How to Maintain a Cassette Deck

By Editorial Team

Updated December 13, 2019

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

Clean Heads

Dip cotton swab in anhydrous isopropyl alcohol and gently scrub heads (these are the parts that read the tape).

Dry the heads with the other end of swab.

Use fresh swab when one gets visibly dirty.

Repeat until the swab does not appear to be discolored.

Clean Tape Path Parts

Use a cotton swab and alcohol.

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."

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."

Clean stationary plastic and metal guideposts.

Clean under reel hubs.

Wipe remainder of tape well with a dry swab.

Demagnetize Erase and Record Heads

Use a commercial tape deck demagnetizer.

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.

Slowly move tip of demagnetizer toward head.

Make sure the demagnetizer doesn't touch the tape head (the magnetic field will cause it to try).

Slowly move the tip back and forth across the tape head for a few seconds. Get close to the head without touching it.

Slowly pull demagnetizer far away from head. Unplug demagnetizer after demagnetizing both heads.


Clean heads after about 30 hours of use or according to the recommendations of the manufacturer. 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.

Use rubber cleaner on pinch roller if you have it. Clean the tape path when you clean the tape heads. Look for a demagnetizer with a plastic-coated tip. Only demagnetize if you start to hear distortion on your tapes. A hi-fi shop might also demagnetize your heads for you.


Commercial head-cleaning fluids contain additives that will cause more harm than benefit. Used improperly, a demagnetizer will increase head magnetization. A demagnetizer can damage tapes, speakers and other audio equipment.

Items you will need

  • Tape Head Demagnetizer

  • Anhydrous Isopropyl Alcohols

  • Cotton Swabs