How to Clean a Video Game

Video game controllers resting on carpet in front of a tv.

In the glory days of the Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and the rest of their cartridge kin, I never learned how to clean a game. Rather, like many gamers, I opted to go through complicated, impulsive rituals that would almost seem superstitious to some. Of course, I would blow in the game, place it just so or pound it into the system, rapidly smash the reset button, and so on.

When the game almost started, and it looked half Mario half Matrix, this would only encourage my absurd routines. My siblings and I would do everything short of putting on crimson robes, lighting candles, and sacrificing a lamb to Gorgamoth the Game Demon. Turns out our parents got super mad the one time we tried that. Ironically, learning how to clean a game is quite simple. The following method of how to clean a game will work for any of the cartridge systems, such as the Nintendo NES, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Game Boy and so on.

Steps to Cleaning Games

  1. tv stand with gamesDo I need to learn how to clean a game, or the game console? First of all, try playing other titles in your collection. If all your games fail, either they are all dirty (did you bury them in the yard?) or the console needs cleaning or fixing. Common signs that your videogame needs cleaning are the following: blinking screen, numbers and/or random shapes appearing on the screen, the game freezing or crashing. Most importantly, does the video game look nasty?
  2. assorted cleaning suppliesNext, gather your game-cleaning supplies. You’ll need paper towel, a cup, isopropyl rubbing alcohol, some Q-tips/cotton swabs, and of course your filthy game. It isn’t a bad idea to have some compressed air; that way you won’t be rubbing any buildup into the videogame’s contacts (the exposed metallic parts) – just make sure to keep it a few inches from the cartridge. Note that most cartridge games come with a warning about using any chemical or solvent on the game. This is because they don’t want you to know how to clean a game on your own; they want you to buy the company’s cleaning kit
  3. dampening a cotton swapFirst, dip one end of the cotton swab in the rubbing alcohol. Next, dab it against the paper towel to get rid of any excess. You want the cotton swab damp, not soaked. Overdoing it won’t clean your game, it will destroy it.
  4. cleaning video game contactsNext, clean the game by gently rubbing the cotton swab against the contacts. If the tip becomes disgusting quickly, you may want to grab a fresh cotton swab and repeat.
  5. dirty cotton swabThen, switch to the dry end of the cotton swab and wipe it over the contacts. If there is considerable grime coming off with the moisture, repeat the previous step and dry the game again.
  6. enjoying playable video gamesLastly, prepare yourself for some side-scrolling action.This method of cleaning games has been used since the Atari, and it works wonders. My wife can finally play her favorite NES game, “Bart vs. the World.”

Cheers to Retro Gaming

As you can see, learning how to clean a game is a fast and simple endeavor. Cleaning your games regularly has the added benefit of preventing damage to your vintage console. In recent years, many people have downloaded various simulators for the cartridge systems on their computers. While some of these simulators are fun and boast instant access to huge game libraries, the true retro gamer (and there are many) prefers the console experience. The way the cartridge looks and controller fits in the palm – these are the priorities for many gaming aficionados. Thankfully, learning how to clean a game cartridge is much easier than trying to repair a disc for more modern consoles – CDs and DVD ROMs, they lack cartridge integrity.

Other Ideas

Magic EraserI once found a copy of “The Legend of Zelda” at a garage sale in all its golden-cartridge glory. Unfortunately, the previous and undeserving owners had written “$7.00 OBO” on it in thick black marker. Magic Eraser will clean a game, restoring it to its former brilliance.

bottle of WindexSo you’ve learned how to clean a game but you don’t have the ingredients on hand. Well, the rubbing alcohol can be replaced with Windex or ammonia, or even water will suffice. No cotton swabs? Some people have fashioned them from cotton balls and a straw, pencil, or whatever has reach to clean inside your game. You can get Windex from Amazon.

eBay logoEbay is a great venue for finding that coveted vintage game that gave you more joy than most of your relationships. Experience the horror and elation of killing athletes in “Base Wars” or “Mutant League Football.” Bust out the Game Genie to ensure that the Mother Brain is destroyed. End a friendship by obnoxiously placing proximity mines near every door in “Golden Eye.” Invoke the unholy power of the Konami Code and side-scroll your way to glory in “Contra.”