How to Fix a Warped Record: Is it Possible to Unwarp Vinyl?

How to Fix a Warped Record

If you’re in the unfortunate situation of dealing with a warped vinyl record, it’s no surprise that you’ve come looking for answers on how to fix it.

Depending on how serious the warping is, you may not be able to bend it back perfectly to a flat disc. However, that doesn’t mean it is a total lost cause.

In most cases, a warped record can be fixed enough to still be playable by treating it with either heat, compression, or temporary clamps.

First and foremost, you need to know how to diagnose a warped record. Then, we’ll break down all of the ways that you can fix it, as well as cover everything you need to know about preventing your records from warping in the first place.

We may not be medical experts, but we still know that prevention is the best cure!

How To Tell If a Record Is Warped

Luckily, if you know what to look for, it is quite simple to check if your record is warped. The most obvious telltale is seeing visual curving of your record when you hold it at eye level. Your record should be flat as a pancake so if you see any unusual curves, it means that your record has warped.

Warped Record
Warped Record

The next sign of potential warping is if you experience issues with the needle tracking along the grooves. This could sound like the track skipping or inconsistent sounds, as well as fluctuations in the pitch.

If you hear sound distortion in the form of wow (low-frequency irregularities) or flutter (high-frequency regularities), this could also be a sign that your record is a bit lopsided.

Is It OK to Play a Slightly Warped Record?

So, if you know that your record is warped, can you still play it? Technically, you can still play a slightly warped record. However, the listening experience of that record would probably be unpleasant due to the sound distortions that are associated with warping.

There’s a myth floating around that a warped record can damage your stylus but it’s actually the other way around. A stylus that is blunt or worn-out can do some nasty damage to your records but a slight warp won’t hurt your stylus. If there aren’t any sound distortions and skipping, or if you don’t mind audible abnormalities caused by the warping, then listen away!

How To Fix a Warped Record

The first thing you ought to know is that you can’t simply bend the warped record back into place as easily as you might hope. So, before you get carried away and start to manhandle your fragile records, let’s talk about what you can do to reverse the warping in a safe way.

Vinyl Record Clamp

A record clamp can be extremely helpful if you’re struggling with a warped record and you still want it to play smoothly. This accessory clamps the record to the platter as it spins, essentially bonding them together temporarily. It helps to flatten the record against the sturdy platter and the result is a much smoother playback. Vinyl record clamps are also used when doing vinyl to digital recordings because it helps to reduce slippage and undesired resonance.

We’ll admit, this isn’t much of a fix, it’s more of a temporary solution. But if you’re in a pinch and urgently want to play a record that is warped, this could be your answer.

Flatten With Pressure

If you’ve ever needed to iron out a piece of paper, you’ll be all too familiar with piling heavy books and other objects on top of it to flatten it out. This is the same idea, except that instead of a piece of paper, it’s a record. In the same way that uneven pressure when storing a record horizontally can cause warping, adding even and consistent pressure can reverse the warping.

This method involves laying the record against a flat and stable surface and adding even weight to create constant pressure on the record. We recommend keeping it in its plastic cover to protect it from scratches and reduce the amount of dust accumulation. Heavy books usually work very well for this approach and are easy to stack, if need be.

Book on Top of Record
Book on Top of Record

Note that when we say “even” pressure, we can’t stress that enough; creating a jigsaw puzzle of heavy objects on your record will only worsen your situation. The next thing to focus on is that the key to this method is time and it may require a lot of your patience. Unfortunately, a few minutes or an hour won’t cut it, and this is something that may take days to work.

Also, be sure to give your record a thorough clean before you start stacking heavy items on it. The last thing you want is for a grain of dirt to be pressed further into your record and to destroy your grooves. If you want some insider tips on how to safely clean your records, check out our article on Storing Vinyl Records – Vertically, Horizontally & In Heat.

Record Flattener Machines

In the same way that you can buy special machines that clean records, you can also buy machines that fix warping. Flattening machines use both pressure and heat to straighten out warped records and restore them to being flat again.

In short, they sandwich the record between two surfaces and use precise temperature control systems to heat the record to the perfect temperature. In essence, the heat plus the pressure of the two surfaces remolds the record to be flatter.

The feedback on these machines is generally positive in terms of how effective they are. The main drawback to note is that they are often quite costly. And if you’re willing to pay that kind of price for a record flattener, it may be a smarter investment to simply replace the warped record.

