How to Care for Cassette Tapes

Love them or loathe them, the humble audio cassette tape is having a moment. Cassette sales grew nearly 25% in 2018 after an increase of more than 50% in 2017 on the Discogs Marketplace. Let’s take a look into how to keep your cassettes sounding their best.

For some cassette collectors, the thrill of finding unreleased bedroom demos keeps them hooked. For others, it is the joy of mixtapes from days past that pull them back to their youth. And for some, it may be as simple as having a nondescript love of the format due to size and portability. One thing that doesn’t change is the care that should be taken with cassettes to keep them in fantastic sounding shape.

One of the main culprits for a cassette’s demise is a playback system that has not been cared for. We all remember cassettes being chewed up by players and unfortunately the cassettes themselves were mostly blamed for this. A well-serviced cassette player can sound absolutely phenomenal, especially when paired with a cassette that matches some of the playback features, such as the many Dolby NR technologies available. A poorly maintained cassette player has little hope of sounding good, no matter the cassette quality.

As cassette decks contain fairly complex mechanics, there can be a few issues that arise over time. It is always best to leave major services to a qualified technician that knows the ins and outs of these complex devices, but there are many things you can do to maintain your cassette tape collection. Follow these tips for most of your collection.

Clean Cassette Playback Heads

cleaning a playback head

Heads are easily accessible and can be kept clean by moistening a q-tip with 92% isopropyl alcohol or higher. Gently use the Q-tip to rub any grime that may have built up over time on the playback heads.

Keep Cassette Player Belts in Use

If you have a cassette player that has not been used in a while, there is a chance that the belts have dried up and become frail, turned to black goo, or have stretched out over time. If you are not using the unit regularly try and give it a play anyway to keep the belts moving and flexible. Belts are generally considered to be the most perishable part of a cassette player and need to be replaced periodically to keep playback speeds consistent.

If using a player with a direct drive system, it is safest to get an experienced technician to give your cassette player a service.

Lubricate Pinch Rollers

Pinch rollers can be cleaned well with Naptha and a q-tip. Though you might be tempted to use isopropyl alcohol if you already have it out for cleaning playback heads, try to avoid it as this can cause the rollers to dry out and become brittle.

Ensure Cassette Tapes Are Clean

cleaning a cassette tape

A dirty cassette tape can undo all the work you’ve put into keeping your cassette player functioning properly by putting heavy wear on the playback heads. Cheaper audio cassettes have also been known to put extra wear on the heads, so if recording at home, try and stay away from very low-priced cassette tapes…your player and your ears will thank you for it.

Demagnetize Cassette Decks

degmanetizing a cassette tape

A cassette demagnetizer is a device that removes the magnetic field built up from the use of audio cassettes in a cassette deck. They come in a variety of forms, but I find the cassette-style units the easiest to use. It is recommended that you demagnetize playback heads after every 40 hours of playback. This is as easy as popping them in and pressing play. Just let it play through for the allotted time (different demagnetizers recommend different use times.) Remember – it is always best to follow the instructions set out by the manufacturer of the demagnetizer.

More Practical Advice

Popping in and having a friendly chat with your friendly neighborhood Hi-Fi repairman can be a great resource! If you need some more help with cassette care and maintenance, asking the Discogs community is also a good idea. You can always check to see if the issue has been addressed by the community in the Discogs Forums

It’s a wrap! We hope these resources will help you in the often complicated, but always rewarding path of audio cassette care. Wishing you many happy listening hours of your favorite tapes everyone!

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  • Jun 17,2020 at 10:20

    I have a lot of cassette tapes recorded from Vinyl and CD source, but my cassette desk, an eighties’ Teac A-660 a very good equipment, doesn’t work. My trust Hi-Fi repairman can’t fix it because spare parts are not longer available.

  • Jun 17,2020 at 02:51

    One thing the article fails to mention is that cigarette / pipe smoke, nicotine etc destroys cassette tapes. Many years ago I bought a small collection from a heavy smoker and they would stick in the player so the lot were binned. You will have the same problem with VHS tapes. Never buy anything that smells of any smoking substance.

