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Home /Travel / Why do VHS Tapes Degrade Over Time?

Why do VHS Tapes Degrade Over Time?

By Katy Sommerfeld

It can be so special to gather your family around the television, pop in an old VHS from years past, and watch the past come back to life through video.

Whether you’re watching a pool party from twenty years ago, someone’s wedding video, or a video from a normal Thursday, there’s something so great about feeling nostalgic. 
There’s some bad news we have to tell you, though: your tapes are degrading


That’s right - they’re degrading with each passing day. Just like all things, tapes don’t last forever, and one day, they’ll no longer work and those memories saved on them will be gone. 

The good news is that there are a few ways to lengthen the lifespan of your videotapes and to preserve your memories, but first, let’s explore why tapes degrade in the first place. 

Aging VHS Tapes

VHS tapes have magnetic particles inside their binding - this is where the image and audio are stored in the tape. These magnetic particles have a lifespan and eventually lose their charge, causing audio and visual distortions in tapes. If you’ve ever watched a really old VHS tape, you may have noticed some fuzzy sound and visual quality. It was likely due to the magnetic particles within the tape losing their charge.

Overusing Your VHS Tapes

VHS tapes are not made to be played over and over until the end of time. Each VHS tape is made with a lubricant to help the magnetic tape run smoothly inside a VCR. Once this lubricant runs out, the tape is susceptible to stripping and tearing when played. This means that your most beloved tapes, the ones you watch the most, are the most likely to degrade first. 

Rewinding and fast-forwarding tapes over time can cause them to become completely detached from the reels or can stretch the backing and substrate of the tapes which causes issues with sound and image quality. That’s not what we want to happen to our precious memories!

Jostling VHS tapes around by dropping them, storing them improperly, stepping on them, etc. can cause the mechanisms within the cassettes to become damaged or broken. If this occurs, the tapes become unplayable and can possibly damage your VCR if inserted. You definitely don’t want a broken videotape and a broken VCR. 

These types of damages that occur from overuse are unavoidable if you watch your tapes semi-regularly. Over time, your tapes lose their heartiness and can become easily damaged. This is why it’s so important to do everything you can to store your VHS tapes properly and avoid overplaying them. 

How to Preserve Your VHS Tapes

The only way to improve the lifespan of your VHS tapes is to store them in the best possible conditions. According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the following are the best storage conditions for storing videotapes. 

  • 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 30-55% relative humidity
  • Store in a closet or unused room on the main level of the home
  • Store off the floor
  • Store videotapes vertically in a box, never stack them 
  • Store away from other magnetized items


If you can follow these storage instructions, you can potentially help your VHS tapes to last longer than if you stored them in more damaging environments. 

No matter how perfectly you may store your videotapes, though, one day they will degrade completely. The only way to prevent losing the special content stored on those tapes forever is to get your VHS tapes digitized!

Digitization is a process that takes your analog media and transfers it to digital files that can be accessed from most devices. Making your analog memories digital is the only way to ensure that those memories will be kept in your family forever. With Southtree, we make digitization a piece of cake by offering free shipping and handling, step-by-step tracking, and 24-hour customer service. What are you waiting for? Get your tapes digitized today with Southtree. 

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