Picture of Soft Anti Reflective Lens Cleaning Cloths.

How to Clean a DVD Disc

We’ve played DVDs for nearly two decades, and now that there’s a huge market for used DVDs (digital video discs), we also encounter many smudged, oily, and fingerprinted discs that often will not play without cleaning them up first.

Media discs typically become soiled or damaged due to dust and grime, and all kinds demand the same gentle cleaning methods to restore them to their brand new playing condition. Cleaning DVD Discs in fact, is simple once you master handling them safely, learn which cleaners work well, and figure out which polishing cloths scratch the least. Scratches and abrasions, the nemesis of most any optical device and disc including the DVD, should be fervently avoided. All of these are essential factors in preserving the clear, smooth surface, and thus, error free playing, for multiple decades.

Picture of Typical Data CD, MusicCD, and DVD Discs.
Typical optical media / data discs.

Given the moderate data density of DVD discs, keeping them spotless is critical for stutter-free, skip-free video playback. Scratches and etches can drastically impact DVD media, where a single hairline scratch can render the entire movie disc, or at least several minutes of it, unplayable. So again, it’s paramount to select the softest cleaning cloths and gentlest detergents and purest water possible for cleaning. We’ve found that the same cleaning materials that work so well with CDs and blu ray discs,  also work effectively on DVD media discs.

We’ve tried the popular dry lens cleaning cloths from Bausch & Lomb, See-Clear, Kodak et al, made of thin, tissue-like paper, as well as some of the costly alcohol-based liquid lens cleaners, with only moderate success. Invariably, this cleaning duo left behind smears and streaks, and seemed to speed the “fogging up” of the protective clear plastic coating over top of the reflective data surface, due to micro hairline scratching of the disc.

Indeed, once you’ve washed and rinsed your DVDs, we’ve observed virtually zero scratching after using a microfiber cloth, specifically intended for safely cleaning anti reflective lenses. These cloths and wipes are more than gentle enough for safely drying DVDs. Buy these soft towels at most vision shops such as Walmart, Pearl, Lens Crafters, Sam’s Club, et al. However, use this cloth only to dry the rinsed discs; not for actual cleaning. For washing, you gently rub the soaped up discs with your fingers until you’ve completely covered all playable surfaces. Avoid excessive rubbing, as this too can mar the disc surfaces.

Picture of Soft Anti Reflective Lens Cleaning Cloths.
Examples of Soft Anti Reflective Lens Cleaning Cloths.

Again, be sure to use a clean, soft lens cloth. Any oil contamination in the cloths can be transferred to your washed DVDs as you dry them, impeding their playing performance, or potentially permanently degrading them. Fortunately today, disc coatings have become more durable, and generally last longer under normal playing conditions. But don’t start believing that DVDs are indestructible. These discs are still highly delicate, and can easily be scratched or destroyed if you accidentally get industrial lubricants or solvents on them.

Recommended Cleaning Procedure for DVD Discs

To sum all this up, here’s our tried-and-true procedure to clean DVDs.

  1. Apply water. Moisten the data side of the disc with clean water; ideally distilled, or preferably filtered and softened. This helps minimize scratching from suspended particles sometimes found in city or well water.
  2. Apply dish soap. Then, apply one or two drops of dishwashing liquid; the manual wash kind, not that for automatic dishwashers. Avoid detergents with lotions and added scents.
  3. Softly scrub just the disc data side, with fingers only. Next, gently rub the business side of the disc with your fingers, taking care not to press too hard. Also, be sure you have no callouses, scabs, dry skin, or other rough edges on your fingertips, as these can mar these transparent surfaces.
  4. Clean the label sides only if needed. The soap on your fingers from the first side should be sufficient to clean the label side if needed. However, we recommend not washing the label side unless absolutely necessary, as the inks and paints on older DVDs in particular, might come off.
  5. Rinse soap off. Rinse the DVD under warm, running water until your fingers squeak when run across it.
  6. Dry discs. Then, use the anti reflective lens cloths mentioned earlier to completely dry the disc to a vivid shininess.

Preventative Tips and Advice

Take steps to keep DVD discs clean, before they become soiled. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to maintaining these delicate video discs. We suggest that to preserve their peak performance, avoid getting them dirty in the first place, or at least, minimize how dirty you get them. Always store them in their cases when not viewing, and avoid exposing them to weather and direct sunshine.

Never excessive handling. Avoid touching the play side of the DVDs more than absolutely necessary in order to play them. Instead, grasp them by edges. Do not grab them via their flat surfaces. This limits the need to ever clean up handprints.

Wash your hands before handling DVDs. True, some body oil will most always appear on often-handled discs. But keep in mind that even when you employ the procedure above for the gentlest cleaning, cleaning operations stress the protective plastic transparent covering over the data area. Too much cleaning will damage them. So, store your discs such that they need to be cleaned as little as possible. But for those times when cleaning is absolutely necessary, use the procedure above for the least damaging yet most restoratve of performance, as described above.

Avoid harsh chemicals and abrasive solvents such as cleansers, polishes, waxes. ammonia, or bleach based cleaners, as these can actually soften or strip away the thin protective layer, particularly on blu ray discs. You want just a basic dishwashing-by-hand liquid with preferably no extra chemicals besides the soap. The same goes for consumer-grade disc cleaning machines. We’ve found these crank style cleaning mechanisms to leave hair-line scratches on discs. These scratches become more visible with repeated machine cleanings.

Use only gentle, low or zero residue soaps. Why spend premium amounts on dedicated optics cleaning solutions and wipes when experts suggest that to best preserve DVD life, the best cleaning agent is a lotion-free, mild and non abrasive dishwashing liquid such as Great Value, Dawn, Joy, or Ajax. And, the best cloth is a reusable microfiber eyeglasses cleaning wipe. You may need to dilute the thicker soap liquids by mixing one part water with one part of dish soap.

Use quickly rinsed cleaners only. You want the solution thin enough that it can easily be spread with the fingers over the entire disc surfaces. However, avoid those dish soaps that contain moisteners, oils, and lanolin for skin softening, as these can leave smears on your film discs that not even the lens cleaning cloths can remove, even after vigorous rinsing. Such smears can reduce playability. We recommend perfume-free dish soaps to further reduce potential deposits left.

Periodically wash the optics cleaning cloths. We have many of these velvety feeling cloths on our media shelf, and wash them along with color laundry, in fabric softener-free, scent free laundry detergent only.  Hand washing them in the bathroom sink works well also, to remove accumulated disc dirt.


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Revision History

  • 2015-10-14: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2015-10-09: Originally published.