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Why are My Tapes Moldy?

By Dillon Wallace

Over decades of unkempt storage, you may find a surprise much greater than dust bunnies and cobwebs when you go in search of your old videotapes – mold. That’s right! In addition to your tapes being past their prime playtime, you may find a fungal decay trying to wreak havoc from the outside, in. 


And if you’re not careful, you might be kissing your parents’ wedding video or your grandma’s childhood photos goodbye. But what causes mold from starting in the first place? And can your tapes be cleaned?


A fungal culprit

As you may or may not know, the biggest cause for mold is moisture – and your basement and attic are rife with it due to their humid temperatures. Those two places also happen to be storage spots 1 and 2 on the list of top storage locations. So, the longer your VHS tapes, photos and film reels sit in your damp basement or humid attic, the more time mother nature has to expose your precious memories to potential disaster.


And since your old videotapes aren’t viewed but once in a blue moon, that moisture has plenty of time to do some serious mold-curdling damage to your media. Behind the cobwebs and boxes of old clothes and childhood toys, you may find your family videos covered in blobs of green, white or black fuzzy substances. That’s mold.


But is your tape damaged?

Like all bad things, if you can detect it early enough – there’s a greater chance of stopping it from worsening. The same goes with mold growth. If you notice some white spotty substances on your tapes, then your memory stash might be compromised with the beginnings of a mold outbreak. If you can stop the fungus from spreading into the magnetic ribbon underneath the plastic, there’s a good chance your videotapes can be saved.


Cleaning mold from your tapes

If you’ve got a moldy tape, there are measures you can take to stop it from further decay. If it’s just on the plastic outer casing, you can simply wipe it off or switch casings (but seeking professional help is wise). But if the mold has had enough time to progress into the magnetic ribbon area, unfortunately your tape(s) is doomed. Sorry memories of prom and that family vacation footage to the Grand Canyon in the early 90s.


If you do have mold on your tape and you’re not sure as to the severity, it’s wise to take it to a professional versus trying anything yourself. In a valiant DIY effort to clean your tapes, you may just end up damaging them even more than the mold. Better yet, let’s try to prevent mold from happening in the first place.


Preventing mold & preserving memories

The best way to prevent mold from taking hold is to properly store your tapes and other old memory media in a climate-controlled, humidity-free setting (55-70 degrees Fahrenheit and 30-55% RH) with minimal exposure to light. Keeping tapes in boxes, film reels in canisters and photos in albums. Also, checking in on your tapes regularly – once a month or so – will help you stay on top of any mold-growing issues in development.


But if you’re looking for the best way to preserve your memories, it doesn’t involve storage or tracking down obsolete technology. The best way to fight mold and the decay of your memories is to have your old analog media digitized. And we can help! Let us help preserve your memories digitally, so you can enjoy them mold-free – whenever, wherever you may be.


(Note: If your tape’s magnetic ribbon is damaged by mold, we unfortunately can’t preserve it through digitization. All the more reason for you to digitize your memories today, while they’re still capable).

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