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Why is My VHS Tape Fuzzy?

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By Olivia Harlow

You're trying to play that old family tape - you know the one - when Dad is roller skating around in a Poodle skirt. He'd lost a bet with your Uncle John at your great-grandma's 80th birthday party...classic. 

This video is one of your all-time favorites. It’s the only visual you have of Great Grandma Jean, and it’s one of few documented moments of Dad as a teenager, from his days of coming-of-age rebellion. Those two minutes of 8mm film hilarity make you feel nostalgic, even though they were captured decades before you came along. Watching those few minutes stir laughter, tears and a warmth in your chest you can’t quite describe. There’s just something severely special about it.

 

But, when you go to watch it, things just aren’t the same. The VHS seems fuzzy. The sound is glazed over, and the scenes jolt around a bit.

 

Well, friend, your VHS is a victim of time.

 

Do VHS tapes go bad?

VHS tapes deteriorate over time from infrequent or overuse. Neglect means mold and dirt, while overuse can lead to scratches and technical difficulties. This is why old VHS tapes inevitably experience malfunctions after a long period of time. Usually anywhere between 10 to 25+ years.

 

How do you fix fuzzy VHS tapes? 

The most common reasons your VHS tape is fuzzy include clogged heads, dirty pictures, and VHS tracking issues and dirty VCR heads.

 

Clogged Heads

There are audio heads, control heads and erase heads in your VHS tapes. If these get clogged with dust or grime, they might cause that infamous fuzziness on your films. They can be cleaned with cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. You’ll want to use an easy step-by-step tutorial to do this before shipping your films to us for digitization.

 

Dirty pictures

If the magnetic tape inside your VHS gets filthy, clarity goes unclear. To make sure there aren’t smudge marks or dust piles on your pictures, you’ll want to open up your VHS and remove any build-up with a cotton swab. Avoid blowing off dust, as trapped moisture from your breath can lead to mold.

 

VHS tracking issues

If pictures jerk around, scenes skip or randomly jump, then tracking needs to be adjusted.

 

Try this by placing the video tape in your VCR and letting it play for a few seconds. When you see the film skip, wait to see if your VCR has an automatic tracking feature. If so, the issue will be resolved on its own. Also, check to see if your remote control has a tracking button on there.

 

Push the button several times to see if it helps at all. If you don’t have these options, you can always try to rewind and fast-forward your tape a few times to see if this smooths any misalignment with the tape heads.

 

Whatever you do, don’t try taking the reel out or fixing this manually. There are far too many things that could go wrong and result in irreparable damage. If these ideas don’t help, you might need to see a professional.

 

Dirty VCR heads

Assuming you are using an old video cassette player or combo DVD/VCR, the playback heads could be dirty. You can use a video head cleaner solution or a cleaning tape to fix the issue. The fluid clears dust from the VCR heads allowing the tape to play correctly.

 

Convert your VCR tapes

Thankfully, Legacybox can help preserve your VHS videos before it’s too late. Send your old tapes to us, and we’ll convert those 8mm gems into a digital format so you can keep your movies on a USB or DVD. Don’t waste another minute — Dad’s roller skate fiasco awaits!

Family backup

On a regular basis, your files are automatically verified and stored on several encrypted servers to guarantee they’re always safe and available.

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