Hello I've been copying a lot of 20+ year old VHS tapes to a DVD Recorder and was wondering if I need to clean the tape heads on the VCR.
I haven't noticed any picture degradation but I've copied off about 20 tapes so should I do it anyway? Maybe the picture degrades slowly so it's not obvious.
Also what's the best way to clean them? I'm not really comfortable taking off the VCR cover and doing it manually with alcohol etc because I'm worried I might ruin things. Any suggestions?
+ Reply to Thread
Results 1 to 21 of 21
It is likely to need it. Aged VCR tapes tend to lose oxide to the heads rapidly.
I last bought a cleaning tape at BestBuy about a year ago, and they are also available online.
You need not open the case to use one.
You will know when the heads need cleaning. Over cleaning can wear the heads if you use a head cleaner tape. Some cleaner tapes are abrasive. The Wet ones can end up with other problems. Doing it manually by opening it up and you run the risk of head damage or misaligning them if not careful.
What a cleaning tapes cannot do properly is clean any other parts of the tape transport that the tape doesn't ride against. Thus IMHO crud can build up at the edge of the tape path.
Originally Posted by TBoneit
When you are dealing with old VHS tapes you are also dealing with chromitisation. Frequently this appears as glitches, or white/colored noise (pixleisation). If these are the symtoms the VHS tapes are most likely the culprate. If you cannot duplicate this affect using commercial tapes or using another VHS player then by all means use a VHS cleaner.
On my VCR's that I have. I would clean them with one of the Tape Cleaners after every 10 movies or 20 hours of viewing tape.....
Originally Posted by lowellriggsiam
Some cheap tapes -- commercial or not -- just suck. Magnetic drop-outs are a problem.
NEVER use head-cleaning tapes. Please allow me to repeat that: NEVER use head-cleaning tapes. Of any kind. Period. I used cleaning tapes on a high-end VCR and ruined the heads. $230 to replace.
Take a look at this website:
Note that this website sez you "can" use cleaning tapes, but very sparingly, and that they frequently damage VCR's. The best way is to clean heads yourself. I got the following from several websites that are no longer on the web:
Radio Shack (and others) sell head cleaning solution as Part# 44-113D.DO NOT USE alcohol unless you use the high-grade medical stuff at 80% or better pure solution, and even then be careful!. You'll find many other sources on the net. DO NOT USE Q-TIPS! There are special chamois head-cleaning tips that are designed for this purpose at RS and at other sources who also sell complete VCR cleaning liquid-and-tip kits. They are worth the price.
After using 10 or so old VHS tapes, you should open the unit and clean the erase head, video heads, audio head, and metal rollers. Avoid using cleaner on rubber parts, such as the capstan roller; use water instead.
1. If you've never opened a VCR, do it for the first time with a tape still inserted into the machine so that you can observe the path of the tape thru the machine. TURN OFF THE POWER FIRST, and pull the power plug out of the wall.
2. Place VCR on flat surface, such as a table covered with newspaper or cloth to protect table surface.
3. With the appropriate screwdriver, remove VCR cover carefully. Normally there will be some retaining screws along the sides as well as the bottom. Some VCR's have cover screws only on the bottom, and some only on the sides.
On the bottom of most VCR's you might see a very large, usually recessed head of a big retaining screw or bolt, near the center or rear of the bottom. Don't touch this. It's a retaining bolt for the video drum. The screws that hold the top cover on a VCR are always small ones, #10, #8, or #6, or even #4, with Phillips heads.
With the cover removed, turn the vcr over and look inisde, with the front panel TOWARD you. Note the tape's path through the interior. It feeds in from the left-hand side. The first head it encounters at the left is the erase head (shiny surface on a small upright mount). Next come the video heads, which are on a really-big, shiny round cylinder -- you can't miss it, it's the biggest thing in there. The 4 or more video heads are located along the top edge of this cylinder.
Next you'll see a black rubber or nylon capstan roller and an audio head. Sometimes the capstan precedes the audio head, sometimes they are reversed. They are near the right-hand part of the innards near the rear.
Then the tape passes into the right-side take-up area, usually through several alignment posts and rollers.
