Storing your vinyl records safely is essential. Whether it’s for day-to-day accessibility or the long-term in storage boxes, it’s imperative you store them correctly to ensure they last a lifetime and beyond.
After all, you’ve worked hard to afford your collection, and the chances are, you’d like them to remain in great condition for as long as possible. If you’re anything like me, you’d probably like to pass them on to your children eventually. The good news is, a great deal of record care comes down to proper storage, and in many cases, much of the widely accepted best-practice is simple common sense.
In the following article, we explore how to store your record collection to avoid a plethora of common issues, including scuffs, scratches, warping, sleeve damage, and much more.
The Correct Environment For Storing Records
Before we get into the specifics of sleeves and storage units, it is best to understand what constitutes a safe and stable environment for storing records. Start with three core pillars for record storage success…
- Heat. There is some debate about the optimal temperature for storing vinyl records. But all collectors agree, extreme temperatures, and particularly high-heat, should be avoided. Keep records stored indoors at about 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18°C – 21°C) if you can. It’s best to avoid areas of the home where temperatures can fluctuate, such as an attic, loft, or basement. Always avoid storing records near radiators, air vents, or any other variable that could pack out heat.
- Ultraviolet Light. Closely related to heat is light. Aim to keep your precious records away from windows and direct sunlight, which can destroy your collection very quickly if left unchecked. Sunlight will also rapidly fade the colors on your artwork; we’ve all seen those second-hand records with faded spines from light exposure over the years.
- Humidity. Depending on where you live, humidity might be an issue. It’s best to store records in a relatively dry environment, after all, you don’t want moisture causing mold or mildew problems on the jacket or record surface. All the same, if the environment is too dry, static could cause you a headache. As always, a moderate stable environment is best – usually around 35-40% relative humidity. If you’re unsure, you can purchase a hydrometer to monitor the humidity around your record storage area.
Inner sleeves are the most critical component in proper vinyl storage, as they’re the only product that will come in direct contact with your records. Most new records are shipped with standard paper inner sleeves, which transfer paper flakes onto your record’s surface and can even cause surface wear over time.
The safest option is to replace the standard sleeve with a higher-quality polyethylene inner sleeve that will protect against static build-up and contamination. The MoFi sleeves are a readily available, go-to option for many, but I can also recommend the North-American sourced and manufactured sleeves from Vinyl Storage Solutions (VSS). VSS are a fantastic start-up bringing fresh ideas to the sleeves market, including a crystal clear, anti-static inner sleeve, and innovative inner sleeves with an integrated flap for additional protection from dust.
As a Sound Matters reader, you can benefit from 10% off your purchase when you buy directly from the VSS online store. Simply use the code SOUNDMATTERS10 on checkout. This code is a one-time use only and can’t be combined with other coupons or discounts. Discount is for product only and doesn’t apply to taxes or shipping costs.
To protect your artwork, and prevent airborne dust contaminating the record when stored, you also need to invest in outer record sleeves.
Traditionally, collectors would buy thick plastic PVC outer sleeves – don’t do that! PVC-based products can cause contamination and serious damage to your records. The theory is, because vinyl records are also made from PVC (an oil-based product), the two items can merge given the wrong climate. The result is a misting effect on the record, which is audible as hiss.
The safest outer record sleeves are made from Polypropylene. Again, MoFi offers a good affordable solution here, but for those looking for a more sophisticated selection of choice and protection, VSS make a series of outer sleeves with a real focus on material quality and product engineering. Their new dual-pocket outer sleeves, for example, allow you to store the jacket in a separate compartment, which means you can protect the artwork while still retaining easy access to the record—really clever stuff.
The low-down on sleeves: Material quality is key. Always check to make sure you’re buying polyethylene inner sleeves and polypropylene outer sleeves. Always clean your records before placing them in a new sleeve, and replace the stock paper sleeves as soon as possible with all your new record purchases.
Vinyl Record Shelving
Now that your favorite records are packaged up in their protective layers against airborne nasties, you’ll need somewhere to store your collection. The fundamental rule about storing records in any unit is they must be stored vertically. Stacking records flat in piles will lead to warping over time.
You’ll also want to avoid any excessive pressure on groups of records, even when stored vertically. That means you shouldn’t stack too many records in one compartment, and you should always leave plenty of space to easily flip through your records. Small compartments designed to help break up record collections are your friend in this instance.
Different sized records are also best kept apart, so that means compartmentalizing your collection by 12″, 10″, 7″, etc. You can buy record dividers to help with space and separation if necessary.
For the storage unit itself, the easy option is to purchase an IKEA KALLAX shelving unit. These simple storage units are basically synonymous with vinyl records by this point, and they make great affordable storage for small to medium-sized collections. They come in a variety of finishes and sizes, with each unit sporting perfectly sized compartments for housing records. Having multiple compartments makes it easy to avoid excessive leaning, which can cause damage over time. If you go for a larger unit, you’ll have to be a little mindful of weight. IKEA recommends not exceeding 13kg for each shelf.
Incidentally, IKEA make plenty of other units suitable for vinyl record shelving, so if clean square boxes isn’t your thing, check out our article on IKEA record storage solutions for some further inspiration.
Not a fan of IKEA? Prefer something with a little more soul? Well, you could do what I did for one storage unit and try your hand at converting a retro storage cabinet. Many mid-century cabinets look fantastic with a little restoration and a set of hairpin legs. Check out my conversion project for some inspiration.
Record Cabinet Summary: Pretty much any piece of furniture with the right sized shelving can make a great record storage solution. The key is making sure the unit is sturdy, as the weight of records can “stack” up very quickly (see what I did there?!)
Record Divider Cards
If you’re lucky enough to have a rather large collection of vinyl records, you might find it beneficial to invest in some divider cards and labels. These heavy-duty divider cards are perfect for organizing your records, and will save you potentially damaging album sleeves when digging for that one elusive album.
Long Term Storage
If you’ve run out of space on your record shelf, or simply need to downsize or store for the long-term, then overflow storage could be just the ticket. If you’re moving house, I highly recommend you invest in a few vinyl flight cases. At the very least, purchase sturdy plastic crates. I see a lot of recommendations for cardboard U-Haul boxes, but in my opinion, these simply aren’t strong enough.
I like record storage boxes for overflow records or transporting records safely. However, if you’re going to store for a very long period, it’s best to avoid storage boxes that close air-tight, as the airflow is advisable to prevent the build-up of mold. Also, remember to refer back to our storage environment recommendations at the beginning of this post. It stands to good reason that any records stored in an unstable temperature environment for a very long time will be susceptible to warping. Garages, basements, and attics are spaces to avoid unless they are stable in temperature and guaranteed to stay dry. The last thing you want to do is go digging for your long-lost collection only to find the covers water damaged and the vinyl bumpier than the rocky mountains!
Bonus: Twelve Inch Vinyl Display
Looking for a way to display your vinyl as art? Check out these innovative, frameless display products from Twelve Inch. Using simple magnets, you can easily display your vinyl in any listening space while still retaining access for regular playback. The lack of frames also gives your home a clean Scandinavian minimalist feel.
For obvious reasons, it’s important not to display vinyl records on a wall that receives direct sunlight, but when used on a shaded wall under stable temperatures, Twelve Inch vinyl wall displays bridge the gap between storage and display.
The Bottom Line
There’s no getting around it; collecting vinyl records is far from convenient. But as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. A huge proportion of vinyl record care comes down to correct storage; get this right and you’ve won half the battle.
Want to suggest a storage tip that you think we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.