Before the great vinyl disaster, there was the great vinyl resurgence. And before the great resurgence, people were literally giving away their old collections—spare storage space appearing more valuable than a pile of old records for some.

As the recipient of 6 separate collections, I have a lot of vinyl that’s waiting for proper, permanent storage. I have every intention of building a new cabinet for everything, but until I find the budget and the time, I have a good deal of vinyl lined up in front of my bookcases in the basement.

Or rather, I did.

A few months ago, I noticed that my collection seemed a bit more ripe smelling than normal.

It’s not unusual for things to smell a bit musty—one of the collections I had grabbed was an old classical album stash from someone who’d clearly loved their albums a bit too much before leaving them in a very humid location. Lots of jacket wear, mildew, and stains make for an ugly set of great albums.

But this was different.

I started looking through the disorganized row and everything was fine… until I got to a section with unprotected jackets. They were stuck together.


I gently pulled out the offending sections and my heart sank. It was worse than I thought. Everything was dry—but so much of it was stuck together with deep mildew stains along the bottom that it was clear I was looking at a significant loss.

I tried to pull out more albums and they came out in clumps—jackets stuck together in an unholy bond of mildew and reconstituted wood pulp.

The most unholy union? Dead Kennedys “Too Drunk to Fuck” 12 inch and the Beach Boys.

Gently, I tried to pull a few apart. One or two separated with a quick pop and left nothing but a sad dimple where they’d been attached. Other sets of 3, 4, 5 albums were more permanently bonded. Any attempt to separate them left one or both of the jackets permanently torn and attached to the other.

Three Piles

It made sense to triage the situation so I made three piles. I put all the albums that were deeply bonded in one pile, all the albums with minor issues in a second, and all the ones that seemed ok in a third.

This made me feel better. The stacks were roughly the same size so at least a third of what I had was fine. The middle pile seemed particularly hopeful, so I started there.

About half of them came apart easily—the rest were more stuck together than I thought. In most cases it was only 2 records I had to separate that were fighting me. But how to get them apart without destroying the jacket.

What does the hive mind say?

A quick search netted me nothing but bad news. A thread on Reddit recommended a college kid get new sleeves for everything that was damaged in a similar event.

Discogs has a few threads on the topic. One suggests spot bleach, an iron, and compression. Another suggested a time-consuming process of freezing the jackets and steaming a damp rag which would be used to get them apart. The majority of comments, though, were negative. The vinyl is probably fine after a cleaning but give up on the jackets.

What hadn’t been tried?

There hadn’t been much of a discussion of tools, so I thought I’d try the gentle application of various items I had at my disposal.

First up was a putty knife. I have a bunch of these in various widths and thicknesses for drywall work around the house. None of them improved the outcome. I was still tearing sleeves left and right.

Next up was a folding bone. Because it doesn’t have a handle, it was easier to position around the stuck areas and I was able to reduce the tearing. Win!

It became obvious that this was the best I was going to do unless I could somehow get the areas to release without mechanical intervention. Or at least minimize the pulling.


I needed something that would get absorbed into the area without making it worse. It had to be absorbed quickly, dry quickly, and maybe even remediate some of the mold/mildew that had started growing. Key criteria? Without making it worse.

I combined some filtered water with a bit of dish detergent and some isopropyl alcohol after googling it to make sure I wouldn’t release some noxious gas that would kill me and my family.

I later discovered that I had reinvented a commonly used formula for cleaning your records. Even better!

I loaded up a spray bottle, grabbed some microfiber towels, chose 2 records that were clearly goners, and gave it a shot.

I pried apart the sleeves to get at the stuck area. Over a towel, I sprayed the affected area liberally with the solution. And waited.

After 10 minutes, the solution hadn’t yet penetrated the affected area. I pulled gently to see if it would start releasing, and it did… though it still tore.

Not wanting to soak the rest of the cover, I pulled and scraped and did my best to retain as much of the sleeves as I could.

When they finally came apart, they weren’t pretty. And I had made a huge mess with the fluid.

I tried a couple more with similar results. The solution didn’t seem to actually make any difference in the amount of ripping and tearing. I suppose it’s possible that if I completely soaked the covers, left them for a couple of hours and tried to get them to release naturally, I might have more luck. Or I might completely unglue the entire thing and end up with a dripping wad of paper and cardboard. I’m not testing it.

Dried mildew made its way on to most of the vinyl—even if the jacket was salvageable.

What I ended up doing.

Simply put, I gave up. I went back to the folding bone and carefully separated my albums while trying to minimize tearing.

With each rip, my heart sunk further. I’m now left with 20-30 of album covers that look like the images above—the bottom edge is torn.

From there I sprayed down both surfaces with the solution and gently cleaned with a microfiber towel. This removed most of the mildew and any loose paper.

Then I pulled out the vinyl and inner sleeve. I wiped down the inside of the outer jacket with a damp towel if the inner sleeve looked as though it had growth. If the vinyl had mildew or the inner sleeve was damaged I replaced it with a fresh one.

Then I cleaned the vinyl with more of the solution and microfiber towels.

Once everything was completely dry I put it all back together and made sure it was protected with an outer sleeve.

And now I have to figure out a better storage solution than the floor. This just might be the hardest part.