Most people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with vinyl. They know that analog audio is fairly fragile, and are often too terrified to hold a record in their bare hands. But what happens when a record goes back into its jacket? Suddenly, it’s not such a fragile thing—it ends up in a big pile, collecting dust or absorbing sunlight like a cold-blooded animal.
Improper storage, rather than mishandling, is often the thing that destroys or damages a vinyl record. If you want your record collection to last a long time, you need to learn how to store this stuff.
Analog audio needs to be treated with care. Over time, simply playing a vinyl record will reduce its fidelity. So, in order to extend the life and preserve the quality of vinyl, you need to eliminate any external sources of wear and tear—you need to store your records properly.
To be clear, I’m not telling you to baby your records. They’re pretty dang durable. Billions of vinyl records still survive from the 20th century, and I can guarantee that most of those records have endured mistreatment.
But here’s the thing; exposure to heat, humidity, dust, mildew, insects, or pressure will reduce an LP’s fidelity and damage the cover art. This process usually occurs over several months, years, or decades due to poor storage. Tons of vintage records are still playable, but they’re often damaged in some way.
And poor storage will eventually make a record unplayable. Again, this is something that often takes years or decades. But in the most unfavorable conditions, heat or pressure can destroy a record very quickly, even within a few hours.
Proper vinyl storage starts with cleanliness. Records tend to accumulate static, which attracts dust. This dust can work itself into the grooves of a record or scratch its surface, reducing vinyl fidelity or playability.
Ideally, you should clean a record with an anti-static brush before and after each use. If you have a bunch of records that never get used, clean them with the anti-static brush to ensure safe storage. Older records may need a deep cleaning to remove dirt, chemicals (which seep out of paper inserts), or other nastiness.
A record’s sleeve and jacket (the inner and outer packaging) also need to be kept clean. Any dust, dirt, mildew, or insects inside of this cardboard and paper packaging can harm your vinyl. For your most valuable records (or vintage LPs with disgusting inner sleeves), I strongly suggest buying and using poly inner sleeves, which won’t accumulate static or mildew.
But even if you skip the inner sleeves, you should buy protective plastic covers. Not only will these covers protect the art on your record’s jacket, but they’ll keep dust and other crap away from your record.
To use these plastic covers properly, take a vinyl record (with its sleeve) out of its cardboard jacket. Then, place both items in the plastic cover so they’re side by side. This reduces strain on the jacket and limits your record’s exposure to friction. Additionally, it helps you avoid the “ring wear” that’s often found on vintage record jackets.
Vinyl records are made of PVC and can warp in extreme temperatures. Once you get past 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 32 Celsius), a record may start to bend or curl. Temperatures exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit (about 60 Celsius) can melt a record.
And while humidity doesn’t present an immediate danger to vinyl, it will slowly destroy a record’s cardboard and paper packaging. Humidity also encourages the growth of mildew and mold, which may reduce an LP’s fidelity (and pose a health hazard, of course).
Direct sunlight can also have a cumulative effect on records. Over time, UV rays will bleach a vinyl’s cover art (or make a record brittle if it’s sitting around without a jacket). Direct sunlight can also lead to fluctuations in temperature, which may create condensation and encourage mold growth in certain environments.
Now, these requirements are pretty easy to follow. If you’re comfortable inside your home, then you already have a good environment for your records. Just keep them away from direct sunlight, don’t place them in a hot attic or garage, and consider buying a dehumidifier if your air is that humid.
Just to reiterate, records are pretty durable. I’ve bought some pristine vintage vinyl from outdoor flea markets, open-air stores, and stuffy warehouses without air conditioning. And I’m in Florida. If you’re comfortable in your home, then your records are probably comfortable too.
Most people, even hardcore collectors, fail to keep their records in a safe place. And I’m not talking about temperature or humidity; I’m talking about actual placement—where the records are sitting.
Your average LP weighs about a third of a pound. So, if you stack 25 records on top of each other, the record at the bottom is enduring about eight pounds of pressure. That’s enough to wear out the cover art and create unnecessary friction on the vinyl. (After a long period of time, of course.)
Don’t stack your records in a big pile. Instead, place them horizontally on a strong shelf or organizer, like you would with books. (Just don’t place a ton of records at the top of a really cheap bookshelf, because it will either break or tip over.)
Now, even when records are sitting horizontally on a shelf, they’re still leaning into each other. The weight’s still there. To avoid this problem, I suggest limiting the number of records you put on each shelf and using hard dividers to distribute the weight. These tips will also make your records easier to find, which is a nice bonus.
You can also store records in sturdy wooden or plastic boxes (cardboard will break), specialized cabinets, or in a pinch, milk crates. And if you have a relatively small collection, fancy carrying cases, standing racks, or smaller magazine dividers are perfectly acceptable.