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Most people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with vinyl. They know that analog audio is quite fragile and are often too afraid to hold a record in their bare hands. But what happens when a record goes back in its jacket? Suddenly it’s not such a fragile thing – it ends up in a big heap, collecting dust or absorbing sunlight like a cold-blooded animal.
Improper storage, rather than misuse, is often the thing that destroys or damages a vinyl record. If you want your record collection to last, you need to learn how to store this stuff.
Why is good vinyl storage important?
Analog audio should be handled with care. Over time, simply playing a vinyl record will diminish its fidelity. So to extend the life of vinyl and maintain the quality of vinyl, you need to eliminate all external sources of wear – you need to store your records properly.
Just to be clear, I’m not telling you to screw up your data. They are quite durable. There are still billions of 20th century vinyl records out there, and I can guarantee that most of those records have been mistreated.
But here’s the thing; exposure to heat, humidity, dust, mildew, insects or pressure will reduce the reliability of an LP and damage the album cover. This process usually takes place over several months, years or decades due to poor storage. Numerous vintage records are still playable, but they are often damaged in one way or another.
And a bad serve eventually makes a record unplayable. Again, this is something that often takes years or decades. But in the most adverse conditions, heat or pressure can destroy a record very quickly, even within a few hours.
Clean your records, use covers and inserts
Invest in vinyl
Good vinyl storage starts with cleanliness. Records tend to build up static electricity, which attracts dust. This dust can work into the grooves of a record or scratch the surface, reducing vinyl fidelity or playability.
Ideally, you should clean a plate before and after each use with an anti-static brush. If you have a lot of records that never get used to, clean them with the anti-static brush to ensure safe storage. Older boards may need a deep cleaning to remove dirt, chemicals (seeping out of paper inserts), or other nasties.
The cover and sleeve of a record (the inner and outer packaging) must also be kept clean. Dust, dirt, mildew or insects in this cardboard and paper packaging can damage your vinyl. For your most valuable records (or vintage LPs with disgusting inner sleeves), I strongly recommend purchasing and using poly inner sleeves, which will not build up static electricity or mold.
But even if you skip the inner covers, you should buy protective plastic covers. These covers not only protect the art on the cover of your record, but they also keep dust and other debris away from your record.
To put these plastic sleeves to good use, remove a vinyl record (with sleeve) from the cardboard sleeve. Then place both items in the plastic sleeve so that they are next to each other. This reduces the load on the jacket and limits your plate’s exposure to friction. Plus, it helps you avoid the “ringwear” often found on vintage record covers.
Please note that the above information applies to all vinyl records, not just LPs. If you own a ton of 7-inch singles, store them in acid-free sleeves and plastic outer sleeves.
Temperature, humidity and light are your enemy
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Vinyl records are made of PVC and can warp in extreme temperatures. Once you pass 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 32 degrees Celsius), a record can begin to bend or curl. Temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit (about 60 degrees Celsius) can melt a record.
And while humidity isn’t an immediate threat to vinyl, it will slowly destroy a record’s cardboard and paper packaging. Humidity also encourages the growth of mildew and mold, which can reduce the fidelity of an LP (and of course pose a health hazard).
Direct sunlight can also have a cumulative effect on records. Over time, UV rays will fade a vinyl’s cover (or make a record brittle if it’s hanging out without a coat). Direct sunlight can also cause temperature fluctuations, which can cause condensation and promote mold growth in certain environments.
Now these requirements are quite easy to follow. If you feel comfortable at home, you already have a good environment for your administration. Just keep them away from direct sunlight, don’t place them in a hot attic or garage, and consider buying a dehumidifier if your air is so humid.
Just to reiterate, records are quite durable. I’ve bought some pristine vintage vinyl from open air flea markets, open air shops and cramped warehouses with no air conditioning. And I’m in Florida. If you’re comfortable at home, your data is probably at ease too.
Records belong on a sturdy shelf or in a nice box
Most people, even hardcore collectors, fail to keep their records in a safe place. And I’m not talking about temperature or humidity; I’m talking about actual placement – where the records are.
Your average LP weighs about a third of a pound. So if you stack 25 plates on top of each other, the plate at the bottom will tolerate about 8 pounds of pressure. That’s enough to wear out the album cover and cause unnecessary friction on the vinyl. (After a long time, of course.)
Do not stack your records in a large pile. Instead, place them horizontally on a sturdy shelf or organizer, as you would with books. (Don’t put a bunch of records on top of a really cheap bookshelf, because it will break or fall over.)
Now, even when plates are horizontally on a shelf, they still lean against each other. The weight is still there. To avoid this problem, I recommend limiting the number of records you put on each shelf and using hard dividers to distribute the weight. These tips will also make your records easier to find, which is a nice bonus.
You can also store records in sturdy wooden or plastic boxes (cardboard breaks), special cabinets or in a pinch of milk crates. And if you have a relatively small collection, nice tote bags, standing racks, or smaller magazine dividers are perfectly acceptable.