Since the advent of DVDs, VHS video tapes have been stored away in an attic or closet to grow dust and are largely forgotten about.
But what do you do if when you go to take a look at your treasured memories, you find that the tapes are covered in mold? Can you still watch them? How can you clean them, why have they grown mold in the first place and how can you stop it from happening to any others?
In this article, we will be answering all these questions and more, so, for all you need to know about mold growth on VHS tapes, keep reading.
Why do VHS tapes get mold?
Mold is a complex organism, however, its needs are fairly basic. All it requires to live is a source of moisture, nutrients, oxygen, and a temperate climate.
You may be wondering where it has been sourcing these necessities whilst locked away in your attic or closet, so let’s take a quick look into each to explain how it may have happened.
Mold can use tiny amounts of condensed liquid that pools on surfaces once the humidity level surpasses 55%.
In some parts of the United States (Florida for example), the ambient humidity does not fall below 60%, so there is always an abundance of moisture in the air.
Leaving your VHS tapes in a box whilst stored in a garage, attic, or closet with humidity levels like this will not only damage the delicate magnetic tape but will provide an excellent source of moisture for mold to use for hydration.
You may be wondering what possible nutrients could be found in your attic for mold to live off, and I’m afraid the answer is a little grim.
Dust, is an excellent source of nutrition for mold to consume, as it contains shed skin cells of humans and animals as well as other decomposed organic materials. The skin cells provide all the proteins and minerals that it requires, with the additional organic matter providing the rest.
The dust on the floor of your basement may not look like something we would want to eat, but for mold, it’s a banquet.
The temperature that many strains of mold spread at most comfortably is between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. And the most common temperature for American households to set their thermostats to is between 70-75 degrees, providing near-optimal temperatures for mold to not only live but thrive.
During the warmer months of the year, the temperatures rise even higher than this, which when combined with the high humidity levels that summer months bring, creates the perfect environment for mold to grow over your VHS tapes.
Does mold damage VHS tapes?
Yes, mold growth can damage VHS tapes. As mold grows, it releases enzymes that break down dust and other organic matter in order to be absorbed for nutrition, these enzymes also break down and damage the delicate tape within the VHS cassette, with some strains even feeding off the tape itself, rendering it unplayable if not removed quickly.
What type of mold grows on VHS tapes?
There are three types of mold that are commonly found growing within properties, and therefore, the most likely to be found growing on your VHS tapes.
These strains are:
Each of these molds forms in slightly different textures and colors. They may appear initially as white patches of powdery or velvet-like growth and could change to either, blue, green, olive, or brown depending on the strain that is growing.
Without proper testing, it will be difficult to tell exactly which strain you are dealing with, as under the correct circumstances, all three of these common strains could create a colony on VHS tapes.
Is the mold dangerous?
Cladosporium, Aspergillus, and Penicillium molds all have the potential to cause harm to humans with allergies or suppressed immune systems thanks to the mycotoxins that they produce as a defense mechanism against microbes.
Inhalation or accidental ingestion of the mold or its spores can produce symptoms that can be potentially dangerous or even life-threatening in rare cases.
In the majority of cases however, for those without allergies or any other medical conditions, inhaling or ingesting a small amount of the mold or its spores is unlikely to cause any major harm.
Of course, if you were dealing with mold and noticed you had begun to experience any symptoms, you should contact a medical professional for assistance.
Should you attempt to clean the mold off a VHS tape yourself, you should always wear the correct protective equipment before attempting to do so, in case you have allergies you were not aware of.
Can you play moldy VHS tapes?
Whether or not you can play a moldy VHS tape depends entirely on the extent of the mold and how long it has been growing.
If the majority of the mood has grown on the exterior of the tape, it can be wiped away and played. However, if the mold has grown deep within the cassette and has been growing on the magnetic tape itself, it may well be beyond repair and will be unwatchable.
Signs of mold in your VHS tape
One of the first signs of mold growth on a videotape is small white patches of circular growth on the outer casing. These spots can also appear in blue, green, black, or brown coloration and usually have a powdery or velvet-like texture.
However, you may not always have visual signs of growth, and so your sense of smell may be your first indicator. Upon removing a VHS tape or taking the box out of the closet or basement, you may notice a strong musty smell, also sometimes compared to the smell of soil, this is a clear indication of mold growth.
How to clean VHS tapes
Cleaning a VHS tape of mold is a delicate process, as the magnetic strip can become easily damaged, rendering the tape useless. In order to clean a VHS safely at home, use the following steps:
Step 1. Fast forward the VHS
You’ll need to fast-forward the tape so that you are left with a completely empty reel to clean.
