Homes that have been flooded will inevitably have the problem of water getting into just about everything in it’s path, often important, cherished items like the family video tapes. Many times, the tapes end up being submerged for a considerable length of time, due to local evacuations and general difficulty of maneuvering around the now flooded home. The good news is that if your tapes have been in contact with, or completely submerged in water, there is still hope for your tapes!
*Note – Do not attempt to play wet tapes in your VCR! Attempting to play wet or damp tapes can cause permanent damage to both the tape and your equipment. While these tapes can be rescued with proper handling and care, playing them prematurely can cause irreversible damage to your tape.
If you know or suspect your tapes have come into contact with water, it is crucial to retrieve them as soon as you safely can, and begin the drying process. The longer they stay underwater, more and more contaminants and deterioration can occur.
Once your tapes have been retrieved, it’s best to again quickly submerge them into a bucket of distilled water to help rinse the contaminants off of the them. However, only rinse the tapes in distilled water if the tapes are still wet, if they have dried already it’s best to not wet them again. Common water contaminants including sewage, chlorine, or salt.
To dry your tapes out after being exposed, do not use any method involving heat to dry them out such as space heaters or hair dryers. Heat will cause the tape to warp, and in doing so will cause permanent damage. The most effective way to dry the tapes out is to take the reels of tape out of the cassette and place them in a cool location out of sunlight that has a constant air flow. A large fan placed in the room will help with air circulation. If you need assistance in taking your video tape apart, check out our video tape repair guide.
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to get to your tapes and dry them in a timely fashion, there is a very high chance for mold to form on the tape, especially in more humid climates. Once the mold sets in, it is very difficult to remove, and many transfer companies will not accept moldy tapes due to the fact that the mold can and will spread to other tapes and equipment.
Video tapes are actually fairly resilient when it comes to heat damage, and can be stored in a hotter environment temporarily, if absolutely necessary. However, if tapes are stored in a naturally hot environment for an extended period of time, the heat can cause visible color deterioration and audio degradation in your tapes. If the tape has suffered from extreme heat, such as being exposed to open flames, the chances of recovery are a bit slim, because as soon as it’s hot enough, the thin Mylar backing the tape will warp and curl.
The best way to avoid any sort of unnecessary heat exposure is to keep your tapes in a dark, cool place with low humidity.
Magnetic tape damage is actually pretty common. VHS stores information (Video/Audio) in the form of a magnetic strip. The VCR has special heads that can pick up on these magnetic signals, and translate them into images and sound that plays on your TV. While magnets are used to write information to the tape, they are also used to erase footage from your tape. Since VHS uses an iron oxide as its formula, this makes them very susceptible to magnetic damage.
A tape that has been exposed to magnetic damage is nearly irreparable. There is no way to recover footage that has been magnetically erased or damaged. The best bet is to make sure you keep your video tapes away from anything resembling a magnet!
Damage to video tapes in the form of physical damage is probably the most common types of damage we see. This ranges from snapped tape, to broken shell casing, and everything in between. In these cases, generally the “guts” of the tape are all fine, they just need to be replaced in a new shell or re-spliced together.
If you’re looking to repair your own VHS tapes, the video below details all of the steps.