How To Repair Scratched CDs and DVDs Cheaply and Easily

Wh-Wh-Wh-What's the P-P-P-Problem?

It is always irritating when you have just settled back to listen to your favorite CD when all of sudden the song st-st-st-starts to st-st-st-stutter. If your lucky, this will only last a few seconds before things return to normal, but it is too late as the song has already been ruined. Even worse if when you throw in that classic movie only to have the DVD hang up... hang up... hang up... and freeze.

However, before the panic sets in, it is good to remember that the most common problem affecting playability of discs is not damages such as scratches or the dreaded fracture but rather it is more often dirt, fingerprints or other blemish that can be easily cleaned. To avoid this kind of headache it is always best to take a look at the disc before inserting it in the machine and clean any visible grime before you push play.

Why Do Scratches Affect Playability?

CDs and DVDs are constructed with a very thin later of aluminum coated with several thicker layers of plastic. The common belief is that data is stored on the aluminum disc, but this is not the case. The data is stored on the deepest layers of plastic as a series of pits and bumps that the laser in the player can read. The aluminum layer is only there to provide a reflective surface for the laser. The bad news is if this reflective surface is damaged, even by a scratch on the label side of the disc, then your disc is a goner.

Because the data is stored on the deepest layers of plastic, a surface scratch may not affect playability at all. If it does, it is because the contour of the scratch is blocking the laser from being able to properly reach the data on the lower layers. This is why a long scratch may only affect a disc in one or two spots. Those may be the only points at which the laser is blocked from the data. Unless a scratch is deep enough to reach the data layers, the data is still safe and secure and the only real problem is getting around the scratch.

How To Repair Your Damaged Discs

Before attempting to repair a disc... you should always clean it first. Always wipe from the inside of the disc straight out. Never use any sort of circular motion to clean the disc. Try first using only a soft, dry cloth. If needed, good cleaners include mild soap and water or rubbing alcohol. For more difficult grime, try rubbing on some Goo Gone and allowing it to soak a few minutes. Avoid stronger household cleaners that include chemicals like Windex and Pine Sol as these can damage the disc surface.

Tip: It is a good idea to back-up discs before they have a chance to get damaged.

If cleaning the disc does not work... try burning a copy of the disc. Computers use a different process for burning copies than it does for simply reading a disc and though it is a similar action it can sometimes have different results. While this may not be as good as having the original, it may at least provide a playable copy. 

If you are unable to burn a copy (or made a successful burn but would still like to save the original)... the next step is try to locate the scratch that may be causing problems. It should be noted that there are no guarantees when attempting to repair a disc that the repair will be successful. In fact, in some cases, attempting to repair the disc may make it worse. Therefore, it is a good idea to try to concentrate repair efforts on the smallest portion of the disc possible.

Once you determine what part of the disc to clean... apply a small amount of toothpaste to a clean dry cloth. This can be any toothpaste such as Crest, Colgate or Tom's Natural Toothpaste, but it cannot be a gel. Apply the toothpaste to the damaged area of thdisc using the same outward motion used when cleaning the disc. Continue this motion until the paste is worked into the scratches and the excess if cleaned off the disc. If necessary, rinse the disc in warm water to clean off the excess.

FYI: There is nothing special about toothpaste other than its general consistency that makes it good for repairing a disc.

If this does not work... you can search the Internet and find dozens of innovative ideas. Everything from Vaseline, furniture polish and bananas to light bulbs, shoe polish and peanut butter have been suggested. But my suggestion if the toothpaste does not work is have the disc professionally resurfaced. Many video stores like Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and a few pawn shops have resurfacing machines and will attempt to resurface your disc for a couple of dollars or less.

Tip: You may want to try repairing a few discs you do not care about before attempting to save a disc that you consider important.

When all else fails... you can always use the disc for a coaster, a mini Frisbee, a hip bookmark or maybe a mirror if not too scratched up.



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Comments 3 comments

elenox profile image

elenox 5 years ago from Missouri

Good hub. Burning a copy is great advice. If/when I get a new CD, it goes right into my iTunes first. Then it is backed up by Carbonite. That way, if anything goes wrong, it'll always be there.

I actually scratched a brand new CD taking it from the case and putting it into my car CD player literally minutes after I bought it. That is something that will piss you off.

Lastly, if you need good drink coasters, you could use Lady Gaga CD's. They don't even have to be scratched.


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

Thank you for this useful information. I have a lot of scratched CDs, I am going to apply your suggestions.


alipuckett profile image

alipuckett 4 years ago

Toothpaste! I never would have thought of that. Great tip. Thank you!

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