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Why is my VHS Fuzzy?

By Katy Sommerfield

If your family is like mine, you all love to watch home movies. – first proms, little league championships and battle of the bands competitions. Those moments from the past that you documented on heavy, hard-to-wield camcorders and that you now play on outdated VCRs are some of the most special memories you have. Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th-anniversary party, your aunt’s wedding video, and your oldest child’s first birthday are all saved in those tapes.

When you pop them into the player and sit back with a bag of popcorn with the rest of your family, there’s bound to be laughs and tears of joy.

But imagine this: You’re at another family gathering, and someone shouts, “Bring out the home movies!” right after your second helping of dessert. Your uncle starts setting up the rusty old VCR, and he pushes the tape in – after rewinding it, of course. The movie starts playing, but something’s off. The tape doesn’t have the same quality it once did, and the sound is muffled. Maybe the scenes are a little jumpier than normal.

If this has happened to you, then you’re not alone. You’ve got what we call a “fuzzy” VHS tape syndrome. Over time, tapes will inevitably malfunction. They can fall victim to many of the same threats that time hurls at aged items. Mold, dust, grime, overuse, and underuse are just some of the common causes of the fuzziness and skipping that can occur with your tapes. Depending on how long you’ve had the tape and the location in which it was stored can all add up to do a number on your recorded memories.

How Can I Fix the Fuzz?

The good news is that this fuzziness is not necessarily a death sentence for your tapes, especially if the damage is caught early on. If you have a fuzzy tape, here’s how to take care of it.


1. Clean Out the Clogs

A VHS tape is a relatively simple device, but it still has all sorts of mechanics to it. Some of the bits that help your tape run are called “heads” - audio, control, and erase heads to be specific. If you have a fuzzy tape, chances are that one or all of these heads is clogged or gunked up. Solve the problem using cotton swabs with a little bit of rubbing alcohol to get built up grime out of the heads.


2. Smooth It Out

If you have a skipping tape, it's likely that the tracking is messed up. Some VCRs have an automatic tracking feature and will fix any skipping in the tape as it plays. If your tape plays and skips and your VCR does not correct the issue on its own or doesn’t have manual tracking knobs, try rewinding and fast-forwarding your tape a few times in a row. This can help smooth out any bumps or ridges on the tape which would cause skipping.


3. Another One Bites the Dust

Sometimes the tape strip itself can become dirty, which can cause blurry picture quality. Using a cotton swab, you can carefully wipe away dust from the strip and fix the problem. Just make sure the swab isn’t wet at all, because moisture can make the dust particles stick to the tape and create mold. If mold grows on your tape, it can be difficult to salvage.

If any of your problems persist after trying these three methods, seek out a professional to tend to your tapes. Sometimes, if the damage is not caught early enough, a tape cannot be fixed. That is why digitization is one of the best choices you can make to preserve your memories and rest easy knowing that your home movies will not fall victim to the test of time. At Kodak Digitizing, our professionals can carefully digitize your analog media by hand and create a digital version that will last through the ages. Why risk losing your precious home videos to fuzziness? Try Kodak Digitizing today.

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