How to Unwarp a Vinyl Record
How to Unwarp a Vinyl Record
Warped records are a notorious problem for vinyl collectors. No method is without risk, but here’s our guide on how to unwarp a vinyl record, for those brave enough to try.
There’s nothing worse than discovering one of your vinyl records is bent or warped. If your record still plays OK, then it’s probably advisable not to resort to any drastic measures - you shouldn’t really be trying to flatten a warped vinyl for purely aesthetic reasons. Straightening records can be a risky business, after all.
Why do vinyl records warp?
One of the most common causes of warped records is heat exposure. Records are made of PVC plastic, which is sensitive to temperature changes. When exposed to high temperatures, the PVC plastic begins to warp, causing the record to bend and bulge. This can be caused by leaving records in direct sunlight, near a heater, or in a hot car. To prevent this, it is important to store records in a cool, dry place away from direct heat sources.
Another common cause of warped records is improper storage. Records should be stored vertically, not stacked on top of each other, as this can cause pressure on the bottom record and lead to warping. Additionally, records should be stored in protective sleeves and away from moisture, which can also cause warping. It is important to use proper storage techniques to ensure that your records remain in good condition.
Unfortunately, some records can become warped due to manufacturing defects. Records are made by pressing PVC plastic between two metal plates, and sometimes the plates are not perfectly flat or the temperature during pressing is not controlled properly, leading to warping. To avoid this, it is recommended to purchase records from reputable dealers who have a good reputation for producing high-quality records.
The environment can also play a role in causing records to warp. Changes in humidity levels, temperature, and air pressure can cause the PVC plastic to expand or contract, leading to warping. To prevent this, it is important to store records in a stable environment with consistent temperature and humidity levels.
Poor Quality Records
In addition to manufacturing defects, some records are simply made with poor quality materials that are more susceptible to warping. To avoid this, it is recommended to purchase records from reputable dealers and to be mindful of the weight and thickness of the record when purchasing. Thicker, heavier records tend to be of better quality and are less likely to become warped.
Finally, overplaying records can also cause warping. Records are meant to be played on a turntable, with a stylus that traces the grooves of the record. Over time, repeated playing can cause the grooves to become worn, leading to warping. To prevent this, it is important to handle records carefully and to use proper turntable setup and cleaning techniques to ensure that the stylus is not causing damage to the record.
How to Unwarp a Vinyl Record
If your warped record skips or is generally unplayable, however, and if buying a replacement is not an option, then you may be more open-minded to considering possible fixes, despite the obvious dangers. You should always proceed with caution, however, and if a particular warped vinyl holds a treasured place in your collection, we advise that you think about the long-term consequences of your actions. Make sure you always weigh up the pros and cons.
With this warning in mind, if you are willing to take matters into your own hands and want to flatten your vinyl to fix warping issues, here are some tips:
1: USE TWO HEAVY OBJECTS (I.E. BOOKS) TO FLATTEN YOUR RECORD
We’ll start with the easiest and, perhaps, the safest option. Find two large, heavy objects - preferably hardback books - that are at least 12 inches wide. Make sure they are completely free of dust before you proceed. Wipe them down thoroughly, then go and fetch your warped vinyl record - essentially, you are making a vinyl sandwich!
Remove your warped vinyl from its sleeve and place it on top of the first object, then place the second object on top of the vinyl. With your vinyl sandwiched between the two heavy objects, the application of pressure may well be enough to help straighten your record to its former glory, if you’re lucky. Essentially, the purpose of this method is to let gravity do its thing. The longer you can leave it, the better - think days and weeks, not hours.
There’s no guarantee this will fix warping in all cases, but in some instances, a mildly warped vinyl record may respond well to the downward pressure over time. When you’re finally ready to check and remove the warped vinyl, if it appears straighter, you might find that that this makes it more playable. Be patient, however - there’s no guarantee it will work, but it’s safer than the alternatives.
2: TRY METHODS THAT APPLY HEAT AND PRESSURE
Generally speaking, it's not advisable to subject vinyl records to heat, as this can often make warping worse and risks melting or damaging the grooves, rendering your records unplayable. In fact, this may be how your vinyl record ended up warping in the first place. We’ve all heard nightmarish stories of vinyl records being left too close to radiators, for example, so all collectors should be very conscious of this.
However, some vinyl collectors have been bold enough to propose that heat - carefully applied - may fix warping. Some have even suggested placing your warped vinyl record between two panes of tempered glass and putting it outside in the sun. You can even place a heavy item on top of the glass to add extra pressure. Such heat has been known to damage grooves and add distortion, however, so there’s always a chance it will make matters worse. In any case, if you don’t live in a hot climate, this may not be the best option for you anyway.
If you’re feeling braver, some collectors recommend following the same process - putting your warped vinyl between two panes of tempered glass - then putting it in your oven on a low setting, whilst making sure you don’t leave it too long. This is not without its dangers - too little heat and the vinyl won’t straighten out, too much heat and you risk damaging the record completely - so it all comes down to a calculated risk. Having said that, some collectors swear by this process and have found that a combination of the slow application of the oven’s heat and the protection of the tempered glass panes can, on some occasions, unwarp your vinyl. Naturally, you should only resort to this option if you have nothing to lose!
3: BUY A VINYL RECORD FLATTENER (IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT!)
Now that we’ve got the homemade tips out of the way, it’s time to explore the more sensible options. If you have lots of money to spare, there are machines you can buy online that purport to be able to fix warped vinyl records, such as the Orb Disc Flattener. Retailing at approximately £1,219.99, it’s a High-End device that you can place your warped vinyl inside to restore it to its formerly flat status. It’s essentially like a trouser-press for warped vinyl records, albeit much safer!
Unlike an oven, where the longer the heat intensifies the greater the risk of long-term damage to your vinyl, the Orb Disc Flattener is designed to manage heat sensibly. Thanks to its controlled heating technique, the Orb’s thermal controls and its cooling-down phase allows for enough time for your warped vinyl to be flattened in a much less risky fashion than letting it take its chances in the oven!
Obviously, given the high cost of the Orb Disc Flattener, it may not be an option for everyone, but if you’re worried about the risks of the first two tips then purchasing your own vinyl record flattener is well worth considering. This is particularly true if you want to avoid rendering your warped vinyl irreparable, so if you want to play it safe, investing your money in the Orb Disc Flattener (or a similar device) might be the right option for you.
4: FIND A LOCAL VINYL RECORD FLATTENING SERVICE
Alternatively, if you are understandably nervous about trying to fix a warped vinyl yourself, you could look at a local service that can do it for you. Some record shops have vinyl flattening machines you can pay to use. A quick Google search can also help you find local vinyl record flattening services, each of whom you can pay a fee to fix warped records on your behalf. Since a local service takes the matter out of your hands, you may feel more confident in going down this route.
Fixing warped vinyl records is a notoriously difficult business and there is no miracle cure. All methods open you up to trial and error, and sometimes, you may not get the results you’re looking for. For a start, it depends on the condition of your warped vinyl in the first place. If it’s in a really bad way, it may not be worth the effort trying to fix it, but if you decide it’s worth the attempt, we hope these tips have helped you make the decision that’s best for you. Whatever you do, just be careful - at the end of the day, that’s the best advice any record collector can give.
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