Most people are unfamiliar with vinyl and uncomfortable with it. They know analog audio is quite fragile and are often too frightened to hold a vinyl record in their bare hands. But what happens when a record goes back into its case? Suddenly it’s not so fragile – it lands in a big heap, collecting dust or absorbing sunlight like a cold-blooded animal.
Improper storage, rather than improper handling, is often the reason why a record is destroyed or damaged. If you want your record collection to last, you need to learn how to store these things.
Why is proper vinyl storage important?
Analog audio needs to be treated with care. Over time, simply playing a record will reduce its fidelity. So to extend the life and maintain the quality of vinyl, you need to eliminate all external sources of wear and tear – you need to store your records properly.
To be clear, I’m not telling you to go easy on your records. They’re damn durable. There are billions of records left from the 20th century and I can guarantee that most of these records have endured abuse.
But here’s the thing; Heat, humidity, dust, mold, bugs or pressure will affect the fidelity of an LP and damage the cover. This process usually extends over several months, years or decades due to poor storage. Tons of vintage records are still around playablebut they are often damaged in some way.
And bad storage eventually makes a record unplayable. Again, this is something that often takes years or decades. But under the worst conditions, heat or pressure can destroy a record very quickly, even within hours.
Clean your records, use sleeves and inserts
Proper vinyl storage starts with cleanliness. Records tend to accumulate static electricity that attracts dust. This dust can work its way into the grooves of a record or scratch its surface, affecting the fidelity or playability of the vinyl.
Ideally, you clean a record with an anti-static brush before and after each use. If you have a lot of records that are never used, clean them with the anti-static brush for safe storage. Older records may need a thorough cleaning to remove dirt, chemicals (leaking out of the paper inlays), or other nuisances.
The sleeve and sleeve (the inner and outer packaging) of a record must also be kept clean. Dust, dirt, mold or bugs in this cardboard and paper packaging can damage your vinyl. For your most prized records (or vintage LPs with disgusting inner sleeves), I highly recommend purchasing and using poly inner sleeves that don’t get static or get moldy.
But even if you do without the inner sleeves, you should buy protective covers made of plastic. These sleeves not only protect the art on the sleeve of your record, but also keep dust and other debris out of your record.
To properly use these plastic sleeves, remove a record (with sleeve) from its cardboard sleeve. Then place both parts in the plastic cover so that they are next to each other. This reduces the stress on the jacket and limits the frictional stress on your record. Additionally, it helps you avoid the “ring wear” often found on vintage record jackets.
Note that the information above applies to all vinyl records, not just LPs. If you own a ton of 7 inch singles, keep them in acid free sleeves and plastic sleeves.
How to clean your records
Temperature, humidity and light are your enemy
Vinyl records are made of PVC and can warp in extreme temperatures. Once you’ve passed 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 32 degrees Celsius), a record can bend or curl. Temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit (about 60 degrees Celsius) can melt a record.
And while moisture isn’t an immediate danger to vinyl, it will slowly destroy a record’s cardboard and paper packaging. Humidity also encourages the growth of mildew and mold, which can affect the fidelity of an LP (and, of course, pose a health risk).
Direct sunlight can also have a cumulative effect on the records. Over time, UV rays will fade a vinyl cover (or make a record brittle if left unjacketed). Direct sunlight can also cause temperature fluctuations, which can lead to condensation and mold growth in certain environments.
Well, these requirements are pretty easy to follow. If you feel comfortable in your home, you already have a good environment for your recordings. Just keep them out of direct sunlight, don’t put them in a hot attic or garage, and consider buying a dehumidifier if your air is hot the wet.
Just to reiterate, records are pretty long-lived. I’ve bought pristine vintage vinyl at outdoor flea markets, open-air stores, and stuffy, air-conditioned warehouses. And I’m in Florida. If you’re comfortable in your home, chances are your records are comfortable too.
Records belong on a sturdy shelf or in a nice box
Most people, even die-hard collectors, fail to keep their records in a safe place. And I’m not talking about temperature or humidity; I’m talking about actually placement– where the records are located.
Your average LP weighs about a third of a pound. So if you stack 25 records on top of each other, the bottom record will withstand about 8 pounds of pressure. This is enough to wear down the cover and create unnecessary friction on the vinyl. (After a long time, of course.)
Don’t stack your records in a big pile. Instead, place them horizontally on a strong shelf or organizer like you would with books. (Just don’t put a ton of vinyl records on top of a really cheap bookcase or it will either break or tip over.)
Even when records are lying horizontally on a shelf, they still lean against each other. The weight is still there. To avoid this problem, I suggest limiting the number of panels you put on each shelf and using solid dividers to distribute the weight. These tips also make your records easier to find, which is a nice bonus.
You can also store records in sturdy wooden or plastic boxes (boxes break), special cupboards or, if necessary, in milk crates. And if you have a relatively small collection, fancy tote bags, standing stands, or smaller magazine dividers are perfectly acceptable.
Way Basics Vintage Vinyl Record Cube 2-Tray Storage Organizer – Fits 170 LP Albums (Tool-Free Assembly and Uniquely Crafted from Sustainable, Non-Toxic ZBoard Cardstock) Gray
This small two tier storage rack can safely store dozens of vinyl records. It’s also a nice stand for a record player or other accessories.
Victrola Vintage Record Storage and Carrying Case Fits All Standard Vinyl Records – 33 1/3, 45 & 78 RPM Holds 30 Albums Perfect for Your Treasured Record Collection Black
Store up to 30 records in this handy and portable case.
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