What Is Vinyl Warping: Why It Happens & What To Do
Have you ever decided to play one of your favorite vinyl records and been faced with a jumping stylus or sound distortions? If so, your vinyl record may be warped.
Warping is when your record becomes bent or deformed due to pressure or temperature changes. It can happen even if you’re taking good care of your collection, so if you come across a warped record in your crates, don’t worry.
There are some steps you can take to flatten out warped records. You’ll be back to listening to your favorite songs in perfect analog again.
How Can I Spot Vinyl Warping?
The best way to spot vinyl warping is to pull your record out of its sleeve and take a close look. Hold it at eye level and check to see that it looks flat and even. Usually, you can see warping pretty clearly because of how thin vinyl records are.
If what you see looks bent or twisted, you might have a warped vinyl record on your hands. If the warping isn’t severe, but you aren’t sure if your record is completely flat, place it on your turntable. If it won’t lie flat and you can see gaps between it and the platter, it’s badly warped and will need some TLC.
You can also tell if a record is warped by playing it. If it’s very badly warped, the record will skip, and the stylus will jump around a lot when you try to play it. If the warping is apparent but not terrible, you’ll hear distortions in the sound of the record.
What Causes Vinyl Warping?
If you have a warped piece of vinyl, you might wonder what happened to it. A few things cause vinyl warping, but they all boil down to pressure and heat.
Remember that a vinyl record is fairly soft and fairly thin. Vinyl is also very sensitive to heat — in fact, heat and pressure are how records are made. A little too much of either of those and the grooves that make your music sound so sweet will soften and bend, which causes warping.
If you store your vinyl records underneath heavy things or in a place that’s exposed to heat and sunlight, you’ll probably find yourself with warped vinyl somewhere down the line.
Can Vinyl Warping Be Prevented?
If you know the causes of vinyl warping, it’s fairly easy to prevent. Preventing warping is much easier than fixing it once it happens, so it’s worth knowing how to keep your records safe from unwanted curves and swerves.
Here are a few things you can do to keep your records from bending and warping.
Prevent Vinyl Warping by Storing Your Records Correctly
Storing your records properly is important. It’s best to store them upright in their original provided sleeves and jackets, with the protective poly cover over them. If you don’t have the space for upright storage racks, it’s okay to store them flat, but don’t stack too many.
However, it’s simple to store records upright — the tried and true milk crate is an easy and affordable option, as are regular bookshelves. Just make sure they’re in a cool corner of the room with minimal exposure to sunlight.
If you store them flat, make sure you don’t make the stacks too tall — weight is another thing that can cause warping. A record at the bottom of a tall stack of other records is in danger of becoming damaged because it’s under all that weight.
Prevent Vinyl Warping by Keeping Records at the Right Temperature
It might be tempting to put old records into an attic or garage if you don’t listen to them often. That isn’t a good idea if you want to keep them in good shape. Out-of-the-way storage areas are often too warm or cold for records, which ideally need to be kept at around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep your records cool and out of sunlight. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re comfortable in a space — not too hot, not too cold, and not in danger of sunburn — your records will be too.
Also, try not to leave your records in a hot car on a sunny day — enclosed spaces heat up quickly, and a quick trip into the store could leave you with a warped, or worse, a melted record.
Prevent Vinyl Warping by Keeping Records Clean
This should go without saying, but just in case, you’ll also want to be sure to keep your records dry and clean, meaning free of dust or any other substances. If you keep them in their protective sleeves, it should be pretty easy to keep them clean.
While a little bit of moisture won’t harm a record irreversibly, it’s not a good idea to store your vinyl in a moist or humid environment or handle it with wet hands at any time. While moisture doesn’t contribute directly to warping, it can play havoc with temperature by holding heat around your record and weakening the vinyl. This can then lead to warping and cause many other problems over time, so keeping your records dry is a good idea.
Can Vinyl Warping Be Fixed?
Not all vinyl warping can be fixed. Sometimes, you can only fix some of the damage on your record. Even if you do everything right, it’s rare for a warped record to get back to perfect condition.
However, if it comes down to throwing away the record or trying to fix the warping, of course, you should try to fix it. There are a few things you can do to try and fix a warped vinyl record. All of them have to do with using pressure and time.
Use Heavy Household Items To Fix Vinyl Warping
Put your record in its sleeve between two heavy books, boxes, or similar heavy items. Leave it there for a few days, then check it to see if the warping has been corrected.
Be careful not to use items that are too heavy — you’re trying to straighten out the record, not flatten its grooves. Also, make sure that you cover both sides of the record with something soft and non-abrasive to protect the record's precious grooves from damage while it’s being flattened. This method can take a long time — up to several weeks.
Buy a Record Flattener To Fix Vinyl Warping
If you have the cash (or a lot of warped vinyl), you can spring for a record flattener. They’re usually made up of two heavy rings, two protective fabric discs, and sometimes a warmer.
The idea behind using a record flattener is that you cushion your precious vinyl with the discs, place the protected vinyl in between the rings, and let weight and time slowly work their magic to un-warp the record. This process can take weeks, just like the book method does, but record flatteners are professionally made to distribute weight and pressure more evenly than your books and boxes can.
As a bonus, some record flattening machines have heating elements that significantly speed up the process. It’s important to be careful with these, though — some machines have self-heating pouches that do the heat-regulating work for you. Others have to be placed in an oven and manually checked to ensure they’re at a temperature that will soften your vinyl without destroying it.
You’ll also need to set a timer to remind yourself to check your record at regular intervals, so you don’t damage your record by leaving it between the weights for too long.
Hire a Professional To Fix Vinyl Warping
If you don’t trust yourself to flatten your warped vinyl at home, you can also find a vinyl shop or DJ studio that has a professional flattening service. They’ll do the same thing you’d be able to do at home, but with much more practice and attention than you might have, and probably better equipment as well.
They’re expensive services, though, and depending on your budget and how precious the warped vinyl you want to flatten is, it may be worth giving it a try at home first.
How Can I Fix Vinyl Warping?
The main thing to remember in cases of vinyl warping is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be sure to store your vinyl properly to prevent warping.
However, even the best-treated vinyl sometimes still warps, so if it does, don’t panic. Try using weight and heat to fix the problem — either professionally at a shop or with a machine, or by using common household items and patience. With a little time and elbow grease, you can usually get your warped vinyl into a playable state again.