cardboard or heavy-duty paper sleeves or enclosed plastic cases.

Boxes or Shelves

Although a cardboard or plastic box may seem like the safest way to store your retro media collection, it can actually harm your items in the long run. Sealed, solid boxes do help lock out dust and dirt, but they can create an interior micro-climate that encourages the growth of mold and fungus, which will eat away at your collection over time. Vinyl records in particular tend to do best when stored in areas with good air circulation. Bookshelves and open-sided cases are generally the best bet when it comes to long-term media storage. Some manufacturers even make custom shelves designed to accommodate large collections, which can be a worthwhile investment for serious collectors.

There is one small exception, however. Specialty archival storage boxes can be a good choice if you plan to store your collection for years without accessing it often. These boxes are usually made from vinyl and create an airtight seal when properly packed and locked.

Climate Control

One of the quickest ways to damage retro media is to subject it to either very hot or freezing cold conditions, so temperature control is a must. Even insulated attics, garages and storage units often get too hot or cold for sensitive media, so choose a spot with more advanced temperature control options. Indoor, climate-controlled commercial units are a good choice.

Moisture is another major concern when it comes to media storage. It can eat away at softer materials, including vinyl and tapes, but it can even cause laser rot on laser discs and CDs if left unchecked. Direct exposure to dampness is an obvious problem that can be avoided by simply storing your collection indoors, but atmospheric humidity also can create problems. Generally, you want to have about 35% to 40% humidity for ideal storage. If your area tends to have a higher level of humidity than that, run a dehumidifier or look for commercial units with humidity control measures.

Other Environmental Considerations

UV light is another potentially damaging environmental concern, although some forms of retro media are more susceptible to it than others. No media should be stored in direct sunlight, but laser discs are particularly susceptible to UV damage, so take care to store them in a dimmer area.

VHS tapes and cassettes also need to be stored away from magnets, as even weak magnets can cause data loss over time. Many electronics, including loudspeakers and surge protectors, contain magnets, so don’t place those right next to your tapes. High-voltage lines also create a weak magnetic field, so look for storage units that don’t have them running directly overhead.

Position Things Properly

One of the biggest things storage experts emphasize is that retro media should never be stacked. Even when stored in protective cases, the weight of a large stack can put too much pressure on the bottom items and cause warping, cracking and other damage. Instead, line your records, tapes or discs up like books, with the bottom edge down and just the spine showing. Don’t cram them in too tightly, either. If you have to struggle to add or remove items, you’re probably putting too much pressure on them.

The exception to this is vertical towers specifically designed for disc or cassette tape storage. These units have an individual slot for each item, which avoids creating pressure.

Check In Regularly

Even the best-designed storage system can fail, so it’s a good idea to do periodic check-ins on your collection. Keep an eye out for any moisture buildup, rodent activity or other environmental dangers to ensure your treasured collection stays safe. Spot-checking individual items to look for mold, dry rot or other damage is also a good idea to make sure you’re not missing any hazards.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can VHS tapes be stored in the cold?

No. VHS tapes are highly sensitive to cold and should be stored between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do VHS tapes go bad?

Yes. Although proper storage preserves them for longer, VHS tapes do deteriorate over time. The life of the tapes can vary, but 25 years is often a good rule of thumb.

Do CDs and DVDs go bad?

Yes, but high-quality CDs and DVDs can last over 100 years if cared for and stored properly. Discs made from lower-quality materials may degrade faster.