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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whatwhy says:

the cd doesn’t work….i used Colgate and crappy wii game wont work and the toothpaste still doesn’t work… THANKS FOR NOTHING!!

Gabriela says:

is it because im 9! NOTHING ever works!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙁 its because im a girl,isent it.

Gabriela says:

and thanks,now my cd is EVEN WORSE! =-O

Jackson Burzynski says:

You people who said that the toothpaste made your disc worse don’t understand it’s purpose. The toothpaste is meant to scratch the disc more. The objective with the toothpaste is to sand down the plastic layer on the bottom of the disc do that it is even again. This requires quite a bit of scrubbing but if your persistent, and dont worry about the little scratches being created, your disc will most likely be fixed as long as the scratch isn’t down to the aluminum layer of the disc. The little scratches created from the toothpaste won’t effect playback because they are perpendicular to the rings of the disc (that is if you polish it in the correct in to out motion)

Mark says:

Just some FYI, most movie rental stores have professional resurfacing machines. It usually costs around $2-3. If the disk is beyond DIY fixing, this may be the only option. Plus, it just works.

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