How To Repair A Scratched CD or DVD

 Almost every gamer has had trouble with a scratched CD or DVD at some time. (Or maybe you only need to fix your carts?) If a CD or DVD is scratched, the drive will obviously have problems reading the disc, increasing reading errors and causing some gameplay frustration. Or in the case of Sega Saturn or Sega CD discs (that have audio tracks), the music skips when we play it.

The first thing to do when coming across a CD with a read error is to give it a good clean and to check whether it the error is not being caused by a dirty surface. You can even wash the CD gently with a little detergent, using your fingers to clean it (avoid sponges, since they can scratch the CD). If the error persists, try reading or playing the CD on another drive. If another drive (or CD player, in the case of audio CDs) gives the same result (read error or skipping, in the case of audio CDs), it will mean that the CD is scratched.

Looking against the light, the recording surface (the flip side of the label) of a CD with this kind of trouble will allow you to easily see one or more existing scratches. A CD’s data is recorded on a metal layer inside it, a silvered layer on commercial CDs. This metal layer is inset in a transparent plastic covering (polycarbonate), used to protect the CD’s metal layer and allow printing a label on the side not used for reading.

A CD-ROM drive or CD player utilizes a laser beam to read the metal layer. This laser beam crosses the plastic layer and reads the metal layer. If the plastic layer is scratched, the beam will be unable to pass through it, resulting in a read error or skipping the music. In other words, the data to be read are still in the CD, the trouble lies in the layer of plastic.

As the CD’s contents are preserved, a scratched CD can be recovered by polishing its plastic surface. If, after carrying out the above cleansing, the CD persists in giving reading errors, just polish the CD with toothpaste. That’s right, toothpaste. It works wonders, and you won’t spend a fortune buying professional cleaning kits. Polish the scratches with a cotton swab, rubbing gently the paste-imbued swab over the scratches until they disappear or until you notice that you have removed them as far as possible. Sometimes the paste may cause new scratching, but it will be merely superficial and easily removed. After clearing the scratches, wash the CD in water and dry with a soft cloth.

When you apply light abrassives like this, try to rub from the inside ring of the disc toward the outter edge. Try to avoid rubbing in circles. You will also want to make sure to use a soft cloth when applying. This will help avoid additional problems.

If there are still scratches that the toothpaste has not managed to removed, you can use the following products (in order of effectivness) to try to fix it up any remaining scratches:

  • Armor All – Automotive Interior Cleaner
  • Plegde – Furnature Wax
  • Brasso – Brass/Metal Polisher
  • Petroleum Jelly

The last step will be testing the CD. If it starts working properly, you are in luck. If not, repeat the above procedure, looking for the scratch that is causing the error and concentrating your polishing efforts on it.

You may find that you really have some scratches that are deep. Those just might be beyond repair. Also scratches on the label side can be a death sentence as well. Most discs do not have an additional protective coating on the label side.

If you have a precious game for one of your systems that is either beyond help, or maybe you just want to preserve it, I suggest you take a look at my Hacks and Guides section. In there you will find guides to various systems — many of which tell you how to make backup copies of your games and play them on the consoles.

If you have any other comments or suggestions, please post a comment or join in the discussion on my message board.

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57 Comments

Mozgus says:

The toothpaste trick has never worked for me. It only fogs up the disc more, and makes it harder to read.

Anonymous says:

It’s never worked for me either. If it fogs up the disc, just use windex on it.

Anonymous says:

this is a load of rubbish it makes the disc worst so if anyone tries this go and get help

racketboy says:

which method are you talking about?
I don’t really see how it could make it worse unless you’re doing something wrong…

Anonymous says:

I beg to differ, the toothpaste method has worked for me on numerous occassions

Anonymous says:

toothpaste has worked for me also.

MacBigot says:

It might not be common knowledge — but different toothpastes have different abrasive qualities.

It might be helpful here for those who have used toothpaste successfully to tell us which brand/type they are using.

And hey, if it works for me (my 5-yr-old just acratched her favorite Joy Lippard CD), I’ll even pimp it on my web site.

