3 Best Head Cleaners for VCR’s, VHS Tapes & Cassettes

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When most people think of VCRs, they think of obsolete technology. Sure, the VCR may have been essential for everyone in the 80s and 90s. But they were replaced by DVDs, then BluRay and streaming media. Who is still using a VCR these days?

As it turns out, quite a number of people. For one thing, people used video cassettes for old home videos. And while you can always convert them to digital, wouldn’t it be nice to have the original? Furthermore, many movies from the 80s and 90s have never gotten a digital release.

If you’re into art films, horror movies, or other offbeat genres, it can be tough to find your favorites on BluRay. But with a VCR, you can continue enjoying those priceless old cassettes. You can also watch movies you might have recorded off of TV back in the day.

Of course, using a VCR requires some supplies. Unless you have an old CRT TV, you’ll probably need a component/AV to HDMI converter just to plug in. And then, you still need to keep your heads clean. As video tape spools through the player, dust and debris can build up inside the VCR. When this debris builds up on the heads, your video quality will suffer.


How to Clean Your VCR

Like other mechanical devices, VCRs get dirty over time. As the video tape passes through, it can leave small traces of magnetic dust, or spread dirt around. It can also spread small amounts of lubricant from the moving parts of the machine. As this builds up, it becomes harder and harder for the VCR to read your tapes. Eventually, you’re going to have to clean your machine.

If you’re going to clean your VCR yourself, the first thing you’ll want to do is unplug the power supply. You’re going to be poking around inside, and you don’t want to get an electrical shock. Next, remove the VCR housing, and the internal shield plate that holds cassettes in place. Now, you’ll be looking at the guts of your machine. There, you’ll see a path where the tape travels through the VCR. You’ll want to clean every surface your tape might come in contact with.

First, you’ll want to clean the capstan shaft and pinch roller. This is the large shaft that physically pulls the tape along, as well as the wheel that holds it in place. Wipe them gently with alcohol or a specialized VCR cleaning solution. Next, move on to the A/C head, a magnetic component that sits next to the tape path. This head is metallic, and it should shine once you’re done cleaning it. Note that the A/C head is for audio. The video head is further down. Further along the line, you’ll find the erase head, and eventually the video heads. These should also be cleaned thoroughly, since they’re the parts that are most sensitive to dirt. You’ll also need to clean the tension rollers and guides that line the tape’s path.

This might sound like a lot of parts, but keep in mind that they’re small. Cleaning all of them shouldn’t take more than about five minutes. Once that’s complete, simply reassemble the VCR and plug it back in. That said, manually cleaning every part is still fairly involved, and you have to disassemble your VCR to do it. For most people, it makes more sense just to use a head cleaning kit.

As for how often you should clean your VCR heads, different people have different answers. Some guides recommend cleaning as often as every 20 hours of playback. Others are less rigorous, and suggest cleaning every 30 to 40 hours. At the end of the day, it depends on how dirty your VCR is. If the video and audio are fine, there’s no urgent need to clean. If your picture is getting fuzzy, a cleaning is probably in order.

On the flip side, it’s important to remember that not every VCR problem can be fixed with a head cleaner. Issues like tracking and mechanical failure have nothing to do with how dirty the inside of your VCR is. If you’ve cleaned your heads and you’re still having issues, clean them a second time to be sure. If the picture or audio still isn’t right, you might be looking at a mechanical failure.

Trisonic Video Head Cleaner

#1 – Trisonic Video Head Cleaner

The Trisonic Video Head Cleaner is a special cassette that automatically cleans your VCR. It looks like a normal cassette on the outside, but the inside houses a special cleaning tape. Instead of a normal magnetic tape, this soft fabric is designed to gently clean your VCR’s most delicate parts. Along with the cassette, you also get a small bottle of cleaning solution. To use the cleaner, you simply put a few drops in the cassette, then run the tape for 20 seconds. Rewind the tape so it’s ready for your next cleaning, and you’re good to go.

Trisonic Video Head Cleaner

The advertising images for the Trisonic cleaner can be a bit confusing. They show the cassette with a small hole in the front, for applying the cleaning solution to the tape. However, the hole is papered over when you first open the package. To apply the solution, you’ll need to punch a hole in the label directly over the hole in the cassette. Similarly, the cleaning solution nozzle comes sealed. To dispense it, you’ll need to puncture the seal in the tip of the nozzle. Once that’s done, it’s easy to apply and easy to cap back off again. Replacement solution is easily available, or you can just use rubbing alcohol when it runs out. That said, at only four drops per cleaning, it should last for quite a while.