In addition, these machines require the record to be clean when you use them. And unfortunately, a simple wipe may not be enough to ensure the safety of your records. This means that you should invest in a proper record cleaning machine if you intend on using a record flattener.

So, when you consider that a record cleaner is almost part of the deal when purchasing a record flattener, it can become a very costly endeavor. But if the record cannot be replaced and it is special enough for you to invest in a record flattener machine, you’ll probably have great success with one of these contraptions.

Heating in an Oven

This may sound a bit absurd and your hesitation is well placed but a common household oven can be used to straighten a record. The general process involves placing the record between two sheets of glass and heating that sandwich of glass and vinyl in the oven long enough for the vinyl to become malleable. This should be done gently and on a low heat to carefully mold the record into a straighter shape.

We mention this method briefly and with caution because out of all the methods we have mentioned, this is the riskiest for both your vinyl record and your personal safety. If things could go wrong, you could ruin your record, end up with a nasty burn or even potentially expose yourself to harmful fumes. For these reasons, we don’t suggest you go down this road at all, but ultimately, it is your decision.

If this is something you want to look into, we suggest opting for vinyl flattener accessories that are designed to be used in an oven, instead of using your own DIY glass sheet method. These accessories act as a pressured casing for the record when it is placed in the oven.

The heat from the oven and the pressure from the casing work together to bend the record back into a flat disc. We can’t confirm that this method is completely safe but it is at least a safer option than using loose sheets of glass.

Can You Fix a Warped Record With a Hair Dryer?

If you’ve just come up with this idea or heard someone else mention it, we’ll be the first to strongly suggest that you do not try it. It’s true that heat helps to make the record more malleable and it’s true that a hair dryer delivers heat, but this is not a combination that will end well for either yourself or your record.

The heat coming from a hair dryer is not going to be enough to significantly change the state of the vinyl record. Especially if you consider the fact that an oven delivers around 300°F at its lowest and a hair dryer delivers about 140°F at its highest.

And even if you do manage to heat it up enough, it is very likely that you will just further damage your record because of the uneven heat distribution coming from the hair dryer’s nozzle. Not to mention, there are many ways you could potentially harm yourself too.

Can You Fix a Warped Record With an Iron?

You can probably guess what our answer to this one is. For similar reasons that we mentioned for the hair dryer method, we strongly suggest that you avoid trying this one out. No record is worth putting your own safety at risk. And you are much more likely to cause extra damage to your record than fix the warping.

How To Prevent Your Records From Warping

It’s no secret that caring for your records correctly is the best way to stop your records from warping in the first place. And by proper care, we don’t mean simply handling them gently, we also mean safe storage.

When you pack away your beloved records for a long period of time, there are many things to consider but the two main culprits of warping are temperature and pressure.

If there is uneven pressure placed on records for a long time, they will start to warp and go from neat flat discs to glorified bowls. Adding heat to the records when they are under that damaging pressure will only exacerbate the issue since the heat makes the vinyl more vulnerable to warping.

Uneven pressure usually comes in the form of stacking your records horizontally, which you should never do for long periods of time.

Records Stored Upright
Records Stored Upright

Of course, stacking your records like a deck of cards isn’t a crime for a new minutes to take a picture or clean them, but if left that way for days, weeks, or months, it will start to cause problems. Even though you may think that they are stacked flat, the small inconsistencies from the label and the sleeves start to slightly bend and warp your records.

Also, the sheer weight of the records adds up very quickly, so even though the top record may be okay, the bottom ones will suffer. So, always store your records by stacking them in a cool room, next to each other as they all sit upright, not laying flat on a surface.

For more information on how to correctly store your records, head over to Storing Vinyl Records – Vertically, Horizontally & In Heat.

To Summarize

We all know the sinking feeling of realizing that a record is warped, but thankfully, it isn’t always a hopeless situation. In most cases, a warped record can be fixed by either a few heavy books and patience, or a once-off investment into a specially-designed record flattener machine.

You could also take the risk of heating the record at home in the oven, but this is not something that we would recommend. The main thing to take away from this is that heat and inconsistent pressure are the two main villains that you want to keep away from your records if you want to prevent warping.

However, if they are already warped, heat and consistent pressure will be your new best friends to help even out the record and restore it to its flat disc shape.

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