  • Jun 17,2020 at 02:00

    and let’s not forget the classic analogue rewind tool… a pencil or BIC pen. :)

  • Jun 13,2020 at 13:30

    If you have cassette tapes that aren’t played for over several years, just rewind or wind them forth and back. This loosen the tape and then playback wil go with less effort.
    I have tapes of 35 years old, and still playing as new. Good luck!

  • Jun 12,2020 at 07:37

    Not the tape! Only the Head must be demagnetized every 40 hours of playing time.

  • Jun 11,2020 at 03:34

    The title isn’t that misleading. Because the first thing you have to do to take good care of these cassettes is to take care of your cassette player.
    Not having a real cassette player for years, and not finding any for sale, I have had to fall back lately on the all-coming one. And since [u=Bong], many of my tapes from the 80s are no longer playing. I’ve noticed that these are the two plastic rollers in the cassette around which the tape is wrapped. They have aged badly and there is a friction that slows or even stops the playback. I tried to clean them, I even tried to lubricate them (catastrophic for the band), but nothing helped. I would have to change these drive rollers but I couldn’t find anything on the internet.
    Unless someone has a solution?

    Being bad at English, I use a translator. So I’m talking about the two wheels with the serrated center hole. And on which the magnetic tape is attached.

    I have always taken good care of my vinyls and my “K7” (cassettes), yet time has not been kind to them.

  • Jun 10,2020 at 13:41

    Well done … awesome article!

  • Jun 5,2020 at 06:36

    You all must have missed the part about the best way to maintain your cassette tapes is to keep your cassette player properly maintained. Maybe you just weren’t around when cassette players were the primary way of listening to music. Proper cassette player maintenance is cleaning the record and playback head(s) with a Q-Tip and rubbing alcohol, operate the cassette player periodically even if you aren’t playing any tapes to keep the belt from deforming, clean the pinch roller(s) with a Q-Tip and Naptha (lighter fluid), and demagnetizing the playback head(s). That’s it. Aside from the basics that are really just common sense that you do with any electrical item and its accessories, such as not allowing them to come into contact with water,don’t allow it to sit in direct sunlight for extended periods of time, and just general light cleaning, things like that. However, there is one little thing that was left out, and that’s rewinding them and storing them in the plastic case that they come with, and when you take them out of the case, if you look in the little window and it looks like the tape is unspooling, when you first put the tape in the player, hit that rewind button before playing it to take up the slack. That’s all you have to do… Maintain the player, store them properly, and take up the slack by rewinding before playing them. Aside from that, there really isn’t anything else you can do with them. Anyway, most of your cassette tape maintenance is maintaining the playback device.

  • Jun 5,2020 at 04:56

    This title is very deceiving. I came to this blog post for cassette tape care, all I got was cassette player care.

  • Jun 5,2020 at 01:06

    I recently bought an old(1986) cassette that just wouldn’t play.
    It played slow for a few seconds before stopping. Tried it in several players, same result. Fast forward and reverse worked without problem. Likewise winding it by hand was easy. I figured that the shell might be the problem so I pried it open (it was glued) and placed the tape in another shell but that didn’t help either.
    I gave up and ordered another copy. It’s a rare tape so it wasn’t cheap. Not very expensive either, but still. Anyway that tape played fine. With nothing to lose I thought I’d give the first tape another try. It still had the same problem but now it played a little longer before jamming. Which gave me the idea to pull out all the tape and let it hang out freely. The next day I wound up the tape again and after that it plays perfectly!
    So apparently some old tapes need to be aired before they can be played.

  • Jun 4,2020 at 21:25

    Haha that must have been lost in translation.. The subject is definitely Demagnetizing Cassette Players and not Cassettes themselves… I’ve given back office a yell to fix this up :)
    Thanks for pointing it out!

  • Jun 4,2020 at 18:02

    “Demagnetize Cassette Tapes”!?!?

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