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How to clean your CDs and DVDs: Taking care of your physical media

Give your discs the spa day they deserve.
By

Published onJune 5, 2023

Despite digital content steadily replacing physical media, many of us still hold on to our prized CDs and DVDs, whether they’re part of our music, movie, or software collections. However, with use comes the inevitable wear and tear, including dust, dirt, fingerprints, and scratches. Cleaning these disks properly can prolong their life, ensuring the best performance and longevity. Let’s walk through the steps for cleaning your CDs and DVDs, plus a list of common mistakes to avoid.

QUICK ANSWER

To clean CDs and DVDs, gently wipe the disc from the center outward using a soft, lint-free cloth, and for stubborn dirt, use a mixture of mild soap and warm water, then dry thoroughly. Avoid circular movements to prevent scratches that could impair data reading.


KEY SECTIONS

How to Clean a CD or DVD

Holding DVD disc backside

Before you start, understand that CDs and DVDs are delicate, and careless cleaning can result in more harm than good.

It’s crucial to understand the structure of a CD/DVD. Data is stored in the polycarbonate layer, which is then covered with a thin layer of aluminum or gold and a protective lacquer layer. The data side is more sensitive, as scratches can lead to data loss.

Here are some steps you should follow when cleaning your discs:

Gather your materials

All you need is a microfiber cloth and a cleaning solution. A microfiber cloth is ideal because it’s soft and won’t scratch the disc surface. Warm water and mild dish soap will work fine for the cleaning solution, so long as it doesn’t contain any moisturizers or other additives, as these can leave a film residue.

Start cleaning

Gently hold the disc by the edges or the center hole. Never touch the surface with your bare fingers, which can cause smudges or scratches. Apply the cleaning solution to the cloth, not directly to the disc. Now, wipe the disc from the center straight out to the edge. Never wipe in a circular motion, as this can cause scratches that follow the direction of the data track, making them more damaging.

Dry the disc

Use a dry section of the cloth or a separate dry microfiber cloth to dry the disc, again moving from the center to the edges. Ensure the disc is completely dry before attempting to play it.

What you should avoid when cleaning CDs and DVDs

Here are some big no-nos when it comes to cleaning discs:

  • Avoid using abrasive materials: Don’t use a rough cloth, paper towels, or tissue paper to clean your discs. They can scratch the surface.
  • Avoid using strong chemicals: Cleaners like bleach or ammonia can damage the polycarbonate layer, affecting the disc’s performance.
  • Avoid touching the surface: Always hold the disc by the edges or the center hole.
  • Avoid extreme heat: Never try to dry your discs with a hairdryer or direct sunlight. The heat can warp the disc.

FAQs

You can clean a DVD with isopropyl alcohol, but it should be diluted with water. High concentrations of alcohol can damage the protective layer of the disc.

While Windex will not immediately damage a DVD, it’s not recommended for regular use. The chemicals in Windex may eventually degrade the disc’s surface.

Eyeglass cleaners are typically mild and safe to use on CDs. However, ensure it does not contain ammonia or alcohol, which can harm the disc surface.

Hand sanitizer often contains a high concentration of alcohol, which can harm the CD. It’s better to stick to mild soap and water.

Toothpaste is sometimes used as a scratch-removing method, not for regular cleaning. It works by polishing the surface to reduce the visibility of scratches. However, it should be used sparingly and only with non-gel, non-whitening toothpaste. Be aware that this method can potentially cause more harm if not done correctly.