Repair & Maintenance

How to fix a scratched CD

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You may be able to repair damaged CDs yourself
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A scratch on a CD doesn't have to mean your music is lost forever!

While compact discs (CDs) are remarkably durable, it's nearly impossible to prevent scratches and scuffs from occasionally happening

If your CD is skipping or data cannot be retrieved, don't despair—repair! While commercial CD repair kits and CD refinishing machines are available, you may be able to fix the problem yourself and get back to listening to your favorite music CD or audio book. 

However, please take note of the following:
  • Severely damaged CDs may not be reparable. Very deep scratches will probably require an industrial-quality machine to repair, and cracks or scratches that reach the CD's foil may render a CD forever useless.
  • To determine if the foil layer of your CD is scratched, hold the CD up to a fairly bright light and see if any pinholes are visible. Holes in the foil layer of a CD are generally not repairable, even for a professional.
  • Practice repairing scratched CDs that you don't care much about before you set out to repair your favorites.
  • It's a good idea to create a backup of any data disc before damage occurs.
  • a CD is scratched but continues to play correctly, make a backup, but don't bother trying to repair it yet.
Before you start any repair, make sure the disc is indeed scratched. If the disc is not visibly scratched, the problem likely lies elsewhere, such as surface dirt or a malfunctioning CD player. These steps should help you to clarify where the problem is.

Clean the disc.  Even if a CD isn't actually scratched or scuffed, dust, oil, and other surface contaminants can prevent it from playing properly, so cleaning the disc should always be your first move. Begin by running warm water over the damaged disc to remove dust. If there is stubborn dirt or grease on the disc, gently rub it with your finger while you are washing it, and use a gentle detergent (with the water) 

Anytime you rub or wipe a CD, you should do so by starting at or near the center of the disc and rubbing straight outward toward the edge to prevent further scratching. Never rub in a circular motion. Shake the water off and let the disc air-dry (do not dry it with a towel or cloth).

Try to play the disc again. Many times a good cleaning is all that is needed. If, however, problems persist after cleaning, try to play the disc in a different CD player. Some players handle scratches better than others; in many cases, computer CD drives work best.

Burn a new disc. If you can get the CD to work in one CD player—especially your computer's—but not in others, try burning a new disc. The CD burning utility on your computer may be able to read the CD well enough to produce a perfect copy. You may wish to try this even if the CD doesn't play correctly on the computer.

Locate the scratch. Actually repairing the disc will be easier if you can figure out where the offending scratch is. Visually inspect the CD's playing surface for scratches or scuffs. Scratches that run perpendicular to the CD's spiral—that is, those that run generally from the center to the rim—may not affect playing at all, and in any case are generally less damaging than those that roughly follow the direction of the spiral. 

If there are several scratches, but the CD only skips in one or two places, you may be able to approximate the location of the offending scratches based on which track skips. Keep in mind that the first track of a CD begins near the center, and the direction of play proceeds outward to the edge. 

Polish the CD. A number of CD cleaning and repair kits are available for sale, but many users report that these don't work any better than Brasso, and they're far more expensive. Though counterintuitive, polishing a disc can repair a scratched CD by removing some of the outer plastic coating and thus making existing scratches shallower. 

Apply a small amount of Brasso to a soft, clean, lint-free cloth; an eyeglass-cleaning cloth works well. Gently rub the cloth on the scratch or scuff in a radial motion; from inside to outside. Try to focus your efforts solely on the scratch or scratches you've identified (if possible). Polish in this manner for a couple minutes, reapplying Brasso as necessary. Be careful not too apply much pressure, although you will still be able to feel the cloth gently scratching the CD as it polishes.

Remove polishing product from disc and wipe off excess product and let the rest dry. Then, using a clean cloth, gently wipe disc again. When polishing the disc, make sure the surface upon which the disc is laid is flat and firm but not hard or abrasive. Data is stored on the foil or dye layers on the top of the disc (label side) and the protective top layer is very thin by comparison to the disc upon too soft a surface may crack it or cause it to delaminate.

Test the disc. If the problem persists, polish again for up to 15 minutes or until the scratch is almost completely buffed out. The surface around the scratch should begin to look shiny with many tiny scratches. If you still don't notice any difference after polishing for a few minutes, the scratch may be extremely deep, or you may be polishing the wrong scratch.

Wax the tracks. If polishing doesn't work, apply a very thin coat of Vaseline, liquid car wax, neutral shoe polish or furniture wax to the CD's playing surface. Wipe excess off using clean, soft, lint-free cloth in a radial (inside to outside) motion. If using wax, follow manufacturer's instructions (some need to dry before you wipe them off, while others should be wiped off while still wet).

Test disc yet again. If the wax or Vaseline does the trick, burn a new copy of the CD immediately. The waxing method is only a temporary solution.
If all else fails, bring the CD in to get refinished. If the disc still doesn't play correctly, bring it in to a music store (especially one that sells used CDs) or a DVD rental store and ask if they can repair the disc for you. Many of these businesses have CD refinishing machines that do a remarkable job, and they'll probably charge you less than five dollars to repair the CD.

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