Mold and Videotapes Don't Mix
Mold and fungus are the primary enemies of your collection of film reels and videotapes. While aging causes a number of physical changes to videotapes including brittleness and "shedding" of the tape layers, in most cases age-affected tapes can still be digitized. Mold and fungus can make your tapes and 8mm films unplayable.
What Is Videotape Mold?
Mold is a living microorganism that can show up on the outside case of the videotape or, in worse cases, will be on the videotape itself. Videotape mold looks like white powder. If the mold is on the plastic tape housing, it can be wiped off with a multi-purpose house cleaner. If the mold is inside the tape housing and on the videotape surface, then it is usually too late to save your tape. The photo on the right shows a surface fungus that is on the outside of the videotape. The photo below shows a fungus that has invaded deeper in the tape and has consumed the polymer binder that is one of the layers that forms a videotape.
Can Mold Be Removed From Videotape?
In most cases, when mold or fungus has formed on the videotape, the tape will be unplayable for digitizing purposes. If the mold amount is light and only on the top of the videotape spool, it may be possible to brush the mold off the surface of the spool. Videotape mold and fungus removal should only be performed by specialty companies that focus on this service. Mold spores are dangerous and can cause serious health issues in people. Always wear full personal protection equipment (PPE) when dealing with molds and fungus including an N95 mask and eye protection.
There are a number of YouTube videos with false information regarding the ease of self-cleaning molded tapes. Keep in mind once you open up a videotape housing of a contaminated tape, mold/fungus spores will go everywhere in that room. Do not play a moldy tape in your VCR as it will contaminate and ruin that machine including the tape heads, capstan rollers and all parts inside the tape machine as shown below.
Any subsequent tapes played in that machine will also become infected with the spores. Many times mold will bind the videotape together so that it will not play in your machine and will simply jam and become stuck in the VCR. Specialty mold removal services have the knowledge and equipment to prevent health issues and VCR damage. Most have a modified VCR that is used to clean mold from tapes as shown below.
Normally water and videotapes are not a good combination. However, there are studies that show success with a wet cleaning technique where 3 foot long sections of tape are pulled through a bath of distilled water with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol that serves as a wetting agent. Sterilized microfiber cloths are then used to remove mold and dirt from the tape sections. This is followed by a manual drying of the tape section with another microfiber cloth. Once the tape is dried, it's spooled onto a new videotape cassette housing in order to be digitized. This is a slow and tedious cleaning process but it has shown positive results.
Prevention is Key
Keeping your tapes and film reels in a safe and dry storage location is the best prevention to mold decay. Since mold is a living organism, it thrives in environments with a lot of moisture that can include moist basements, under sinks, damp closets and outside sheds. Always store your media in a dry location with no extreme temperature changes and use silicon gel packs in the storage box. These gel packs will absorb moisture and can be purchased from Amazon and other outlets.
If you already have molded tapes or films, look in your region for specialty companies that can offer the possibility of recovering all or part of your recordings. For recordings you have not yet transferred to digital, use prevention methods to keep mold and fungus at bay. In addition to aging issues that affect video and film media, the risk of mold damage is another reason to digitize your recorded memories sooner rather than later.