Trisonic Video Head Cleaner

The advantage of this wet cleaning process is that it’s great at removing grease and magnetic dust. There’s no need to worry about a bunch of debris being left behind. That said, cleaning cassettes have their own inherent limitations. The tape eventually becomes saturated with grime, and will need to be replaced. This takes quite some time, though. And considering that a single cleaning is good for up to 40 hours of playback, you won’t have to do it often. The Trisonic cleaning tape should last for years, and when it does stop working, it’s cheap to replace.

Arsvita VHS Video Head Cleaner

#2 – Arsvita VHS Video Head Cleaner

The Arsvita VHS Video Head Cleaner is a simpler device, and takes less than a minute to use. Like the Trisonic cleaner, the Arsvita is a cassette tape that’s designed especially for cleaning. However, it uses a dry cleaning process, so there’s no need to mess around with cleaning solution or alcohol. Instead, a non-abrasive fabric gently wipes dust and grime off VCR heads and other parts.

Arsvita VHS Video Head Cleaner

This makes it the most convenient option of the bunch. To use the Arsvita, you simply insert the cassette and press play. After 30 seconds, rewind the cassette and eject it. That’s all there is to it. Your heads will be clean, and you’ll be ready to start watching your favorite tapes. The cassette is good for up to 30 cleanings, so it will last for quite some time. Depending on how often you clean, it could last for 1,200 hours of video playback. That’s on the order of 600 full-length movies before you have to worry about buying yourself a new cleaner.

The downside of the Arsvita’s dry design is that it’s not as effective as other cleaning kits. Without a proper cleaning solution, there’s only so much it can remove. This is particularly true for lubricant, which can be tough to take off without any kind of solvent. We’re not saying the Arsvita will leave your VCR filthy. It will certainly be noticeably cleaner than before you cleaned! We’re just saying that it won’t leave your heads as pristine as some of the other options.

Read Right Tape Head Cleaning Swabs

#3 – Read Right Tape Head Cleaning Swabs

The Right Read Tape Head Cleaning Swabs aren’t a specialized head cleaning kit. Instead, they’re five-inch, rigid swabs that are designed for cleaning all kinds of electronics. They come in a box of 36, so you’ve got enough for several cleanings. Not only that, but they’re very versatile. A cassette can only be used to clean a VCR, but these swabs can be used for practically anything. Each one comes in its own sealed pouch, and is pre-moistened with a cleaning solution. You can use them for keyboards, mice, computer components, and other sensitive electronics.

Read Right Tape Head Cleaning Swabs

The swabs themselves are rigid and well-constructed. The stems are made of plastic, not paper, so they maintain their stiffness even under light pressure. The tips are broad and spatula-shaped, so they can cover a wider area than a smaller swab. Not only that, but the material of the heads is a soft, absorbent fabric, not a ball of cotton. This fabric resists shedding, so you don’t have to worry about it leaving a bunch of lint behind. Not only that, but it’s even more absorbent than cotton. Grease and excess cleaning solution will wipe away easily, without leaving a lot of residue.

If the pre-applied solution doesn’t last, you don’t have to worry. The swabs are made to be impervious to alcohol, so you can always re-moisten them as needed. Be careful about using acetone, though. It can eat away at the tips. While the tips are normally lint-free, this corrosive action can cause them to start shedding. So when you need to re-moisten, stick with alcohol, and you’ll be just fine. And with all of that being said, the pre-applied solution is pretty effective to begin with.

Final Verdict

So, which one of these VCR head cleaners is right for you? In most respects, it depends what you’re looking for. The Trisonic Video Head Cleaner provides a good balance of effectiveness and convenience. On the one hand, it’s a complete kit, so you don’t have to disassemble your VCR. On the other hand, as a tape cleaner, it’s not going to be quite as effective as a manual cleaning. Even so, the cleaning solution makes the Trisonic cleaner far more effective than your average dry cleaning tape. This means cleaner heads, and a longer period of time between each cleaning.

The Arsvita VHS Video Head Cleaner takes the prize when it comes to convenience. Because it doesn’t require any solution, you don’t have to worry about spilling or mess. You literally just stick it in your VCR and let the tape run for 30 seconds. In terms of time investment, that’s about as minimal as it gets. On the other hand, there’s only so much a dry band of cloth can do to keep your heads clean. This isn’t to say that the Arsvita is a bad head cleaner. It’s just not the best option if you want the maximum possible effectiveness.

The Read Right Tape Head Cleaning Swabs are on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Convenience” isn’t really in their vocabulary. To use them, you have to disassemble your VCR, which involves a bit of time. That said, they’re very well-designed swabs that are great for cleaning. If you’re willing to put in the effort, they’ll get your VCR cleaner than any cleaning cassette. They can also be used for other electronics so they’re more versatile than cleaning cassettes.

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