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Home /History / Video Tape Decay

Video Tape Decay

By Dillon Wallace

Your tapes and their memories are fading before your eyes.

The videotapes and cassette tapes have been obsolete for a couple of decades now. And if you’ve got a treasure trove of them sitting in your attic adding dust to those old family memories, then you might be in for a surprise.

SPOILER ALERT: Your tapes are decaying.

But what exactly causes tape decay? Why do tapes fade?

We’ve got the answers and some solutions so that you can make sure your your tapes – not the memories they house – are the only thing that’s obsolete.


The 30-year rule

That’s the approximate lifespan of your average home VHS tape.

Positively demagnetized

If you stored your tape collection next to a magnetic source (say an audio system), then you’ve run the risk demagnetized. And without that attraction, your tapes could be in definite decay danger.

Tape thickness

The length of your videotapes is directly tied to the thickness. The longer the runtime, the thinner the tape. And the thinner the tape, the more likely to break.

Losing charge

It’s called remanence decay and without getting to scientific about it (never took chemistry) it can weaken the color, hues and overall detail.

Under pressure

Cheaper cassette tapes used cheaper parts … you don’t say?! So if you skimped on quality, the pressure pads on your “low end” cassette tapes will tend to deteriorate or fall off much earlier than their premium counterparts.

Double-sided uh-ohs

Attention all cassette tapes with a B side – you’re at a higher risk of deterioration. Why? Because double-sided tapes have the potential for bleed-through from the magnetic fields.

Bone dry

Video tapes use a lubricant in the biner layer. If this lubricant is dried up, then the binder layer will begin taking on more wear, affecting magnetic particles and information loss.

Stretched out

We all remember certain tapes that we couldn’t stop watching? Turns out all that playback, fast forwarding and rewinding probably caused tracking errors that dramatically reduced playback.


We get it. You had that one go to tape for multiple re-recordings. Well, every time you recorded over your previous recording, your tape lost substantial information.

CPR for your VHS

Before you automatically assume the worst for your collection, let us share some life-prolonging tricks for your videotape collection.

Stay cool

The optimal storage temperature for your videotapes is between 50 and 70 degrees

Be kind, rewind

Always fast forward and then rewind your videotapes before storing as this is the best spool positioning.

Humid, not wet

The ideal humidity for tape storage is between 20-40%. Any more than that and you’re overhydrating your collection and we shouldn’t have to explain what happens when old technology gets wet.

Upright is alright

Vertically storing your tapes, not stacking them on top of each other, is the best way to prevent damage to the edges of the tape media.

Play them

It might seem contradictory, but actually playing your old tapes (at least annually) can help prevent any layers from sticking together and ruining playback.


There are several ways to prolong the inevitable decay, but the best way – the only way, really – is to digitize.

Relive the glory days, always

Do the right thing when it comes to your old tapes. Get them digitized before it’s too late. We can help!

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