Archive for February, 2013

What To Do If Your Tape Gets Wet

glass of water

There are many, many ways for a tape to get wet; whether or not the footage can be salvaged depends on what it was exposed to.

The important thing to keep in mind that the only thing that really matters is the tape itself, not the cassette or shell.

If your tape was exposed to water only all you need to do is let it air-dry naturally and slowly and you’ll find that it will be just fine to play in a few days.

Unfortunately most tapes are not dipped in pure water alone, and it’s what’s left behind that causes the trouble.  Any chemicals in the liquid can and probably will cause a chemical reaction, permanently etching the surface of the tape and causing playback issues ranging from static interference to potential equipment damage.

We’ve seen tapes that have been in floods, seawater, soda, washing machines, purses with a broken perfume bottle, and much more.  Luckily the tape is usually wound up tightly on the reels of the cassette which prevents substances from seeping all throughout and ruining the majority of the footage; in most cases only a small amount of tape needs to be removed and the cassette either needs to be cleaned or replaced to get the tape back in working order.

If your tape has been exposed to anything except water it’s very important to just let it be- attempts to clean out the cassette including rinsing with water could simply spread the substance, subsequently damaging more footage than the original exposure.

Give us a call or send us an email, we’ll be here to help!


Moldy VHS Tapes


A search for “moldy VHS tape” yields lots of well-intentioned ideas about how to deal with the problem.  It is my professional opinion that the advice and tutorials about cleaning up a tape that has been affected by mold is actually very bad and will at best do nothing for a tape and at worst will destroy the tape’s footage.

I won’t provide links to the bad advice, but my critique can be easily summarized:  liquid substances of any kind and videotapes do not mix; liquid substances and mold-affected tapes is a recipe for disaster.  This applies to VHS, VHS-C, 8mm, Hi8, Digital8 and miniDV.

I do regret the tone of this post, because I’m sure it comes across as a self-serving ad for our services, but the simple truth of the matter is that if your tape has been affected by mold and the footage is of value to you, the very best thing you can do is send it to us.  Unfortunately not all mold damaged tapes can be salvaged; but if your tape can be restored we will be able to recover the footage with a minimum of loss.  Our experience, custom-built equipment and time-tested methods allow us to work with mold in a way that people offering their advice online don’t even begin to realize is necessary and productive.

So, if you found some tapes in the basement or attic that have white, tan or brown mold growing on the reels, or if Costco, Rite-Aid, or any other DVD transfer establishment told you that your tapes can’t be transferred, contact us.  You’ll be very glad that you did!

Viewing Older Tapes


We recently received a question from a reader asking what he should do with some tapes that hadn’t been played in many years.  Was there any risk to the tapes themselves if they were used in a normal manner?

All tapes have a thin layer of lubrication on their surface that allows the tape to flow smoothly over the heads of playback equipment and protects the surface from etching in normal conditions.  Over time, even in the very best of storage conditions, this lubrication can start to break down, becoming tacky and causing issues ranging from intermittent static interference to preventing playback entirely.

With VHS and VHS-C tapes lubrication issues normally present as a high-pitched squealing sound as the VCR struggles to play the sticky tape and will prevent the tape from being played or wound at all if the problem has progressed enough.  For 8mm, Hi8, and Digital8 there is also a squeal, and if the lubrication has deteriorated enough the tape will stick to itself on the reels, causing it to snap apart over and over again.  We have yet to see a lubrication problem with miniDV tapes (note that this issue is not the same as mixing miniDV brands in a camcorder).

If you suspect that your tapes might be suffering from lubrication issues you will not putting the tape itself at risk if you attempt playback, but your equipment could become fouled.  Deteriorating lubrication will quickly clog the heads of a machine, preventing you from actually viewing your footage.  If it’s bad enough your VCR or camcorder will need to be cleaned, sometimes professionally, before it is usable again.

We can clean up and reset the lubrication on the surface of your tape, but we can’t assist you with your equipment.

So, to answer our reader’s question:  If the lubrication on the surface of your tape is deteriorating, don’t worry about the tapes (the damage has been done and is reversible), but do be prepared for a dirty VCR or camera.


Why Can’t Erased Footage Be Recovered?



Of all the tape problem scenarios we hear about, the one I dread the most is footage that has been recorded over or erased.

We’ll get a call a couple of times a week from a husband (it’s almost never a woman, sorry guys) asking for any advice we can offer on how to recover the wedding footage that he recorded over.  Our response is always the same:  ”We’re very, very sorry, but to the best of our knowledge footage that has been recorded over cannot be recovered.”

But why is that?  If you watch a CSI-type of TV show or a sci-fi thriller chances are good that you’ll see a technician doing exactly what we’d want to be able to do to recover footage, usually simply by telling the computer to “Enhance!”.  The issue is further muddled because data from computer hard drives can be recovered under ideal circumstances (when the data is simply erased but not yet recorded over).

The reason is that when a camcorder or VCR is recording footage the recording heads are aligning the magnetic particles on the tape’s surface, laying down analog information that can be read and interpreted later during playback.  If footage is recorded over existing data the particles are realigned in a new pattern that has no relation to the original, so there is no longer any trace of the original footage remaining.

Hopefully you aren’t reading this because you’ve just erased something important, and if you have I really am sorry.

If you haven’t yet lost some footage, I highly recommend breaking off the write-protect tab on your VHS tapes, and making sure the slider on your other media is switched to read-only.

Video Tapes and Fireproof Safes

Fireproof Safe

A safe seems like a great idea for storing everything in your home that is irreplaceable, and for important documents and jewelry it certainly is.

Since your videotapes are irreplaceable and priceless you might be tempted to store your tapes in a safe as well and I certainly can’t blame you for wanting to make sure they survived a disaster.

The problem with a fire proof safe is that there is no air circulation and any moisture in the safe stays contained inside.

I’ve seen hundreds of tapes (most commonly 8mm/Hi8/Digital8) that were stored in a safe and became damaged by humidity exposure.  Over time the lubrication on the surface of the tape starts to break down and starts to stick to itself, causing the tape to break when playback is attempted.  Most tapes that are exposed to this kind of damage can be repaired, but the best solution is to avoid it in the first place.

If you want to store your tapes securely make sure to air out your safe on a weekly basis, look into disposable desiccants or use a special media/data fireproof safe that is designed to prevent humidity build up not just during a fire, but during normal conditions as well.

If your tapes have been exposed to humidity inside a safe (or out!) and no longer play, don’t worry, chances are very good that they can still be repaired!