vhs tape

Remember this old friend? (Public Domain)

Throughout the month of April, Film School Rejects will be dedicating the bulk of our Sunday programming to a series we call “Movie Geek Self Improvement.” We’ve tasked our writers with finding ways to improve your life — from losing weight to restoring old VHS tape jackets — we want to help you get the most out of your pop culture obsessed existence.

Since the Blu-ray disc wormed its way into our lives in the early 2000’s, countless movie collectors have likely made the decision – with a heavy heart – to begin phasing out their DVD hoard with the likes of “Blu-ray” only in mind. I can’t say I’m unsympathetic to the situation, having considered the same route myself, only to be thwarted by my own laziness and insufficient funds.

Instead – I have decided to dig the grave deeper; I have begun to collect used Video Home System cassettes, otherwise known by everyone as VHS tapes.

The used tapes are sickeningly cheap, whether you’re buying them at re-use retail stores, thrift stores, local Goodwills, or just online. I rarely spend more than $1 on a single tape, and, because the rest of the world seems to be trying to rid themselves of these glorious movie boxes, many people are trying to relieve themselves of their VHS burden in bulk.

Though VHS tapes may seem hardier than DVDs and Blu-rays, they are still rather sensitive, given the tape inside. Don’t be like me; don’t leave any VHS tapes in a basement until mold begins to grow on the tape and, especially, do not leave your childhood collection of VHS tapes in said basement until a flood forces your parents to organize them. That’s just plain rude.

Don't forget - store vertically, not horizontally like in this picture.

Don’t forget – store vertically, not horizontally like in this picture. (Recultured.com)

Here are some tips to keep your VHS tapes safe, mold-free, and fully functional for as long as possible:

  • Keep them in a cool, dry spot. Don’t absently store them in the most humid place you can find. And while whatever temperature you’re comfortable living in is also probably appropriate for your boxed friends, make sure you’re not accidentally baking them in the sunlight from a window or slowly melting them near a stove.
  • Be kind (to your VHS tapes), rewind. When you leave the video paused somewhere in the middle, the stretched portion of tape sags over time. Keep that tape tight by always rewinding and storing your VHS tapes vertically, like classic novels on a shelf.
  • Be less clumsy and don’t drop them. This isn’t your iPhone – this is a precious piece of retro film technology. Also, do not touch the tape inside. Any particles transferred from your grimy fingers to the tape will slowly erode the video each time it plays. This is why it’s important to keep the insides debris-free in general.
  • Keep your collection away from magnets and speakers, which can mess up your VHS tapes or even erase them, via science.

But almost more importantly – how can I make my rad collection of VHS’s display-ready for all of my friends, family, and colleagues to admire?

So first of all, there are two major kinds of VHS cases that we’ll be concerning ourselves with here: the flimsy, ripped up cardboard box kind, and the crunched, stepped-on plastic case upon which kids have clearly stomped. Neither are entirely cosmetically redeemable, but fortunately, there are ways to make them slightly less ugly.

The cardboard boxes can have their shape restored with a standard iron, and if you’re not morally opposed to it, some good ‘ole tape. You can of course carefully, patiently, glue split corners back together, with higher quality adhesive, making sure to hold the box in the exact shape you want as it is drying. There are tons of tutorials and guides online for restoring the cardboard boxes of old video games for their collectors, and the standard box of a VHS tape isn’t too different. Here’s a solid example for re-enforcing shape:

The plastic cases are a bit of a different story. The most you can really do to flatten a crumpled-up plastic case is to crumple back to its desired form with your hands, a book, or whatever else you have lying around with which to flatten by force. Fortunately, the plastic cases do have one up on the cardboard boxes when it comes to cleaning. They’re just plastic; so take out the paper artwork, and feel free to soap up the case with dish soap, or whatever level of high-powered soap required to get rid of whatever nasty mess you have on your hands. Lather, rinse, dry, and put back the cover art.

Building up (or just maintaining) a VHS collection is a cheap hobby, that’s always sprinkled with odd finds and memories. Got any VHS-keeping tips, or favorite-find stories? Let us know in the comments!


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