Step 2. Run the tape through an electronic tape cleaner
Electronic tape cleaners (head cleaners) will remove the vast majority of dust, debris, and in this case, mold and its spores from the magnetic tape. Place the VHS into the cleaner and press fast forward.
Step 3. Open the box
If the VHS you suspect of having mold is sealed, use a small knife or screwdriver to open it. From here you can inspect the insides of the box to assess the amount of mold you are dealing with and to see how badly damaged the magnetic tape is.
Step 4. Clean the empty reel
Dip a Q-tip into isopropyl alcohol and gently wipe the inner parts of the casing and the empty reel. Allow to dry and then repeat steps 1 and 2 again so you can clean the reel on the other side.
Step 5. Run an additional cleaning cycle
Place the VHS back into the electronic tape cleaner and hit fast forward so it can thoroughly clean all the tape and any residual debris. Once the tape is clean, screw the casing back on.
Can moldy VHS tapes be saved?
As long as the mold on the exterior of the tape has not penetrated into the cassette box itself and onto the magnetic tape, they should be salvageable.
However, if the mold has grown on the magnetic tape itself, the tape will not be able to be saved, as the mold will have broken down the tape, destroying it.
How to prevent mold on VHS tapes
Rather than needing to painstakingly clean your VHS tapes once they have mold growing on them, use the following methods to store the tapes correctly and prevent them from growing in the first place.
Keep the humidity down
Mold grows rapidly at humidity levels greater than 55%, so storing your VHS tapes at moisture levels lower than this will greatly slow the rate at which it will be able to grow.
If you want to ensure your tapes are being stored at a consistent humidity, it would be a good idea to place a hygrometer in the box they are being stored in. During particularly humid days, check the hygrometer to make sure the environment they are in is staying lower than 55%.
Store at lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit
If possible, store your VHS tapes in temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as this is the temperature that mold grows most rapidly.
Try to find a cool spot in your home with consistent temperatures that are out of direct sunlight. If it is not possible to find an area lower than 60 degrees, ensure it is at least very low humidity, as a mixture of high humidity and warm temperatures is the perfect combination for mold growth.
Keep them in an airtight container
Placing your VHS tapes in an airtight container will prevent dust and debris from entering the tape box and provide mold with the nutrients it needs.
It will also prevent airborne spores from finding their way onto your tapes and setting up a colony.
Keep the temperature consistent
Temperature fluctuations can not only damage the delicate magnetic tape and ruin your tapes but can speed up the rate at which mold can grow. Once again, keeping them in an airtight container in a room with consistent temperatures will help to prevent this.
Rewind your tapes
Rewinding your tapes after you’ve finished watching them is not only a good practice, it can actually prevent mold growth.
It does this by restricting the amount of surface area available, meaning any spores that do find their way onto the tape will only be able to create a small colony, limiting the potential for damage.
Keep your VHS tapes clean
Using an electric tape cleaner every few months will help to remove any dust and debris that can accumulate on the magnetic tape. If this debris accumulates it can create a source of food for mold as well as damage the tape if it were to be played.
Place the tape in the electric tape cleaner and hit fast forward, this will clean the tape. You will only need to do this a few times each year in order to keep them clean and functioning well.
Is it safe to put a moldy VHS tape in a VCR?
No, putting a moldy VHS tape into a VCR and playing the video would disturb the mold, which in turn will make it highly likely that it would release its spores into the VCR itself.
Once these spores settle, they could begin to grow in the inner parts of the machine causing damage and potentially ruining your VCR unit.
Additionally, playing a tape that has mold growing on it without cleaning it first is more likely to cause irreparable damage to the delicate magnetic tape rendering it unwatchable.
What if you accidentally played a VHS tape with mold?
If you had played a VHS tape and then realized it had mold growing on it after you removed it, you should check the tape for damage.
If you are confident that you will not damage the tape further, you can open the box and inspect it to see the extent of the growth.
You can then either clean the tape yourself or take it to a professional if it has sentimental value and you do not want to take the risk of damaging it.
You may also need to take your VCR to a specialist to be cleaned, as the spores may have found their way into your VCR.
When to consult a professional
The best time to call a professional to help you deal with moldy VHS tapes is whenever you don’t feel comfortable attempting to clean them yourself.
By opening the tape box and applying any kind of liquid to the inner parts of the cassette, you do run the risk of damaging the tape inside.
If you have mold on VHS tapes that hold a lot of value to you, it’s recommended that you have them inspected and professionally cleaned, rather than attempting to do so yourself and potentially ruining the tape.
VHS tapes can be greatly damaged by mold growth, and improper storage is the number one reason for them becoming moldy in the first place.
Store your VHS tapes in a dry climate and keep them clean by using a VHS head cleaner every few months to remove dust and debris that mold can use for sustenance.