Genealogy: Step by step instructions—How to maintain a cassette deck

Genealogy: Step by step instructions—How to maintain a cassette deckBy Barry J. Ewell

Cassette deck maintenance prevents and solves problems and improves recording and playback sound quality.

Cleaning cassette deck heads

  1. Dip cotton swab in anhydrous isopropyl alcohol and gently scrub heads (these are the parts that read the tape).
  2. Dry the heads with the other end of swab.
  3. Use fresh swab when one gets visibly dirty.
  4. Repeat until the swab does not appear to be discolored.
  5. Clean heads after about 30 hours of use or according to the recommendations of the manufacturer.
  6. Commercial head-cleaning fluids contain additives that will cause more harm than benefit.

Cleaning tape path parts

  1. Use a cotton swab and alcohol.
  2. Clean capstan. Turn on deck to spin capstan (the metal spindle to the right of the tape heads that works with pinch roller to guide tape). Gently move swab up capstan shaft. Follow Steps 2 to 4 under “Clean Heads.”
  3. Clean pinch roller (the black rubber roller that works with capstan to guide tape). Rotate pinch roller with swab in tape path between capstan and pinch roller. Follow Steps 2 to 4 under “Clean Heads.”
  4. Clean stationary plastic and metal guideposts.
  5. Clean under reel hubs.
  6. Wipe remainder of tape well with a dry swab.

Tips & warnings

  1. Some decks have two capstans and pinch rollers. See the information that came with your deck to see where the parts are on your equipment.
  2. Use rubber cleaner on pinch roller if you have it.
  3. Clean the tape path when you clean the tape heads.


  1. Use a commercial tape deck demagnetizer.
  2. With the deck off, turn on (or plug in, if the demagnetizer doesn’t have a switch) demagnetizer away from deck, other audio equipment and tapes.
  3. Slowly move tip of demagnetizer towards head.
  4. Make sure the demagnetizer doesn’t touch the tape head (the magnetic field will cause it to try).
  5. Slowly move the tip back and forth across the tape head for a few seconds. Get close to the head without touching it.
  6. Slowly pull demagnetizer far away from head. Unplug demagnetizer after demagnetizing both heads.

Tips & warnings

  1. Look for a demagnetizer with a plastic-coated tip.
  2. Only demagnetize if you start to hear distortion on your tapes.
  3. A hi-fi shop might also demagnetize your heads for you.
  4. Used improperly, a demagnetizer will increase head magnetization.
  5. A demagnetizer can damage tapes, speakers and other audio equipment.