It’s happened to all us Tapeheads: a great deal on eBay, finding a tape in a thrift store, or catching something awesome at a rental shop still stuck in the past. You’re so caught up in the moment that you grab the tape and clutch it like an idol, and chances are, it’s pretty rare. Then you realize that pretty black magnetic film has some weird looking white dots on it. Yep, that deal you just got is covered in mold…
DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible if you royally fuck your shit up. The first time I had to do this it was on 3 Wild Riders, a tape currently going on Amazon for $250. If I didn’t know it was effective I wouldn’t have chosen as valuable a tape. And for added validity of this project, my example tape today will be the much coveted VHS gem Deadly Prey. If you feel like you’d like some practice first, either use a tape you don’t care about or a blank. REPEAT: READ EVERYTHING IN THIS TUTORIAL BEFORE ATTEMPTING!
First off, if the mold is deep or really heavy, throw the tape out. You can try what I’m about to say, but it probably won’t help. The good news is, out of the 25 or so tapes I’ve had to clean mold from, only about 3-5 were unsalvageable. Surface mold is nothing more than a mild annoyance, with no damage to the tape whatsoever, and luckily it’s the most common. If the mold has sunk deep and bitten into the film, though, it’s as good as dead.
You can tell by how the mold looks. If it’s a furry dot here and there, usually no bigger than the circumference of a pencil eraser, you should be able to clean it. If it’s covering the film in long strips or a large portion of the tape, you can write it off as dead. But fear not, the process to get this bullshit off your VHS is simpler than you might think.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, Chip.
Before we go any further, let me explain why mold is bad. Other than making your tape look like it came from a shoot with John Holmes, when played in your VCR, the spores will be rubbed against the heads. This will not only dirty these heads, but if the spores have any life in them at all, the next time you want to watch The Abomination or Black Devil Doll from Hell, you take a chance on spreading the mold. Yeah, see how bad this can get? Here’s how to fix it.
You need to make sure the tape is 100% dry. I have no clue why it would be wet, unless you’re just trying to grow mold… but, hey, that’s up to you. Now you’re going to need your supplies. Get a screwdriver, a few Q-tips, a few rubber bands, rubbing alcohol, a lint free cloth (screen cleaning cloths work best, like the ones that come with phone screen protectors), and, here’s the worst part, a spare VCR. You can use your current player, but there’s too high a chance of contamination for me. It’s much easier to head down to Goodwill and get an old one for $5-$10. Make sure it is a front loading player!
Look intimidating? Don’t worry. It’s just that kick-ass cover for Deadly Prey causing you to fear for your life.
You’re going to need to be in a room with a flat surface and plenty of light. Use the screwdriver to take the cover off the VCR. Break the ends of the Q-tips off of one side just before the cotton so you have a flat edge if holding it horizontally. Hold them 2×2, and secure them with a rubber band at the end with the cotton still attached. Unfold the cloth completely, and tightly wrap it around the Q-tip stack. Half the cloth should be on the Q-tips, the other should look like a rolled up rug. Now fold that end up at the edge and secure it towards the first rubber band with a second. Make sure you do this at the seam so you are left with a smooth, flat surface on the opposite side. Check the pictures to see what the finished product looks like.
One… Tah-who… Thhudree… THREE. Yes, we love Tootsie Pops. Also, we love mold-free tapes. It all works out.
Pour a little alcohol in the cap and insert the tape. Rewind it if need be, then use another Q-tip to rub alcohol on the flat side of the 2×2 wrapped in cloth. You want it wet, but not soaked.
DONUT DUNK… No… DO NOT DUNK. My favorite quote from the VHS – only Beetlejuice cartoon (Episode’s called “Creepy Cookies”!) Anyway, don’t dunk it! Apply with the swab and all will be wonderful.
Find an area between the cylinders that direct the flow of the tape and place your stack vertically with the wet side touching the film. You have the right amount of pressure if you see the tape bend a little. Too much and you could cause something to crinkle, too little and you’re just wasting your time. Make sure all of the film is touching the wet cloth (I.e. make sure it’s perfectly up and down with no angle on it) and none of the rubber bands are touching the tape. Press fast forward and hold the stack still until the play through is complete. I find the “stop FF” works better than the “play FF”.
I believe this is what you might call the proverbial “sweet spot”. Sweet like candy. Mmmmm… VHS shaped gummies. Yes, please. NOTE: snacking while handling fungus and / or isopropyl alcohol is Bad News Bears.
When finished, re-wet the stack and place it on the opposite side of the film with the same pressure, and press rewind. It might take a few times to get every little speck, but if you repeat this process, and the mold hasn’t dug into the film, you’ll end up with a tape that looks as good as the day it was recorded. Mold will begin on the edges and work its way inwards, so the center will have virtually no mold compared to the edges. Most of the tapes I’ve cleaned looked brand new with just one two-sided cleaning.
As they say, Cleanliness is next to Godliness! And what better way to treat the Almighty VHS! Dig it!
Mold is like the gonorrhea of your VHS collection. It’s easy to spread, and also pretty easy to cure. If you’re an avid collector, it’s a good idea to keep this setup handy. Just pop the cover back, and bag all your tools and put it in a safe storage spot.
Die, you bastard fungus, Die! Keep outta my analog escapes! YOU ARE DEFEATED! HOOHAHHH!
And finally, Here are the THINGS NOT TO DO:
Do not move the swab! At all. Side to side can loosen the film and result in a crinkle, and up and down could cause even worse damage. If there is a stubborn spot that won’t go away, the mold has eaten a crater in the film and you are not getting that out. If you hear the tape make a fluttering or crackling sound while fast forwarding, loosen the tension you’re putting out with the Q-tip stack.
Do not use canned air to clean anything after this process indoors! Any spores that have escaped will be blasted into the room and could find another one of your tapes. Obviously, don’t do this in the same room as your collection. Take the VCR outside and then use your canned air to blast any lingering mold out.
If this does not remove a spot of mold, repeat the process again. This does no damage to your tape (if done correctly) and could possible improve the quality, so there is no limit on how many times you can do this. If the spot still refuses to budge and looks the same, it’s on the plastic spool, and this fix is much more extensive. I will cover how to fix that in Part Two of this mold defeating tutorial!
That’s right, Videovores! Stay tuned to LUNCHMEAT’s SPARE PARTS for the second installment of Chip Parton’s tutorial on how to beat that malignant mold and keep your tapes freshy-fresh and looking their best! Until then, keep your tapes in a cool, dry place, keep ‘em outta direct sunlight and GROOVE ON.
Oh, and you can also hang out and party down over at Chip’s way-cool blog o’ awesome right HERE.