A lot of people will tell you that your vinyl collection is an investment. And it probably is, but to us that feels more than a little impersonal. Vinyl records aren’t trading cards, and they’re not works of art meant to be kept in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault, either.
Your records are made to be played, and the music on them heard and enjoyed, both alone and with friends and loved ones. And, ideally, passed along to future generations. Maybe you still have your dad’s copy of Nilsson Schmilsson that he played almost to death during a bad breakup before he met your mom, and her copy of Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky that was so instrumental to her life that she made it her email address decades later.
The reason you got to enjoy those records 50 years later is because their former owners took stellar care of them. They knew how to store vinyl records both in the short term while they were getting the most out of them, and in the long run during the heyday of cassette tapes and CDs.
In this article, we’ll show you how to properly store vinyl records so that your collection will stand the test of time.
Where to Store Vinyl Records
When it comes to storing your vinyl records, the biggest decision you need to answer is where you’re going to store those records—either in the long- or short-term. This means considering the exposure to light, humidity and temperature and the type of storage you’re using.
If you didn’t already know, vinyl records are made of a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This type of plastic basically lasts forever and is generally protective against the elements, which is why it’s used in everything from window frames to wire insulation.
However, PVC has a major weak spot—heat. At 140 °F (60 °C), PVC will start to experience “heat distortion.” In other words, that’s the temperature wherein your vinyl records will start to warp.
Unless you’re in a major heat wave without air conditioning, it’s pretty unlikely that an occupied area of your house will hit this temperature. After all, that kind of heat is dangerous for humans, too. But poorly insulated garages, attics, storage units, car trunks, sheds or even sunrooms can creep up to 140 °F.
When in doubt, invest in a WiFi thermometer that can send an app notification to your phone and try to keep your records in an environment between 65° to 70° F. Bonus points if it has a hygrometer that alerts you when humidity levels are too high or low—more on that later.
There’s nothing like a room bathed in natural sunlight, but please don’t store your record collection in an area that sees too much sunlight. That’s because sunlight presents a double whammy for vinyl: ultraviolet (UV) rays and additional heat.
As you probably guessed, direct sunlight will warm up your vinyl. That can cause temperatures to rise and your records to warp.
But UV rays from sunlight can cause damage to everything from skin to paint to your album artwork. By keeping your albums away from sunlight, you’ll keep the album artwork as vibrant as the day it entered your life.
Humidity & Water
Remember how we recommended using a WiFi thermometer with a hygrometer? That’s because the ideal climate for vinyl records is between 45% to 50% humidity. Anything more humid can attract mildew and mold. If too much mold gathers in the grooves of your records they can become completely unplayable. Not to mention your paper and cardboard sleeves will get musty and could fall apart completely.
Remember, keep your vinyl records in a cool, dry place (bonus points for great air flow), and keep them far away from water heaters or pipes that could potentially break and leak over your collection.
Boxes vs. Shelves
A question of the ages: Should you store your vinyl records in boxes, or on shelves? The truth is, it doesn’t matter! As long as your records are packed tightly (instead of half-full shelves or crates of records slanting), you’re doing a great job.
The problem with vinyl records leaning to one side of a shelf is that it can cause them to bend or warp, especially if the temperature is a little on the warm side. If packed together tightly—but not so tightly you can’t easily slide them in and out—they’re less likely to warp. If you don’t have enough records to fill a shelf, you can fill it temporarily with books, yoga blocks, bookends or anything rectangular.
A few more things. Wood prevents the buildup of static electricity better than metal, and dividers every six inches or so that support the entire face of the disk can help stability even more. And whether you opt for shelves or boxes, ensure your storage is sturdy enough to support the weight of your collection. Vinyl is heavy and averages 35 pounds per square foot of shelving. A collapsed bookshelf isn’t exactly great for your collection, trust us.
How to Store Vinyl Records in Their Sleeves
Now that you know where to store your vinyl collection, let’s cover how to store individual records in their sleeves. Because it’s just as important to take care of your records once they're on your shelf (or box) as it is to find the perfect place to store them.
Clean Before Storing
To prevent mold and mildew from becoming a problem, always give your records a nice little clean before putting them away. And make a habit of putting your records away. Though it might be tempting to leave your records on your record player—especially if you have a dust cover—the best practice is to keep your records in their original sleeves when they’re not being played.
Always Use Plastic Sleeves
Even though your records probably come with paper sleeves, we recommend swapping them out for plastic sleeves. Paper sleeves are more likely to harbor mildew since they contain organic matter. They’re also more coarse, and are essentially like sandpaper for your vinyl. Even more like sandpaper is the cardboard sleeve on its own, so never put your records directly into the cardboard sleeve without protection!
Store Upright, Not Flat
Caption: Never store your records flat for extended periods of time.
Repeat after us: Never store vinyl records flat, stacked on top of each other for more than short periods of time. Not only does storing your records flat make it hard to pull them out and listen to them, but the uneven distribution of pressure can cause the vinyl to warp.