How to Clean Your VCR Heads

Keep your VCR running as long as you can

VHS VCR Head Assembly - Two Views

Although there are millions of VCRs in use around the World, in July of 2016, after 41 years, it was announced that VCR production was going to be discontinued.

This means that the video cassette recorders that are still in use, need to be maintained going forward, as new replacements may no longer be available.

Cleaning Your VCR's Heads

If you still own and use a VCR, is it still working properly? If your VCR is several years old, it may just be suffering from old age - but, if your video is getting noisy, and you are seeing streaks, audio dropouts, or tracking errors, it is possible that your VCR may just need a good cleaning.

So, before you take in your VCR for repair, or search for a replacement (which is getting harder these days), you might want to see if cleaning your VCR tape heads, Head Drum, and other parts inside your VCR is able to restore performance.

This best way to do this is to open up your VCR and clean it manually - Do not use a "head cleaning tape".

Read this entire page and refer to additional references at the bottom of the page before attempting this procedure.

Before You Start

  • Do not perform the above procedure if your VCR is still covered by Warranty or Extended Service Plan. Take the unit to an authorized technician instead.
  • Make sure you have all the proper screwdriver(s), chamois, cleaning solution, etc., before starting Step One of this process. DO NOT USE Q-TIPS.
  •  The author of this article is not responsible for any damage to your VCR involving any steps in this process. If you have doubts about your skill after opening the exterior case, do not go forward.

VCR Head Cleaning Steps

  1. Eject any tape from the VCR and unplug it from wall current.

  2. Unplug any other cables from VCR (Cable, Antenna, Composite or S-Video, Audio, etc..).

  3. Place VCR on a flat surface, such as a table covered with newspaper or cloth to protect table surface.

  4. With the appropriate screwdriver, remove VCR cover carefully.

  5. Before going any further, check for any dust balls or other loose foreign objects that have made their way into the chassis and near the tape loading and drum mechanisms that you can clean manually (very lightly).

  6. The Head Drum is the large shiny round cylinder-shaped object that is set slightly off-center inside the chassis. Take an isopropyl alcohol-dipped chamois-tipped cleaning stick and place it on the Head Drum with light pressure.

    VCR Record/Play Head Close-up
  7. Manually rotate Head Drum with your free hand (it spins freely), keeping chamois stick stationary, allowing fluid to clean the drum (Never move the chamois stick in the vertical direction-you may snap off Head protrusions on the drum).

  8. Clean the Erase Head, usually located just to the left of the large Head Drum looking from front-to-back.

    VCR Erase Head
  9. With fresh chamois tips and alcohol, now clean the Stationary audio head, capstans, rollers, and gears. Check for dust. Do not get excessive fluid in any parts.

    VCR Audio Head and Capstans
  10. Clean Belts and Pulleys using fresh chamois tips, once again, do not use excessive fluid.

    VCR Loading Mechanism
  11. Clean dust off Circuit Boards using a mini-vacuum cleaner and/or compressed air (Use just enough force to remove the dust and dirt).

  12. Let the VCR sit for a few minutes after finishing the above process to let any moisture evaporate and dust clear.

  13. With the VCR still open, plug into wall and TV, turn on VCR and insert a recorded tape. (Do not touch any of the interior workings of the VCR or interior metal cabinet during this process.

  14. Press Play on VCR and confirm that everything is functioning correctly and picture and sound are restored.

  15. Repeat steps 1-11 if you find that the video and audio playback results are not satisfactory.

  16. Eject the tape, Unplug VCR from the wall, unplug all cables.

  17. Screw VCR cover back on and place back in original location with proper hookups.

If you want to continue to use your VCR, you need to keep it running as long as possible, but remember, you may not be able to buy a replacement once it no longer works. At this point in time, you should definitely consider preserving your recordings on DVD (as long as that option is available)​ by following the steps in Three Ways To Copy VHS To DVD.

The instructions illustrated above focus on VHS VCRs. If you have a BETA or other format VCR, the process will be similar, but some of the internal components may be in slightly different locations.