National Archives of the Netherlands (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science)

Information loss of magnetic media

Magnetic media that are stored and handled in the correct way can easily last anywhere between ten and thirty years. Exceptions to this are hard drives and diskettes, which typically have shorter life spans.

However, frequent usage or inadequate preservation procedures can damage magnetic storage media or make them effectively unusable.

Mechanical damage can occur as a result of irregular or uneven winding of tape and inadequate environmental conditions, including high temperatures and relative humidity. The edges of the tape may curl, making it unusable.

Chemical damage can occur, particularly with acetate media (the so-called ‘vinegar syndrome’): deterioration results in the production of production of a vinegar acid transmitted through the air, recognisable by its penetrating odour. As a result, the media contracts and it may become warped and blistered. Such damage commonly deforms and decreases the image or audio stored on the media.