How to Clean Your VCR Heads

Keep your VCR running as long as you can

Although millions of VCRs are used around the world, in July of 2016, after 41 years, VCR production was discontinued. This means video cassette recorders still in use need to be maintained, as new replacements may no longer be available.

Cleaning Your VCR's Heads

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

Before taking a VCR in for repair, or search for a replacement (which is getting harder), see if cleaning the VCR tape heads, head drum, and other parts inside your VCR is able to restore performance. The best way to do this is to open up the VCR and clean it manually – Don't use a "head cleaning tape".

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

Before You Start

  • Don't perform the following steps if your VCR is still covered by a Warranty or Extended Service Plan. Take it to an authorized technician.
  • Make sure you have the proper screwdriver(s), cotton swabs, chamois, cleaning solution, etc., before starting Step One of this process.
  •  Lifewire isn't responsible for any damage to your VCR involving any steps in this process. If you have doubts about your skill after opening the cover, don't proceed.

VCR Head Cleaning Steps

  1. Eject tape from the VCR and unplug it from the wall outlet.

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

  3. Place VCR on a flat surface that is covered with newspaper or cloth to protect the surface.

  4. Remove VCR cover carefully with the correct screwdriver.

  5. Check for dust balls or other loose foreign objects in the chassis and near the tape loading and head drum that you can clean manually (very lightly).

    VHS VCR Head Assembly - Two Views
  6. The Head Drum is the large shiny round cylinder-shaped object 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 (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 Head Drum looking from front-to-back.

    VHS VCR Erase Head Assembly Example
  9. With fresh chamois tips and alcohol, clean the stationary audio head, capstans, rollers, and gears. Check for dust. Don't get excessive fluid in any part.

    VCR Audio Head and Capstans
  10. Clean belts and pulleys using fresh chamois tips – don't 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).

  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. (Don't touch any of the interior workings of the VCR or interior metal cabinet.

  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 the video and audio playback results aren't 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 keep using your VCR, keep it running as long as possible as you may not be able to buy a replacement once it no longer works. 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 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.