A question many record collectors ask is, where can I put all these records? If you’ve asked yourself this then you’re in luck, as we’ll be doing our best to cover storage options and tips. We’ll begin by outlining the proper, recommended, government-approved guidelines for how to store vinyl records. In a separate post, we’ll look at some vinyl record storage options that meet these criteria and will look nice in your humble abode. I know some of you have stellar storage setups, as evidenced by the 5K+ posts tagged with #iloveDiscogs on Instagram. If you have recommendations on vinyl record storage cabinets, shelves and the like, feel free to drop them in the comments below. You might see your pick mentioned, with credit, in the next post!
Now, let’s check in with the consummate professionals of media storage, the US Federal Government. Yes, you read that right. They just so happen to have one of the largest collections of vinyl records in the world, safely nestled in the remarkably dust-free archives of the Library of Congress. We reached out to staff librarians through the Recorded Sound Research Center and utilized their guide to storing audio visual materials to learn how to store vinyl records properly.
Luckily, a collector has an advantage when it comes to storing vinyl records. Vinyl records are the most stable physical sound recording format developed to date (tally 1 for vinyl in the great format debate). Unlike tapes and CDs, they can last 100 years in a controlled environment. However, a wide range of variables, from dust and foreign matter to heat and pressure, can cause distortion and surface noise in playback. Also note that although vinyl records are relatively hardy, record covers are not. You’ll want to keep in mind the fragility of the cardboard sleeve as much as the record itself.
Casual and Household Vinyl Record Storage
We’ll start with the four core tenets of sound vinyl storage; heat, light, humidity and pressure.
- Heat: For home collections, room temperature or below is preferable. Room temperature, for those accustomed to living in sweat dens without air conditioning, is generally considered to be between 15 to 25 °C (59 to 77 °F). Make sure you keep those records clear of radiators, vents and your George Foreman Grill.
- Light: Minimal exposure to all kinds of light; no exposure to direct or intense light. Vinyl records are most susceptible to ultraviolet light; which can damage records in just a few minutes. For best results, don’t store your records in a bright window, a grow room, or a tanning bed.
- Humidity: This is where vinyl record storage guidelines part ways from indoor plant care. Unlike your indoor greenery, vinyl records should be stored in a relatively dry environment (about 35-40% relative humidity or RH). For those not in the know, hygrometers are cheap and efficient tools that measure humidity.
- Pressure: Don’t stack things on your records. Don’t stack your records on other records. We know it saves space, but sometimes life ain’t that easy. In addition, do not store your records too tightly together. As they used to say at school dances down South, leave a little room for Jesus. You should leave enough space to easily flip through your records.
Though less problematic than the rules above, there are a few other factors to consider when storing vinyl records.
- Vibration – Despite whatever #goodvibes your records give off, their structural integrity can be compromised by strong vibrations. Keep your records a reasonable distance from speakers, washers and dryers and stampedes of wild stallions.
- Vinyl of a similar diameter, store together – Don’t snug your 12” records next to your 10” records. Separate records of a different diameter with a divider.
As a rule of thumb, attics and basements are typically not the best places to store vinyl records, though there are exceptions to this. Neither are non-climate controlled storage units. My parents made the mistake of storing their collection in a non-climate-controlled storage unit in Texas one summer. None of the discs made it out in a playable form. Try to find a place that is relatively clean, cool and stable.
What to Store Vinyl Records In
Now that you know the requirements for the location you should aim for while storing your records, let’s talk a bit about what vinyl records should be stored in.
- Use protection fellas. Unlike grocery bags, paper is out and plastic is in. Commercial vinyl records may be stored in their original sleeve, but should also be placed in a static-free polyethylene liner to avoid print-through from the original sleeve. Yes, I know, this is different than the paper liners most records come with. Sorry to complicate your life. I’ve used these in the past, though they’re a bit pricey so do some research on your own. If you have any that you prefer, don’t be a stranger and drop them in the comments to share with the community.
- In addition to storing records in a plastic sleeve, you should store record covers in a plastic sleeve. To recap: put the record in a plastic sleeve and the album cover in a plastic sleeve.
- Ensure the shelving you choose is sturdy enough to support the weight of vinyl records, which average 35 pounds per shelf-foot. All formats concentrate weight on the centerline of a shelf, which can cause some shelving to collapse.
- To reduce static, opt for wood vinyl record storage containers instead of metal.
- Once they are on a shelf, vinyl records should be stored with sturdy, immovable dividers every 4-6 inches that support the entire face of the disc in its sleeve. This recommendation is one that I rarely see used in the wild, and one that I admittedly have not utilized for my home collection yet, so drop your recommendations in the comments for some good karma. A quick search led me to both relatively affordable and cool but exorbitant resources that provide these. Dividers have the added benefit of helping in the quest to organize a vinyl record collection.
Overflow & Long-Term Record Storage
Many of us are at a place in our life where we have run out of room in our living quarters to store all of the records we have acquired. At this point, some tough decisions must be made: Which ones should be kept? Which ones can be let go? For those who cannot trim their collection, overflow storage becomes a necessity. Whether it’s a basement, attic, storage unit, or hole in your backyard, there are some precautions you can take to ward off potential disasters.
- Avoid any place susceptible to water damage. Have you heard the story of what happened to Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in Hurricane Sandy? Though the vinyl itself is relatively resistant to water damage, record covers and labels are certainly not.
- Avoid extreme temperatures (looking at you attic) and places where temperature fluctuations of more than 19°C (35°F) in 24 hours are possible. Remember, no matter what kind of container you store your records in, they will be vulnerable to warping due to temperature.
- You’re going to want to ensure air circulation. This means you need to avoid storing your records in a sealed container of any kind, including plastic bins with lids or taped-up cardboard boxes. Sealing your records can lead to the creation of a damaging micro-climate and makes it more difficult to monitor their condition. Take care when using mobile vinyl crates – once you’ve made it to your destination, either open the box or remove the records from the case.
Okay, now you know the cardinal rules to follow while storing records. You’re welcome! While you’re here, jot down some notes, or refresh your memory, on how to properly handle vinyl records.
- Wash your hands before handling vinyl records. Those dirty paws of yours contain oils that can promote fungal growth on records and sleeves.
- Handle any grooved discs (78s, 45s, LPs, lacquer discs, picture discs, even those Star Wars creature shaped ones) by the edge and label areas only. This takes practice to get good at. What better time to start than now?
One final tip – keep your machines clean and well maintained. Make sure your mat is dust free and replace your needles when they start to get worn folks.
That’s it! This vinyl record storage post turned out a bit longer than expected, but I learned a lot along the way and I hope you did too. Don’t forget that this is just part one in a two-part series. I’ll be reviewing some vinyl record storage cabinets and shelves in the next post. Send me your leads if you got ’em and thanks for reading!
I want to give credit to the Library of Congress and Reference Librarian Harrison Behl for assisting with this post. They were a huge help in leading me to informative resources and with answering specific questions I had. If you’re curious about the work they do or have questions that weren’t answered in the post, check out the Recorded Sound Research Center, where you can read more and reach out to librarians for assistance. As a reminder for those living in the United States, your local librarians are tremendous resources whose job is to help you find information. If you ever have a question, stop by your local library and you might be surprised by the help you receive!