Although vinegar syndrome is more commonly associated with film it can also occur in acetate tape. The easy way to spot the onset of vinegar syndrome is the smell of acetic acid. If even the slightest odour is detected then remove that tape from contact with other recordings and copy as soon as possible. It appears that vinegar syndrome can spread from reel to reel. The aroma is caused by the decomposition of the acetate based tape and acetic acid is produced as a by-product. After the onset of vinegar syndrome the tapes degrade at an accelerated rate. The hydrolysis of the acetate is quickened further by the acetic acid. As the acetic acid migrates to the surface it makes small holes in the tape and as the syndrome progresses it causes shrinkage and deformation of the tape and a `sticky’ substance can often be deposited on the tape. Deterioration can become extreme within a matter of only a few months from the onset of the syndrome.
There is no real cure for vinegar syndrome. Replasticising the tape may slow down the degradation but the acetic acid will soon start to `eat’ its way to the surface again. Copy any recordings as soon as the smell of vinegar is detected.
Acetate tape showing signs of cupping
Paper tape showing creasing and oxide shedding