How To Clean Old VHS Tapes

Dust is one of those things in life you can count on with utter certainty! If it seems like dust accumulates seconds after you clean a surface, that’s because it does! Like other objects in your house, old VHS tapes form dust when they shed tiny bits of themselves. Even worse, dust on VHS tapes can cause mold to form, as can exposure to moisture in humid environments like attics and basements. Mold can work its way into tiny cracks and bends in video tapes, eventually making them unplayable. Taking proper care of your tapes instead of leaving them in a humid basement or hot attic is advised if you wish to preserve them. 

How to Clean VHS Tapes that Have Mold 

In some cases, you may luck out and be able to rescue neglected VHS tapes with proper cleaning methods. Here are two different methods to try at home. 

Method 1: Electronic Tape Cleaner 

An electronic VHS tape cleaner doesn’t contain harsh chemicals so it’s gentle and safe to use, as well as the easiest method for cleaning old VHS video tapes. Refer to your instruction manual to ensure you’re using the cleaner correctly since there is some variation between models. 

Supply List 

  • Electronic tape cleaner
  • VCR
  • Phillip’s head screwdriver
  • Alcohol
  • Q-tips 



  1. Fast forward the tape to the end in your VCR.
  2. Insert the tape into the electronic tape cleaner, close it, and press the clean button.
  3. Remove the tape from the machine and use a screwdriver to open the casing.
  4. If the casing has a seal or sticker, use a small knife to break the seal and then open it.
  5. Place a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a Q-tip, then gently swab the casing and the inside of the empty reel to remove mold, dirt, and dust. Be careful not to clean the reel with tape.
  6. Don’t screw the casing back on fully yet, but make sure it’s loosely secured.
  7. Run an additional clean cycle with the electronic tape cleaner by fast-forwarding the tape.
  8. After the clean cycle is complete, remove the tape from the machine.
  9. Dip a second Q-tip into alcohol and gently swab the inside of the other empty reel. Remember not to clean the reel containing the tape.
  10. Screw the casing back together securely.
  11. Fully rewind the tape, then clean it one additional time. 

Method 2: Manual Videotape Cleaning 

If your electronic tape cleaner didn’t completely remove dirt or dust, you can try this method, however, be forewarned it’s risky. Tape can easily be damaged when you attempt to manually clean it, so great care needs to be taken. 

Supply List 

  • Cotton gloves
  • Tissue or cotton cloth 



  1. If tapes have been exposed to moisture or humidity, you must dry them out completely.
  2. Wear a pair of clean cotton gloves.
  3. Lift the top side flap of the tape casing where the tape is visible running from one reel to the next, then carefully pull out approximately 12 inches of tape.
  4. Gently wipe the exposed tape using a cotton cloth or tissue, but don’t use any liquid since this can damage it.
  5. After cleaning, spin the reels with your finger to pull the tape back into place.
  6. Pull out another 12 inches of tape from the reels and wipe it with a cotton cloth or tissue. 

Now that you’ve cleaned your VHS tapes and they are dust and mold-free, don’t forget about your VCR! Like everything else, dust and debris have likely found their way into your deck. VCR cleaning tape is an inexpensive and easy way to prevent your VCR from eating your tapes! 

Preserving Video Through Digitization 

While proper storage and care are essential to preserving your video tape collection, digitizing them is the only way to do so forever. At ScanCafe, our skilled technicians love transferring VHS tapes to digital files. When you send us your tapes, you can choose between a digital download, DVD, or USB. You’ll never have to worry again about dust infiltrating your tapes, but since it’s insidious, we suggest regularly cleaning your computer and other devices!