Vinyl Mourning

Over lunch at a midtown diner, my friend Mick Patrick of Ace Records told me about a worrying discovery—the PVC (poly vinyl chloride) sleeves he used to protect his 45s had caused visible and audible damage to his vinyl. As I listened to the bad news, I pictured my own record collection, so much of it housed in the very same sleeves he was speaking of. The urge to dash home to check on my collection’s condition was delayed by a combination of denial (“Not my records!”) and disbelief. But memories of the conversation continued to irk me, and recently I decided to take the plunge and investigate.

What I discovered was heart-breaking. As I pulled my 45s out of their PVC sleeves, I found the black vinyl surface sheen had turned a dull, matte dark brown, and worse, many looked like they had been splattered with an oily liquid that no amount of washing or cleaning could remove (see the Dana Gillespie 45 above). I spent day and night listening to the records, trying to hear if the visual decay had actually affected playback, but I just can’t tell. Sometimes I think I hear an underlying hiss that may not have been there before; other times I’m convinced there’s no change in sound.

A frantic internet search led me to this “Can PVC record sleeves damage vinyl?” thread on vinylengine.com, and an article by Bob Stanley, who wrote the following in The Times:

“Some people swear that the petrol-based PVC sleeves, designed to protect your precious first pressings of Led Zeppelin III, can actually cause irreparable damage to the vinyl—the theory being that vinyl is also made of oil and, given the wrong climate, the two can effectively fuse. This creates a “misting” on the vinyl, audible as hiss; sadly this has affected a percentage of the BBC’s gramophone library.”

Record Collector magazine also printed a few letters about this very issue:
http://recordcollectormag.com/letters/ruined-vinyl-the-sequels

shirleyabicairA close-up of the “oil spill” on my Shirley Abicair 45

After surveying the damage—nearly every single ’60s UK girl-pop record on Pye, most of my Philles 45s, a few on Capitol, Ellie Greenwich’s first single as Ellie Gee & the Jets—I couldn’t help but weep for my bad luck and for all the years I’ve spent trying to protect my records from tragedies like this one. Then I sent Mick an e-mail full of questions: Were all the 45s you had in the PVC sleeves damaged? Has that damage affected play? Have you replaced your sleeves with polyethylene sleeves or are you just keeping them in paper? He wrote back saying that those PVC sleeves “spoiled some of my most special records.” And that he now keeps his records in acid-free paper sleeves.

Interestingly, some of my records stored in the PVC sleeves look as good as new, leading me to question if it’s actually the reaction of the PVC with a certain type of inner paper sleeve. As I mentioned above, nearly all of my Pye singles have been damaged, whilst my Decca singles seem to have fully escaped the PVC’s wrath. I spent most of my weekend disposing of all PVC sleeves and wondering how to ensure that this will never happen again. I’d be grateful if any of you 45 collectors would let me know if you’ve had a similar experience. Have you found that the “misting” has affected play? If I’m not hearing an audible hiss, might the damage be visual only? Or will this chemical reaction continue to damage the vinyl despite my removing the PVC sleeve?

Also, I’m curious to hear how you store your records. Paper inner sleeves? Polyethylene outer sleeves or no outer sleeves? All tips would be welcome and greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
xo-Sheila

p.s. American collectors need not panic about this news, as PVC sleeves seem to be predominantly available in the UK (where I first started collecting records).

p.p.s. I’ve just found this article, which goes into dizzying detail and even advises against using paper sleeves. Geeeeeezzzz…… what to do, what to do.

blackbrownDulled, brown surface of the Crystals “He Hit Me” (kept in paper + PVC sleeve) vs. the shiny black Connie Stevens 45 (kept in paper sleeve)

18 Responses to Vinyl Mourning

  1. Mimsy says:

    So that Crystals record had been stored in a paper inner sleeve and a PVC outer sleeve? In other words the PVC need not touch the record to cause this damage?

    • admin says:

      Exactly. The paper is no protection against the PVC. The oils will go through the paper into the vinyl. Truly terrifying. xo-Sheila

  2. G says:

    45’s are pretty much all stored only in paper unless they are a picture sleeve and then it’s in PVC. Never PVC with mere paper – not only can it damage the record, but after working in a record store, I found it can host mildew and mold.

  3. Brad S says:

    Hi, I’m a bit lost on this. So PVC is not the same as the 3 mil poly outer sleeves typically used for outer sleeves? Are PVC the more rigid sleeves like picture discs usually come in?

    I have my singles in paper sleeves with a 3mil poly outer sleeve and am wondering if I should go home and panic!

    • admin says:

      Hey Brad: No need to panic! Paper sleeves + poly outer sleeves are just fine. Polyethylene and PVC are two different plastics. According to the literature it appears only PVC reacts with vinyl, not polyethylene. PVC is indeed the more rigid sleeve that picture discs usually come in.
      xo-Sheila

  4. Barry Soltz says:

    Hey Sheila So sorry to hear about this. I know how much you treasure your records. There was a company here in the U.S. (not Bags Unlimited) maybe about 10-15 years ago that had a colored 45 paper sleeve in which the glue they used had a bad reaction with the vinyl. Also I sometimes see that dull surface on Emarcy jazz LPs from the 50’s. Perhaps their original inner sleeves had some kind of oily PVC base to them. The best 45 sleeves in my opinion were produced by a Jamaican company in Florida. Unfortunately the sleeves are no longer being made. I store my collection in them. You sometimes see them in the collections of Jamaican collectors. The sleeve is marked 45 Caliber in the left hand corner. Anyhow my condolences to you and Mick!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Barry. It was a real shocker, especially given that these sleeves were sold as “protection” for the 45s. I do imagine that the original inner sleeves did have something to do with it and so I’ve been replacing all my original sleeves with the acid-free paper sleeves I got from Bags Unlimited. Shame those Jamaican sleeves are no longer available. I imagine that those who manufactured sleeves in the ’60s didn’t think about how they would stand up 40-50 years down the line, so I’ve learned the hard way that I’ve got to take matters into my own hands. I’m just hoping that word spreads about these evil sleeves…. Xo

