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Recording Preservation Tips - reel-to-reel Tapes

  • Reel-to-reel tapes will last for decades or centuries--if properly cared for. The main variables to control are: 
    • Temperature - 60-70F or lower
    • Humidity - 20-40 percent relative humidity
    • Tape pack - wind end to end before long-term storage
    • Dust - store tape in a sealed container
  • Most tapes are iron-oxide coated on polyethylene terephthalate (PET) base film using a polyurethane binder. The iron-oxide and PET are very unstable. The polyurethane binder is hygroscopic and will deteriorate if stored at high temperature and/or high humidity.
  • If a tape has been subjected to a high temperature, cool it (under 20"C, if possible) for a couple of days. Then rewind it to relieve the stresses in the pack.
  • If tape has been subjected to moisture, dry it before fungus starts. Place the tape in an oven at 120"F (50"C) for about a day. After it has cooled down to room temperature, shuttle it to the end and back on a tape recorder with few tape-contact parts. If the tape has been submerged in water, then repeat the heat-shuttle cycle a second time. To counteract the effects of the water, store the tape in a cold environment (not freezing) for a few days. After returning to room temperature, shuttle to the end and back to relieve stresses in the pack.
  • To determine if a tape is loose packed, hold the reel by the hub and pull on the outer layer. If the pack rotates, the pack is loose and should not be accelerated or stored for very long. Play the tape to the end and then rewind. If the recorder tensions are set properly and the tape is not damaged, it will now be a tight pack.
  • Do not store paper inside reel-to-reel tape box.
  • Vacuum reel-to-reel tape pack if dusty. Use a vacuum which has a hose, and keep the motor away from the tape in order to reduce the risk of magnetizing the tapes.
  • Clean tape surfaces using a product such as 3M "Tape Cleaning Fabric" (610-1-150). This soft fabric product will pick-up loose debris commonly found on tape surfaces after being dislodged by the fabric fibers.
  • Tips for long term storage:
    • Before storing the tape, wind it to the end and back to relieve any stresses in the pack.
    • Secure the loose end of tape).
    • Expose the tape to a dry environment for a few days before sealing the tape inside a thick, quick-seal plastic freezer bag.
    • Store the tape in an area where the temperature stays under 70F and does not vary much. Avoid temperatures below freezing.
    • Keep the tape out of the direct sun.
    • Do not store the tape near combustibles, such as wood and cardboard.
    • Do not store tape in a room that may be flooded.
    • Rewind the tape every few years.
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