Anonymous says:

The toothpaste trick does work. The people who say it doesn’t obviously have a disc with too deep a scratch, or are just using too much toothpaste or scrubbing too hard. The key is too not only scrub gently, but to make sure to have the right amount of toothpaste. I use Crest toothpaste with Scope in it, and it works fine.

Anonymous says:

the toothpastes works but the deregent is so stupid. Im 10 just to ley you no.Im a girl. i love the xbox and the sims 2 but my cd got screatch so i tried the deregent and is dum. I love the toothpaste!

Anonymous says:

hi again bye!

lane says:

could you go WAY more in depth. it just says use toothpaste.

which kind?
how much?
circular or up&down?
how long?
i really need to know these things im a total idiot to this toothpaste method and i want to play guitar hero!!! i tried that 2000 sandpaper crap and it made it tonz worse! luckily it made more scratches but they dont seem to be deep!

racketboy says:

I kinda mentioned this above…
“When you apply light abrasives like this, try to rub from the inside ring of the disc toward the outter edge. Try to avoid rubbing in circles. You will also want to make sure to use a soft cloth when applying. This will help avoid additional problems.”

What kind? Doesn’t really matter too much. Ones with baking soda are usually a bit grittier. That might help just a bit.

How Much? probably just as much as you put on your brush in the morning. You basically just want a rather thin layer to cover the affected areas.

How long? a minute or two should be find.

Sako says:

it didn’t work whatsoever, i think it made it worse

anonymous says:

these person do not say the exact thing to all of you
actually u must use a medium which is transperent like gel toothpaste or hair gel or vasaline the toothpaste should be gel and have no opaque substances in it apply gently with a cloth and afterwards let the cd in running water to remove upper extra added, then clean gently with a clean cloth make sure that u do not press hard or rub during cleaning. now put in drive and ready to use
u can even use a banana for this

SCOTCHBRITE PADS AND GASOLINE HAVE WORKED BEST FOR ME…..

John says:

if you really want to save a scratched disc, the above is fine if you’ve only got one or two discs that are scratched, but the only way to properly fix a scratched cd is by using a commercial cd scratch repair machine. I can recommend the machines that discstation has, http://www.discstation.com.au I’ve got a Disc go Pod and I fix around 30-50 scratched DVDs per day in my video store with it, otherwise you are just wasting your time and you could in fact damage the cd further

mister guy says:

I like cheese, and rooster meat???? not to fix my cd’s!!! I use brillo pads and now none of my dvd’s or games work at all. I also use brillo pads to clean my pimpley face, and now have permanent scares all over my face….

Austin says:

sandpaper worked for me lol. if anyone can help i have a disc that got scratched by the laser on my xbox if anyone can help Email me at Mclovin109@yahoo.com

Ivan says:

rofl if you use sandpaper dont use 2000 grit like lane did.. http://www.racketboy.com/retro/2006/03/how-to-repair-scratched-cd-or-dvd.html#comment-4572

higher grit is more rough, i think 2000 is plenty to peel skin off o_O
speaking of sandpaper and polishing, i remember i have some 200 grit sandpaper that i was hoping to use for my gundam model kit but it did naff all. i needed higher like 1000, lol what a bust 200 was ;P

mase says:

i used the toothpaste method and it made my cd worst.

whisper says:

The higher the the number for sandpaper the smoother it is, its how many little pebbles are in an area of the paper, ex. 1 grit would be a giant brick on paper, 2000 would be 2000 tiny little pebbles.

Karim says:

My Cd(Super smash bros melee) got a lot of scratches from previous year…If anyone knows how to fix it then please tell me on my E-Mail (karim@albekov.ch), thanks…

Sam says:

This just worked for me and my new copy of GTA VI So far so good, My Xbox froze and then started making that horrible *IM SCRATCHING YOUR DISC* noise

George says:

I used Sensodyne with whitening. I applied it to the disc with a Q-tip, wiped it off with a piece of tissue paper, then wet my finger and used it to get the excess paste off. I tried just rubbing the same toothpaste on the disc and rinsing it off under the sink, but that didn’t work so i guess it depends on proper procedure.

Ben says:

The toothpaste thing does NOT work and i really want to play halo again!

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