When you’re an audiophile, or even just want to keep your music in great condition, understanding the requirements for storing your vinyl records is essential. After all, you’re collecting them for a reason, just as I do. After years of storing vinyl in various conditions (not all of which were my choice), I’ve found the best ways to store your vinyl records for the optimal condition of your records.
Vinyl records, like other fabricated physical forms of music storage, have specific conditions which offer optimal results. Optimal conditions will benefit your collection by increasing the longevity of your vinyl records. Best conditions include low humidity, stable temperature, and vertical placement.
Let’s dive into the different things that affect vinyl record storage to give you the best chance of maintaining your collection for the longest possible time, in the best possible condition.
We know that vinyl records construction is that of polyvinyl chloride. Commonly known as PVC, we use this same sort of plastic for all kinds of things, from water pipes to our audio record recordings. Given that PVC is a type of plastic, it can last a long time – but it is by no means invincible. (source)
There are things that can negatively affect PVC. I mean, you can take a PVC pipe and shatter it if you drop the temperature enough. Similarly, PVC will also melt at higher temperatures. The melting point of PVC is between 212 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. (source)
A paper on changing perceptions to what good sounding (good quality) vinyl records are to collectors notes how our perceptions have changed. The paper points out how in 1979, a Rolling Stones reader complained about vinyl records ‘the snap, crackle and pop on undulating vinyl’ (Di Gianvittorio, 1979: 6). (source)
Current culture (at the time of writing) is such that we yearn to hear those familiar sounds that define vinyl, albeit not during the actual music playback, but maybe in between tracks, right? It’s one of the things we all love about our vinyl.
Although our perceptions of a good condition of vinyl record recording have changed over the years, collectors today still want our records to maintain their familiar-sounding personality and warmth only achievable with a good turntable and vinyl record.
Let’s look now at what things affect vinyl so we know how to best store it for the best condition over time.
PVC plastic is a relatively malleable plastic, so it is so versatile and used for so many different purposes. As the plastic is somewhat pliable, vinyl records can bend and warp. Knowing this, we can define some rules for vinyl record placement for optimal storage results.
Horizontally storing vinyl records is ideal. However, some stipulations make it likely less suitable for practicality. Let me explain.
Vinyl records stored horizontally on a flat and level surface will be ideally protected in terms of a stable base to rest without fear of warping. However, they must not be stored horizontally with any weight on top. Given that most people who collect vinyl records have more than a few records in their collection. Well, imagine you had hundreds of vinyl records. If you were to store them horizontally and not pile them on top of each other, you would need an awful lot of floor space. Totally impractical in reality and therefore not recommended.
Vertical storage of vinyl records solves the issue of impractical floor space used for storage purposes. However, we now must introduce several other variables that can affect the record negatively when stored horizontally.
First, if a record is stored vertically without proper support (like leaning against something on a slight angle), your record will warp over time. So, optimal storage of vinyl records requires stable support to maintain a true vertical storage position without leaning or horizontal pressures. An ideal piece of furniture for such a purpose is a record storage box utilizing rigid foam inserts to hold records upright; if the box isn’t full of records, that is.
One of the most deadly adversaries of your record collection is sunlight. Have you ever felt something that is black and left in the sun? It gets pretty hot! With that said, your records will be destroyed by sunlight. Do not store your records anywhere that direct sunlight will find them.
Sunlight is a significant contributor to vinyl decay. And vinyl decay is a primary source for audio degradation, so again, it’s best to avoid it if you like your records. (source)
Temperature plays a significant role in degrading PVC. Keep in mind that the audio recorded into the record is done so within tiny microscopic grooves with even smaller cuts and notches. These tiny cuts into the record grooves are what give the record the ability to record audio. Can you imagine how easy it is to melt a tiny groove enough to affect the audio quality negatively? As the melting point of PVC can be as low as 212 Fahrenheit (boiling water temperature), depending on additives to the plastic, you can understand that leaving a record on a radiator could leave you with a very soft and useless clump of vinyl.
Cold temperatures at extremes will also damage or increase the risk of damage to your records. For example, say you were living in Michigan and get some pretty nasty winter weather. You wouldn’t want any of your vinyl stored in an unheated garage. Extreme cold makes PVC extremely brittle.
If you’ve ever seen a video of something dipped in freezing nitrogen and then shattered, that’s the same as what happens to records when cold and dropped. And you don’t need liquid nitrogen to do that to a record, just some nasty winter weather below zero. So, it isn’t just heat that can hurt your records.
Similarly, as mentioned with sunlight, just leaving a record out in the sun for a short time can heat the plastic enough to cause audio degradation in mere minutes of exposure. And if you leave a record in a hot area or in the sun and it isn’t on a level surface, you can expect a lovely warp in your vinyl record.
Humidity does not generally affect PVC on its own. However, if we add a few things to moisture, then it can be very detrimental.
First, we have to consider that most record sleeves are made of cardboard. Well, cardboard in a moist environment makes mushy paper mache-like stuff, doesn’t it? You can imagine what high humidity will do to your collector record sleeves holding your precious musical recordings. For this fact alone, it is best to store vinyl in a low humidity environment.
Second, if we add temperature change to high humidity, we get another set of issues. Fast temperature changes with high humidity levels induce condensation. Think of a cold drink in a glass on a hot day. The cold glass will ‘sweat’ as the humidity in the air condenses on the cold surface. Similarly, if your records are cooler than the atmosphere around them, condensation will occur that could damage your cardboard vinyl record sleeves.