If this is the first time you've opened a vcr with a tape loaded, note the tape's path and the location of the heads. Then replace the cover (no need to screw it down tight), turn on the VCR and REMOVE THE TAPE !!! Then shut down, unpluig the power, re-open the VCR, and proceed as follows:
4. Dip a chamois tipped cleaning stick into the cleaner and place it on the erase head with light pressure. The erase head is a (usually upright) shiny metal surface which is the first head a tape encounters as it feeds in from the left-hand side.
Gently -- very gently -- draw the flat surface of the cleaning tip horizontally across the erase head. Move across the head, not up and down. You do not need to scrub it, the solution will remove grunge with just one or two light swipes.
5. The big, shiny round cylinder is the video Head Drum. Manually rotate the Head Drum with your free hand (it spins freely). In a groove near the top edge of the drum you will see 4 (or more) slight protrusions spaced equally apart around the drum's edge. These are the video heads.
When you've rotated the drum so that you can see and access one of the head tips, hold the drum still with one hand and lightly touch the chamois tip to the head. No not use any PRESSURE! Draw it across the head, gently and horizontally. Swipe the cleaning tip across the head, not up and down. Again, one or two light swipes will suffice.
Rotate the cylinder and repeat this until you've cleaned all the video heads.
If you have one of those auto-head cleaners in your machine, you will see it at the end of a swinging arm near the Head Drum. It will be a small brush-tip or other fabric at the end of the swinging arm. It is usually clogged with debris that ends up on your heads every time a tape is inserted. Remove the debris with a moist cleaning tip. If it still won't come off, use tweezers. Those head cleaners really don't do that great a job to begin with. Many videophiles just remove the entire arm anyway.
Let me say this again: never use a Q-tip, kleenex, or anything other than cleaning pads on a video head. Strings in the fabric will rip the heads right off the cylinder, or leave debris in the head's slot that can't be removed.
6. Now clean the stationary audio head, in the same way that you cleaned the erase head -- a light swipe from side to side, not up and down.
7. Proceed to clean the metal guideposts and black capstan the same way, although you should be VERY SPARING with any cleaning fluid on the capstan since cleaners will degrade the rubber. In fact, with capstans you're probably better off just using water.
You will also see various belts and pulleys inside. No matter what anyone tells you, DO NOT TOUCH THEM. They break or can be pulled out of alignment very easily.
8. You are likely to see dust and debris in the flat metal parts of the chassis. DON'T (!) use air sprayers to get rid of debris; you'll simply spray it into corners you can't reach. Instead, get a damp q-tip and carefully blot up any black tape residue or other garbage. Be careful that you do not touch any greased or lubricated areas -- the lubrication has to stay there, even if it's dirty. If the greased areas are really corrupt, take the VCR to a shop for cleaning (DO NOT GO TO A SHOP that uses cleaning tapes! Most of them do, so be careful here).
DO NOT USE min-vacuums to clean the interior. Most of them are useless, and static on the vacuum's surfaces can destroy electrical components.
9. Leave the VCR open and allow it to air dry for several minutes. Replace the VCR cover, plug in, insert a tape.Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. -- Henry David Thoreau
I took the liberty to take some pics of my vcr( jvc s-vhs hr-s8600ms / 4heads) in the hope you can edit them (with Paint,photoshop whatever) and show me/us what to clean precisely.This is a subject that interest me greatly currently. So far i have always used cleaning tapes and well i can't say it was that bad but like i heard many people talking about "cleaning yourself the heads is better", i'd try it.I'd try it if i knew what to do precisely and drawings/pictures are best for that considering english in not my 1st language.
This post could possibily end up as a "Post-it" as i believe it will be informative (it is already) (just a thought)
Sorry for the quality of the pics (I'll probably take better ones soon)
As far as the Alcohol to chose is concerned, some people say acetone is best, can you confirm this?
One thing i know/learnt recently is that you can clean up (a bit) the Heads by simply putting a high grade tape/commercial tape on your vcr, playback it & press the fast forward button.
I look forward for your next post
Acetone, besides being dangerous, will destroy plastic and rubber parts. Best to stick with vcr cleaners, tho high-quality alcohol will work in a pinch -- just keep alcohol away from rubber. While alcohol won't destroy rubber imemdiately, it does dry it out and leaves an alkaline residue that builds up with time.
