The biggest threat to vinyl records is either heat or a worn-out stylus. Heat for example is caused by the sun shining on your records, causing warping. A worn-out stylus is likely to damage the inside of the grooves, influencing the sound quality.
Table of Contents
Introduction – Biggest Threat To Vinyl Records
Since I’ve been interested in vinyl and record players I’ve been very worried about what does and doesn’t damage vinyl. There are some obvious ones out there and less obvious ones. Over time I’ve gotten quite a good overview of most things that can be done incorrectly causing unnecessary damage to records.
In this article I want to discuss commonly known threats that do damage to vinyl records. After that I’ll also discuss lesser-known causes of vinyl damage. In both these parts I’ll mention the threat itself, why it’s a threat, and finally how to avoid or fix it. After this I want to show some statistics I have gathered on these threats to actually nail down what the biggest threat and cause of damage to vinyl is.
Common Threats To Vinyl Records
You have probably heard this before, but moisture is a big threat to your vinyl records. But why is moisture so bad for vinyl? Can’t we just dry it before playing? Well the real problem with moisture on your records is that it causes mildew or mold.
The development of fungus is detrimental to the qualiy of your record. The Next to that fungi can be very dangerous to your health too, but that’s a whole different issue.
Fungus likes to grow in moist places like a damp basement. You want to be sure to store your records in dry storage space. Leaks in your house can ruin an entire collection. Just like a flood or a bad roof. So make sure to store your vinyl elevated. Finally you can just have humid air in your entire house. In that case a dehumidifier would be a great solution.
Another issue with moisture is that when cardboard sleeves get wet they’ll cake on your records. This can be a pain to clean out. A good way to avoid this from happening is using non-cardboard inner sleeves. This will keep the carboard from caking on your vinyl.
Another “popular” threat is temperature. In the case of vinyl it’s mainly high temperatures, really. Excessive heat on your records will likely cause warping of the disc shape. Now I’ve written an article that has a part that talks about trying to fix a warped record. Check it out here.
The extreme here is fire reaching your records. Fire is a huge threat, it will absolutely ruin your records, but you probably assumed this already. A house fire doesn’t happen often, but not wanting to lose your records is another reason to be careful with fire and electronics. And don’t leave your vinyl too close to your fireplace.
A more common cause of excessive heat on your vinyl is actually direct sunlight. Most records are black and will absorb all heat from the sunlight. This can significantly increase the temperature causing changes in groove shape and record warping. Just be sure to keep your records out of the sun, whether they are in their sleeves or not.
Steven Smith, one of the owners of Human Head Records in New York, considers a worn-out stylus to be one of the biggest threats to your vinyl. Most people already seem to know this, but I did want to mention it.
Depending on your stylus quality and type it has a estimated amount of time it can play before it’s considered worn out and in need of replacement. Steven had the following to say about stylus lifetime, “At the shop we replace our main table’s needle every month or two, given we play it ten hours a day on average.“
Now the damage a worn-out stylus can do to your records is significant, because it’s likely to cause damage inside the grooves like scratches or warping. This significantly impacts the audio quality.
An easy way to avoid this is of course changing your cartridge when you notice a worn stylus. I’ve also written an article on worn-out stylus symptoms. Check it out if you’re interested.
This is another very important aspect of your record player. It’s easy to mess up. It can be as tedious as tuning a guitar. Steven said the following about it, “… If your counterweight is too far forward it puts unnecessary weight on the stylus which could cause harm to both needle and wax.” So keep this in mind.
You can’t clean vinyl records with windex because it contains abrasive components like ammonia that will eath through the vinyl material. This leaves permantent damage to the shape of the record grooves and will negatively affect the sound quality.
Lesser-Known Threats To Vinyl Records
Moving Records Around
Moving around your records comes with some risks. Gravity is really the obvious threat here. Most people end up with a few scratches and dents after a big move. An example of this is you’re moving houses and you’re taking your vinyl collection with you. Another example is travelling of course.