Long-term storage of vinyl records in a moist environment may also encourage mold or bacterial growth, so again, high humidity should be avoided for best results storing your records.
As we were just discussing the nature of high humidity, let’s take a moment to consider the atmosphere itself and neglect the moisture content for a moment.
Have you heard of rust? Of course, you have (not like you’ve been living under a rock, right?). Rust is basically the oxidation of iron. However, it brings about a good point – oxygen likes to oxidize stuff. Fire is another form of oxidation, which can be a handful to stop once it gets started.
Oxygen reacts with many things. You could say it is reactive. PVC also degrades from oxygen overtime via oxidation. However, it’s not like the rusting of iron; it’s much more subtle.
The air we breathe is about 21 percent oxygen. So this is the sort of benchmark we want to use when thinking of the best atmosphere to store records. (source)
Indeed storing them near any type of possible harmful vapor is a bad idea. For example, I wouldn’t keep my records anywhere near where I might get acidic vapor trapped in their storage box. In other words, I don’t use bleach spray cleaner or similar things near my records that could affect them via vapor exposure. Not something I typically worry about nearly as much as potential chemical exposure.
One of the last serious considerations for storing vinyl records is ensuring that they are not exposed to chemicals. Now, I don’t generally concern myself with spraying cleaners and whatnot in the room where my vinyl is in storage. Due to keeping my vinyl in a storage box, there is little chance I will expose them to chemicals.
The main problem that some face with chemical exposure and storage damage is cleaning vinyl records with inappropriate chemicals and leaving a residue that damages the records while in storage. Similarly, some substances can seep into the cardboard sleeves holding your records, causing long-term exposure to potentially various harmful substances.
Similarly, chemicals might damage your record sleeves also. Therefore, knowing how to clean your records properly is vital to their long-term storage success. Take a look at an article I wrote on proper cleaning for the vinyl records here.
Many manufacturers have perfected the chemical composition of vinyl to best suit the audio recording process. However, it does not necessarily mean they use the chemical additives the PVC needs to reduce oxidation or reactivity to radiation like ultra-violet.
Studies have shown that using additive chemicals like dibutyltin maleate (DBTM) and dioctyltin bis(isooctyl thioglycollate) (DOTG) both help to stabilize the PVC further and reduce its reactivity to both oxygen and ultra-violet radiation. (source)
Try to say those chemical names three times fast; I dare you! Seriously though, unless you are a genius chemical engineer, understanding how cleaners or other chemicals might react with these sorts of additives to PVC is a bit of a mystery. So, to err on the side of caution and attempt to prevent a reaction between chemicals, it’s best to steer clear of using any chemicals to clean your vinyl records.
- Keep your vinyl stored vertically but well-supported to avoid warping over time.
- Keep your records out of direct sunlight.
- Try to maintain a consistent room temperature for storage without swings in temperature.
- Keep records stored in a low humidity environment.
- Maintain storage of records at a safe distance from hazardous chemical vapors
- Keep records clean with a carbon fiber brush and avoid using harsh chemicals that could leave residues that cause damage over time.
I’ll be honest – I love my records. I’ve also had my eye on the music business for years. I just find it so fascinating. Well, my taste in record storage boxes reflects not only my desire to have outstanding quality records kept in excellent condition, but it also reflects my love for concerts and the industry.
My favorite record storage box is a sturdy aluminum (road case style) vinyl record box like this one I bought from Amazon.
This record storage case holds up to 125 records, although about 120 is best. It has soft padding on the inside and rigid heavy-duty protection on the outside. A sturdy handle and two latches keep your storage box closed, locked, and secure. The handle makes it easy to carry, but still, you need to consider that a full crate of vinyl is still going to be pretty hefty (don’t throw your back out!).
As you can see from the style, it’s a very concert road case styled with a definite appeal to those like me who value function over appearance (but still want it to look cool).
I also like that the case has a locking lid. Not that I need to lock my records up at home, but it helps to keep them dust-free by having the lid shut. I’ve seen a lot of record storage shelves and similar, but all keep your records exposed to the elements, and many will warp your records unless they are completely full. This storage box is, in my experience, the best option for storing records at home. And you can travel with it, given its great road-case robust construction.
- Phonograph Record, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph_record, Accessed October 26, 2021.
- Everything You Need To Know About PVC Plastic, Creative Mechanisms, https://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-pvc-plastic, Accessed October 26, 2021.
- Emily Chivers Yochim, Megan Biddinger, `It kind of gives you that vintage feel’: vinyl records and the trope of death, University of Michigan, Sage Publications, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0163443707086860?journalCode=mcsa, Accessed October 26, 2021.
- MAUCH, M; Ewert, S; International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (ISMIR 2013), The Audio Degradation Toolbox and its Application to Robustness Evaluation, Queen Mary University of London, https://qmro.qmul.ac.uk/xmlui/handle/123456789/6061, Accessed October 26, 2021.
- B.Boyd Cooray, Gerald Scott, The effect of thermal processing on PVC—Part V: The effect of thiotin stabilisers on heat and light stability, Department of Chemistry, the University of Aston in Birmingham, Gosta Green, Birmingham B4 7ET, Great Britain, Science Direct, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0141391080900142, Accessed October 26, 2021.
- 10 interesting things about air, NASA, https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2491/10-interesting-things-about-air/#:~:text=Air%20is%20mostly%20gas&text=It’s%20a%20mixture%20of%20different,dioxide%2C%20neon%2C%20and%20hydrogen., Accessed October 26, 2021.
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