  5. Ian M says:

    hi Sheila,

    I just discovered the horror of what those thick smelly PVC sleeves have done to some of the records in my collection in the last couple of weeks. My situation has more to do with 12″ LP’s that were in those same PVC sleeves and my records were damaged by the same misting/fogging as you experienced on your 45’s. Even if i put the record in various types of non-PVC plastic sleeves or just paper, the same damage would leach to the vinyl. This is called “out-gassing” and obviously creates a chemical reaction with the vinyl LP. The more i read on the subject the more depressing it gets too as it doesn’t appear there is anyway to fix this at all. There is an undeniable hissing/surface noise now which is very audible and i know my records didn’t sound like this when i first played them. i live in a climate (Vancouver BC) where the temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year although this past summer was unusually warm and i do wonder if this contributes to the gasses in the PVC increasing the reaction with the vinyl. The strange, but good thing that i noticed was that absolutely none of the “picture discs” (that are traditionally sold in these sleeves) were not damaged at all. Black vinyl seemed to react the worse and a few of my coloured vinyls also reacted but not as severe but i could still hear the damage, especially in-between tracks and quieter passages. I really started to panic when i realized that all of my Simply Vinyl releases were all in those sturdy PVC outer-sleeves as well. Fortunately, even though they had that smell the did not do any damage to the vinyl. Regardless, ANYTHING PVC is being removed from all of my record collection even if it hasn’t done any damage. I am not going to take any chances! I think perhaps cleaning the vinyl and putting it in a new inner-sleeve might be wise as well.

    You are absolutely right in saying that PVC is EVIL! And shame on the record companies for still using this cancerous plastic!

    • admin says:

      Hey Ian: I’m so sorry to hear about your 12″s : ( There seems to be so many stories like yours coming to light. This has been one of the most popular posts on Cha Cha Charming and that’s not a good thing! I just hope that in publicizing this issue, these sleeves are taken off the market for good! xo-Sheila

  6. Paul says:

    PVC is the devil… after receiving a 45 which had the obvious PVC burn, I then did some research to find that PVC did indeed ruin records after comparing people’s pictures with my own dodgy 45.

    Realising this problem… I promptly have gotten rid of all PVC from parts of my collection, which in total was fortunately 150 45s and 200 LP’s… I am so glad it wasn’t on more of my collection as this would have sucked big time.

    Thankfully none of my actual vinyl is damaged, there appears to be the very beginnings of PVC burn on some of the LP’s but the 45s are okay thankfully.

    Thanks to Sheila for highlighting this issue, cos it often goes unnoticed especially by record store owners.

    Now… If anyone has any idea how to remedy this issue, I would love to know!!!

    • admin says:

      Hey Paul: The devil indeed! I’m glad this piece (and others) are working their way around the web, as it seems a lot of collectors are still unaware of the damage it causes. It’s great to hear that most of your collection went unharmed!
      xo-Sheila

  7. Steve says:

    To add more confusion, I recently purchased a sealed LP on Reprise Records that was probably at least 25 years old. The original shrink wrap was intact and sealed, and of course the original Reprise paper sleeve was there. The vinyl had fogging similar to your photos and the record had a lot of background hiss for a new record. I tried various cleaners that I’ve had good results with on vinyl, but to no effect. So was it caused by acid in the paper sleeve, acid in the ink graphics on the paper sleeve, acid in the cardstock jacket, acid in the record label, the plastic shrink wrap or ???? I have no idea. I was shocked at the realization that an unplayed record could be in worse shape than one that’s been “aired out” and carefully enjoyed.

    • Derek N says:

      Hey Steve, yeah, I’ve come into contact with a handful of LPs that look pristine but have the fogging you’re talking about. I assume they were sealed for decades until someone bought them, opened them, and then ditched them when the saw/heard the fogging. I’m also not sure of what exactly is causing the fogging, if it’s the inner sleeves or the shrink or what.

      I once bought a sealed Sonny Boy Williamson record only to open it and find it had severely melted somewhere along the way! Totally unplayable. That experience plus the fogging phenomenon has kept me away from vintage sealed LPs, although I have had some great luck with them too. But it’s just too much of a risk, especially if it’s a pricey record.

    • admin says:

      Hey Steve: A sealed LP?! That’s so disheartening. In investigating the damage in my own collection, I do believe it’s a reaction between the inner paper sleeve and the outer PVC sleeve. I have no idea how or why, but I’ve found that every single one of my 45s in a paper sleeve with outer PVC sleeve on Pye records has been damaged. Whereas my 45s in paper sleeves with outer PVC sleeves on Decca are all fine. So there must be something in the Pye sleeves that is reacting with the PVC. I’d bet that most of the old company sleeves were made with some form of acid, so it’s best to dispose of all PVC sleeves, even if there’s no obvious visual damage. xo-Sheila

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  9. Tony says:

    Sorry you all went through this (damn protectors) shame on them. I only had few of these lil demons happen Then I do with all my Precious. Vinyl Clean them via Spin Cycle washer and store them sealed in safe boxes in locked (Homade. storage box).
    Till I am ready to put in my playing roatation. Good luck all

  10. Hi Sheila, I just saw all these posts about damaged vinyl. I was always leary about keeping vinyl inside any plastic. I double sleeve my records, white paper sleeve inside green sleeve. My only complaint about Bag Unlimited sleeves is that they’re making the green sleeves a little smaller, so some styrene 45s don’t fit!

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