How to store vinyl records
Why proper vinyl storage is important
First, the good news is that vinyl collectors are at an advantage when it comes to storage - because vinyl records are, for all their fragility, one of the most stable physical sound recording formats ever developed. Unlike tapes and even CDs (despite all those infamous marketing promises of 'indestructability'), vinyl records can last for decades in the home environment if cared for properly.
It's a comforting thought, isn't it? Those very same records that have brought you so much enjoyment down the years could, entirely realistically, be bringing the same joy to someone thirty, forty, fifty years from now. Not just your children but your grandchildren may one day be dropping the needle on a record you cherish today.
And then there's the sheer monetary value. Just ask anyone who collects vintage stuff, whether it's vinyl records or first edition books or furniture: preservation is key. That Wolf Alice 10" you bought back in 2013? Last year's Sleep LP? Already seeing some serious Discogs inflation. Look after them for a mere decade or three and they could end up fetching silly money.
The bad news, however, is that a wide range of unavoidable physical variables make nonsense of that opening paragraph. Heat, light, humidity, pressure, vibrations - all can cause warping and distortion if you've stored your records incorrectly, resulting in surface noise in playback or worse. Also, although vinyl records themselves are relatively hardy, record covers most definitely are not. Any self-respecting vinyl junkie needs keep in mind the fragility of the cardboard sleeve as much as the record itself.
So what's the best approach to vinyl storage? Read on.
Take care during use
It goes without saying that your normal diligence when handling vinyl is vital.
Don't touch the surface of the record. Don't blow on the record (saliva and records don't mix). Use an anti-static brush before playing the record. Etc. All those good habits we've written about elsewhere.
But why does this matter when it comes to storing records? Because mistakes happen. And because those mistakes are amplified by storage.
Those microscopic specks of saliva may not seem a big deal at the time. And what harm can a few grains of dust do? But once your record is back in its sleeve and safely on a shelf it may never see the light of day again for years.
What happens if you combine slobber and time? Mould.
And when you combine dust and pressure and time? Microscopic scratches.
Basically, be good to your records before you store them away again.
Take care after use
You cleaned your record before playing it. You played it on clean kit. You've got its sleeves ready to go. You've lifted it carefully off your deck ready for its bedtime. Just pop it in and job done, right?
Not quite. Checklist time:
- Be quick. Dust is everywhere and vinyl records just love collecting it, so aim to reduce the amount of time your record is out of its sleeve.
- Give your record another quick go with the old anti-static brush and cloth combo.
- One record, one sleeve: never store multiple vinyl records in the same inner sleeve.
- Place the record carefully into the anti-static liner sleeve you've procured.
- Place the liner sleeve and content carefully into the cover sleeve.
- Finally, if your cover sleeve is already showing signs of wear and tear then place it into a more durable plastic sleeve.
Is that last step really necessary? Isn't vinyl a bad enough habit, environmentally-speaking, without adding more fossil-based badness into the mix? Undeniably, yes. But the more care you take now, the less likely it is you'll ever be tempted into buying the same record again just because the sleeve was too worn, or got stuck to another sleeve, or fell victim to some other misadventure. Vinyl records, treated well, should only ever need to be bought once.
Create the right environment for your vinyl
So, you've got this far. Your records are clean. Your records are safely housed in an anti-static sleeve, within their outer sleeves. Any outer sleeves that are already showing their age are nicely protected by durable plastic outer sleeves. What else?
This is where heat, light, humidity and pressure really come into play - along with some other factors you may not have considered.
A room temperature of 15°C to 25°C is optimal. Short amounts of time slightly below that range probably won't do too much harm as long as damp isn't also an issue, but short amounts of time above that range can damage things quickly. So make sure you keep your records well clear of any heat sources - radiators, vents, sunlight, two-bar heaters, whatever.
Forget trying to maximise natural light so you can take a perfect Instagram snap of your shelves. Minimal exposure to all kinds of light is best, with no exposure at all to direct or intense light.
Vinyl records are particularly susceptible to ultraviolet light, which can damage them in just a few minutes. And even though it might take while for sunlight to heat your vinyl up enough to actually warp it, it takes much less time for sunlight to bleach the colours out of those beautiful sleeves.
So, whilst no-one wants to listen to their records in a dark dungeon do try to store your records in permanent shade - away from windows, lamps, tanning beds, your cannabis farm, tortoise lamps, whatever.
Unlike your indoor greenery that need to be kept moist and watered, vinyl records should be stored in a dry environment (about 35-40% relative humidity).
Records themselves will almost always survive a bit of contact with water, but sleeves and labels are easily ruined by moisture. Never leave your records in bathrooms or kitchens. Steam in particular moves about quickly, so boiling a kettle or running a hot bath near to your precious wax is really not the best idea.
The aim is to keep your records upright with minimal force pressing against them, so as to prevent warping and sleeve damage. Here's a list of don'ts:
- Don't stack your records horizontally, or even at an angle: always vertically.
- Forget saving space: don’t stack your records on top of other records.
- Don’t stack anything else on top of your records.
- Don't store your records too tightly together (leave enough space to easily flip through them).
It's especially tempting to cram records together as tightly as possible when you start running out of space. Resist. Find more space. If necessary, it's better to thin your collection out a bit - charity shops do well out of vinyl these days - than ruin the stuff you love.
Know what's really bad for a good vinyl collection? Forgetting it exists.
Lofts and cellars are typically not the best places to store records, simply because they're not the kind of places that get visited regularly and therefore where care and attention are at their highest.
If necessary, move the kids into the attic and move your records into their bedrooms. They'll thank you when you die and leave them a pristine collection of vinyl.
Despite whatever good vibes (sorry!) your records provide, their structural integrity can be compromised by strong vibrations. Keep your records a reasonable distance from speakers, washers, dryers, passing trains, etc.
Vinyl of similar diameters should be stored together. Keep your 12”s, 10”s & 7”s separate from each other.
Different sizes stacked together will mean that pressure will be placed on the larger records, warping them to the shape and size of the smaller records next to them. If you do need to use the same shelf for different sizes, separate them with a sturdy divider.
Vinyl shelving and dividers
You know the environmental requirements now, what about the furniture vinyl records should be stored on?
Now, we're not builders. We're not joiners. We couldn't tell you the difference between a socket wrench and an, erm, normal wrench. So before installing any kind of shelving system get someone in who knows what they're doing. Nothing ruins a vinyl collection quicker than collapsed shelving.
Similarly, there are obviously more shelving systems, cabinets, etc. out there in the big wide world than we could possibly hope to cover. (Here's a very good and comprehensive blog piece: 27 vinyl record storage and shelving solutions.) But whether you go for a custom-built solution, the ubiquitous-but-not-to-be-sniffed-at IKEA Kallax range, or have £5k lying around for a beautiful Atocha cabinet, the same basic considerations always apply:
- Aim to divide your records into batches of about 12"/30cm. That's roughly 50 sides of vinyl, with a bit of space for fingers.
- Separate your shelving with sturdy, immoveable dividers. Dividers built in to the shelves themselves are best, but if you're using longer, non-divided shelves then store your records in separate record boxes.
- 12"/30cm of vertically-stacked records will weigh about 35lbs/15kg. Ensure the shelving you choose is sturdy enough to support the sheer weight of vinyl.
- The dividers you use must support the entire face of the disc in its sleeve. Otherwise pressure will come into play, and warping could result.
- Material: you want something durable but smooth. Wood or plastic is best. Metal is strong but (trust us on this) tends to be a little sharp on the fingers.