How to Clean a CD

Stacks of cds.

I am exceedingly proud to say that the first actual CD I ever owned was Nirvana In Utero. It was shortly followed by a plethora of other grunge rock CDs. Yeah, I was one of those. Long hair, dirty ass tattered flannel, the whole bit. My CD collection was my life. Almost every dollar I made went towards building that collection. Unfortunately, I wasn’t all that good at taking proper care of my CDs. They went everywhere with me, and so had a tendency to get dropped, spilled on, dirtied, rained on, and massively fingerprinted. And those were the lucky ones, the scratched ones suffered more.

Not thinking about the consequences, or even knowing that there would be any, I would clean CDs with whatever method I could come up with at the time. Usually it was just breathing on them and rubbing ’em on my shirt. If it was bad enough, I would go for the window cleaner and a paper towel. Doing this, I’m pretty sure I did far more damage to my CDs than good. The few that I still have left from that period of my life are not in very good shape. Turns out there’s quite a few wrong ways to clean a CD and really only a couple safe methods for CD cleaning. I’m here to save your CDs from the same disastrous fate that so many of mine suffered. So read on and learn the proper way for how to clean a CD.

How to Clean CDs

  1. holding up a compact discMake sure cleaning a CD is actually necessary. Before you waste any time and effort on cleaning CDs, check to see that it actually needs to be done. Hold your CD with your forefinger in the middle hole and your thumb on the edge and hold it up to the light. Have a good look. It’s not always immediately obvious if CD cleaning is in order. If you have what looks like a clean CD and it’s still not playing right, try playing a different (preferably new) CD. It may be your player.
  2. can of compressed airCarefully remove any dust. Take care when performing this step. Dust is abrasive, and the last thing you want is a scratched CD from grinding the dust into it. The safest way to remove dust is simply by hitting it with some canned air (you can get Blow Off canned air from Amazon). If you don’t have canned air, use any sort of soft, lint-free anti static cloth. The best thing I’ve found to use is the little microfiber cloth that comes with eyeglasses, binoculars, and cameras. Hold the CD like before, (finger in hole, thumb on edge) and work in straight lines from the center to the edge. Circular motions can leave scratches parallel to the data and disrupt playback.
  3. bottle of rubbing alcohol by a discIsopropyl (rubbing) alcohol should be all you need for a clean CD. Mix up a 1 to 1 solution of 90% isopropyl rubbing alcohol and distilled water (tap or spring water will have minerals in it that can leave water spots). Next, find yourself a nice soft piece of lint-free cotton cloth or a chamois. Dip a corner of your cloth into the mixture and gently wipe the CD. Again, start from the center hole and wipe straight out to the edge all around the CD.
  4. dish soap in a bit of waterGentle dish detergent will also clean a CD. Just make sure you use an organic dish soap. Most commercial dish detergents have petroleum distillates in them that can damage the polycarbonate surface of your CD. Use this method if your CD is really dirty or has sticky things like soda or beer on it. Mix about a teaspoon of detergent in a bowl with about a cup of room temperature water. Use your super soft rag working from the inside out and rinse it off with lukewarm water.
  5. microfiber clothDry your clean CD carefully. If you used the rubbing alcohol and water method, simply dry your CD by setting it on edge for a few minutes. If you used the dish detergent method, you will want to dry your CD with a soft, lint-free cotton cloth or another chamois. Never dry your CDs with paper products like toilet paper, facial tissue, or paper towels. Not only will these leave little traces of paper on your CD, they are also abrasive as hell and will result in scratched CDs.
  6. cd caseStore your CDs properly. Your CDs will stay much cleaner if you just put them back in their jewel cases when you’re done. They won’t get dusty in there. Also, put the jewel case away, especially if there are kids around. If you leave them out they’re gonna get spilled on or messed with. I promise. Avoid heat when storing CDs. Don’t leave them by lamps, heaters, or any other heat source. Don’t leave them in hot cars either.

More Ideas for Cleaning a CD

With the price of CDs these days, it’s simply ridiculous to not take care of them. Replacing CDs is synonymous with pissing money down the toilet. Granted, the artist whose CD you’re listening to probably won’t mind, but let’s be reasonable. Aside from the methods listed above, there are numerous brands of CD cleaning kits available either online or at most any sizable store that sells CDs. If you don’t feel the need for an entire kit, pick up some microfiber cloths and a little spray bottle of CD cleaner. Best Buy has at least 763 different types that all work. Another nice idea is to pick up some little pre-moistened microfiber wipes. Not only are they cheap and easy but they’re super convenient for carrying around with you. Keep a few in your CD carrying case and a few in the glove box.

On the other hand, if you’re simply not up to cleaning CDs, seek out a professional. Pretty much any used CD shop will have will have an on-site resurfacing machine. This service usually won’t cost you more than three or four bucks per disc.

Natural CD Repair

banana peelUsing a banana as a scratch remover is reported by many to work well. Run some fresh cut banana over your CD in a circular motion. Use the inside of the peel to wipe it off and to rub it around. The wax from the peel will help fill in the scratches. Next, applying light pressure, take a clean cotton cloth and wipe the CD down. Do this for a few minutes at least. Clean the banana residue off with window cleaner and a cotton cloth.

baking soda toothpasteToothpaste is also good for CD scratch repair.Apply some toothpaste (preferably with baking soda) to the CD. Rub it gently into the CD with your fingertips and rinse it off with lukewarm water. This works for disc repair because toothpaste is slightly abrasive. It will not work with gel.