Acetone leakage against plastic or internal parts and slots will ruin the parts and will corrode solder joints.
There are drawings of a typical VCR tape path at:
This web page has one drawing at the top of the page and another below the text. The letters in the drawing's guide that refer to the heads and their positions are:
D - full erase head
F - video drum (with video heads)
H - Audio Control Head
K - Capstan shaft
L - Pinch roller
This web page is not public domain, so I hesitate to post its drawings here.
There are also a number of metal guide rollers that accumulate black powder from old oxidized tape. Clean the metal with vcr cleaner or alcohol.
There is a slightly helpful photo that's been around for years at:
If you have a few days' time to read their entire site, the main contents page is at:
All vcr's don't look -exactly- the same inside, but the basic parts are there in similar arrangements and in the order shown. If you locate the main video head cylinder (it ain't hard to find, it's very large) you can see the heads if you look at the sides of the cylinder. Never fear, once you remove the cover these parts aren't difficult to spot.
As for cleaning tapes: I do see a lot of sites that say you can use them. But too many real-life repair techs tell me they are either dangerous or ineffective. I agree, and I have a copy of a $230 repair bill to prove it. High-end vcr's that use expensive anamorphous video heads, and very cheap players that use really cheap heads, use metal that is extremely (relatively) soft. Cleaning tapes easily deform them. Cheap heads are cheap to replace, but an awful lot of trouble, and many low-end vcr's don't have replacements available. High-end heads are really expensive. Many shops tend to replace high-end heads with cheaper 3rd-party products that don't work as well as the OEM parts.
Video heads are carefully aligned at the factory. Thus, video heads aren't replaced one by one. Rather, the entire rotating cylinder is replaced, with pre-aligned heads factory-installed. The only video heads that are replaced one-by-one within a cylinder are professional heads, which cost about $350 apiece and up, and labor for each pro head runs about $250.
The web link mentioned earlier also has pages that explain in fairly simple terms how a vcr plays a tape, and how to visually spot problems on your monitor and identify the part that's probably giving trouble. For example, your tv can show definite signs of head tape wear that are identified here. There are also audio sync problems; you learn that the tape's "timing display" of tape position and time remaining is controlled not by the video heads, but by the audio head.
The "fixer" and the "vcr-faq" sites aren't the best I've seen but they're informative, and there are few vcr sites around these days.Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. -- Henry David Thoreau
Thanks so much for your excellent tutorial, sanlyn.
Originally Posted by KeepItSimple
I wonder what is the alcohol that i have with the cleaning tape i bought (acetone?) i don't know, nothing is written on it. Would 90° alcohol be ok?
Originally Posted by Video HeadOur inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. -- Henry David Thoreau
Well i have finally cleaned up my vcr "manually" and i took some new pics
I used a white paper+90° alcohol for the video heads (gently applied and turning the drum in its natural direction left to right") (i have counted 5 "video" heads (3+2)) & Q-tips for the erase head & audio control head.
That's all i cleaned mainly plus there wasn't many dust or debris so the job was done quickly
did it help? From your pictures it wasn't all that dirty.
Yeah you're right it wasn't that dirty but i have never did it before so i have gathered as much info as i could (from various places including here)to handle that task the right way.I couldn't resist.
Plus this is an 8 years old machine that i got so i have to take care of it.
One thing i didn't do is add some grease because it obviously need some but i have no idea what grease i'd need and what are the key components that really need some.
I'm an adept of the "do it yourself philosophy" from now on, i'm not gonna pay outrageous price for that frankly. For aligning the heads 'n stuff probably as this requires skills otherwise not a chance.
I'm just guessing that a white Lithium grease very lightly would work. maybe someone else can chime in on that subject.
I used a paper coffee filter.
Use denatured alcohol from ACE, home Depot, etc. It's cheap. About $3/qt, it's the same as that fancy cleaning solution mentioned above.
Originally Posted by TBoneit
I only clean up grease when it got mixed with dust and turned to grime. Very often, no replacement lube was needed.