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Do Video Tapes Deteriorate?

By Katy Aguayo

If you grew up in the era of the VHS tape, you know just how nostalgic videotapes are. There’s something so satisfying about popping a VHS tape into a VCR, rewinding it all the way to the beginning (past the commercials though, of course) and watching your favorite movie or home video.

VHS tapes were a big part of so many of our childhoods, and now that videotapes are mostly obsolete it makes them even more special. 


Lots of us still have collections of movies on VHS and home videos on tapes in storage. While you may think that you can just pull out those tapes at any moment and play them on a VCR with no problem, the truth is that your VHS tapes are slowly deteriorating over time and that they won’t last forever.


What Causes Videotapes to Deteriorate?

Videotapes have several components which are prone to deterioration over time. Inside the binding of a VHS tape there are magnetic particles where the image and audio content are stored. Over time, these particles begin to lose their charge. When this happens, audio and visual distortion can occur and make your VHS tapes lose their sharpness. If you’ve ever seen a fuzzy VHS tape, the culprit was likely magnetic particles losing their charge. 

The tape inside VHS cassettes is lined with a lubricant that is meant to keep the tape running smoothly over time. As the VHS tape is played more and more, the lubricant is diminished little by little. Eventually the lubricant wears out, and this makes tapes very susceptible to tearing and stripping when played.

Rewinding and fast-forwarding tapes often can also cause deterioration. The tapes can detach completely from the reels over time, and the backing and substrate of the tapes can become stretched from too much rewinding/fast-forwarding which can cause audio and visual problems. 

Can You Prevent Videotape Deterioration?

While you definitely can avoid playing your VHS tapes an excessive amount to reduce the wear and tear, you can’t prevent videotapes from deteriorating over time. All formats of analog media will deteriorate as years pass, and videotapes are no exception. So what can be done to preserve those precious family memories saved onto VHS tapes?

The only way to truly preserve the content found on your videotapes is to get them digitized. Digitization transfers your VHS tapes into digital files that can be easily accessed and shared. Through digitization, you can keep memories alive by transferring them from videotape to digital. While you can’t prevent your videotapes from deteriorating, you can absolutely preserve the media stored on them through digitization and continue to enjoy that content for years to come. 

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