The solution to this is proper packing. I suggest you use inner poly sleeves for at least your most precious records. Next to that it’s good practice to use record bags with about 15 records each, for more protection. Then pack those bags into sturdy boxes.
Touching your records can be bad if your skin oil and muck gets into the playing surface grooves. That’s because it causes audio distortion, needle jumping & groove abrasion. This can all be avoided by proper record handling. And if it’s too late for that it can be solved by proper record cleaning.
I have written an entire article specifically about why it’s bad and how to avoid to touch your vinyl. Check it out here if you’re interested.
I love children, but they are a significant threat to vinyl collections. A friend of mine had his son crawl on top of records when the boy was 3 or 4 while he was at work and the wife wasn’t watching him. He cracked several of them, including his 78s of Ricky Nelson and Little Richard and The Weavers and a Charlie Daniels LP.
This is the only downside of having kids, right? Thankfully, it’s very preventable. The solution is obvious, make your records child-proof! Place them somewhere high that your children can’t climb to. By the way, if you don’t have children you actually won’t have to worry about this one.
The next threat are pets. Most pets like to chew on anything that fits in their mouths. Now vinyl records fit in most mouths because of the disc shape. I haven’t had any issues with my cats. I haven’t actually heard anyone complain about their cats, regarding to their vinyl collection at least.
However, younger dogs or undisciplined older ones are troubling. If you haven’t shelved your collection & your puppy is bored with ruining your couch, then your records are next. This will completely ruin the vinyl.
The first solution to this is the same as with children. Just shelf your records. If you choose to store some in your garage then watch out for mice or rats. They love chewing on album covers too.
The last threat I want to mention are humans, people. Most of them will not be any threat to your vinyl records. But problems arise with disrespectful and inebriated people.
Disrespectful people are likely not to worry about touching, scratching or dropping your records. This will destroy your vinyl collection. Drunk people are likely to spill drinks over your records. The stickiness from sugary drinks is awful to clean, but what can be more concerning is alcoholic drinks spilling over your vinyl.
Alcohol by itself in low proportions isn’t necessarily bad for your records. But the amount of alcohol in most alcoholic drinks is way too much and will damage your records. I have also written an article on how dangerous alcohol is to vinyl. Check it out here.
Survey Data – Vinyl Causes Of Damage
So I have listed the common and uncommon threats to vinyl. I created this list of 8 threats or causes of damage after having a discussion in several vinyl fan Facebook groups that I started.
These discussions were so popular and interesting that I decided to create a Google form where people can pick up to three threats they consider the greatest source of vinyl damage. After 300 people had participated in the survey I decided to start writing this article, because the biggest considered threat had become apparent. Take a look at the graph below.
As the data from my research suggests, the biggest threat to vinyl is high temperature. According to vinyl collectors all around the world at least. The second place is taken by a worn-out stylus. So these two are the biggest threats to your records. The following two causes of vinyl damage are moisture and touching, taking third and fourth place respectively.
Conclusion – Biggest Threat To Vinyl Records
So, after having covered 9 common and uncommon threats for vinyl damage I showed you some statistics from data I gathered. These statistics give an indication that high temperatures are the biggest threat to vinyl followed closely by a worn-out stylus.
But it should be said that all of the mentioned threats need to be taken seriously. You want your records out of the sunlight, in a cool and dry place. You want to replace worn-out cartridges. You’ll want proper tracking weight. Also you’ll need to handle your vinyl properly(no touching grooves). And then they will last forever. Unless your kids, pets, or friends destroy them, of course.
I want to end this article with an important point made by Steven Smith, one of the owners of Human Head Records. He said, “The biggest threat to vinyl? Without a doubt it’s temperature, sunlight, and humidity. Keep your collection in mild temperatures and you’ll keep them happy.“
Hopefully this was helpful to you. If you liked it then please check out our other educational articles. If you’re interested in getting a new record player you can check out our reviews & top lists to find an affordable & quality option.
- Steven Smith, Human Head Records, from http://humanheadnyc.com