Are PVC Sleeves Ruining Your Collection?
Having only caught the vinyl bug in the last decade, I thought nothing of keeping my growing collection of vinyl records in clear plastic sleeves to keep them clean and safe. However, after discovering a damaged disc on my deck, I was shocked to learn that PVC outer sleeves I had been using to protect my collection were causing more harm than good! Could the same fate befall your vital vinyl?
For those that have been collecting longer than I have, chances are you have come across this phenomenon already. I am talking about vinyl misting or fogging, as the community commonly refers to it. Once misting occurs, it is near impossible to remove, and it is not only unsightly but audible as well, causing a 'whooshing' sound that's almost unbearable to listen to.
I first noticed misting on my records a couple of months back when I went to play my beloved copy of the Short Circuit: Live At Electric Circus compilation and heard a dreadful hiss coming through my system. After closer inspection, I noticed strange "tiger stripe" markings throughout the record. My initial reaction was to load up the trusty spin clean and give it a good once-over; I repeated this several times to no avail. So I turned to the internet for answers...
After trawling through forums and multiple comment sections, I discovered this is due to "off-gassing" from PVC sleeves. The plasticisers in the PVC slowly break down over the years and turn into a gas that latches onto the record, leaving a layer of misting on the vinyl. This is especially prominent, but not limited to, older picture discs that have direct contact with the outer sleeves.
My copy of Short Circuit: Live At Electric Circus was stored in a gatefold sleeve with cardboard inner sleeves, but the gasses still managed to find their way through!
With my whole collection stored in a wide array of sleeves picked up over the years from record shops, flea markets and everywhere in between, this discovery horrified me. I decided to scan through my collection and uncovered a few more offenders. The one thing they all had in common was that they were colour vinyl and housed in the older PVC sleeves. These records had been in storage since the late 70s - I even noticed a slight chemical smell when inspecting the sleeves.
I proceeded to remove all my outer sleeves and was shocked to see how much space I had gained by doing so. Also, the weight of the combined sleeves must've been adding strain to my shelves.
Newer outer sleeves available from vinyl care specialists and records shops tend to be safe polyethylene, rather than PVC, so check the plastic in any sleeves you may purchase.
I would highly recommend to anyone to remove your records from the older-style PVC sleeves. If it is part of the original packaging I would suggest keeping it and storing it separately from the record even if it is stored closely it could still affect the record over time. Just like my poor copy of Short Circuit!
Special thanks to the forum contributors on Steve Hoffman Music Forums, Reddit and Discogs for the invaluable resource for writing this article.