Picture of Typical Data CD, MusicCD, and DVD Discs.

How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches

We’ve played compact discs (CDs) for over thirty years, and love collecting them.  Now that there’s a huge market for used CDs at flea markets and online.  So, being that we’re such big CD fans, we buy many CDs from these sources.  But, we often see many smudged, oily, fingerprinted, and scratched discs that we bring home. These often do not play without serious cleaning first. We’ve saved many a dirty CD from oblivion by cleaning them.  So we’d like to share here the technique we use for how to clean a CD disc with scratches.





How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches: Intro

Cleaning CDs is Easy and Safe

CD discs typically become soiled or damaged due to dust and grime.  Yet all kinds of media discs demand the same gentle cleaning methods to make them play again. This is usually possible. Cleaning CD discs in fact, is simple once you learn to handle them safely, which cleaners work best, and which polishing cloths scratch the least. Avoid scratches, the enemy of any optical device and disc including the compact disc. All of these are essential factors in preserving the clear, smooth surface, and thus, error free playing of CD discs, for multiple decades.

Picture of typical data CD, music CD, and DVD discs.
Typical CDs and DVDs.

Why Keep your CDs Clean?

Given the low to moderate data density of DVD discs, keeping them spotless can critical for stutter-free, skip-free audio playback. Scratches and etches can drastically impact CD media, where a single fine scratch can render the entire audio disc, or perhaps a minute of it or more, unplayable. If the scratch occurs near the center of the CD where the directory information is stored, it can make the entire disc unplayable if the CD player cannot read it at disc insertion.  So again, it’s critical to shop for the softest cleaning cloths, gentlest detergents, and purest water possible for cleaning. We’ve found that the same cleaning materials that work so well with DVDs and blu ray discs, also work effectively on CD music discs, recordable and pre printed alike.

What We’ve Tried

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 during wiping.





Use Only Very Soft Optical Cleaning Cloths

Indeed, once you’ve washed and rinsed your CD, we’ve observed virtually zero scratching after using a microfiber cloth to dry it off, specifically intended for safely cleaning anti reflective lenses. These cloths and wipes are plenty gentle enough for safely drying CDs. 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 music side of the CD.

Picture of soft CD cleaning cloths. How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches.
Examples of soft CD cleaning cloths.

Again, be sure to use a clean, soft lens cloth. Any oil contamination in the cloths can be transferred to your washed CDs as you dry them, reducing 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 any media disc including the CD is indestructible. CDs are still highly delicate. So, they can easily be marred or destroyed if exposed to industrial lubes or solvents.

How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches: Suggested Method

To sum all this up, here’s our tried-and-true method for how to clean a CD disc with scratches.  Note that you clean a CD with scratches the same way you’d clean a CD without scratches. But if your CD has scratches, you can try applying a clear wax.  Then, gently polish it.  Some people report that a light grit toothpaste works well as a scratch remover on CDs.  But here, we focus more on the cleaning than the polishing.  But the cleaning cloths we use can also polish.  They can buff out very small scratches. Or, at least, they can lessen the effects that the scratch has on CD readability.  So, now to the cleaning.

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. How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches: Apply Dish Soap

Then, apply one or two drops of dish washing 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. These can mar the CD data surface.  File or clip these off before starting.





4. Clean Label Sides, But Only if Needed

The soap on your fingers from the data side should be sufficient to clean the label side if needed. But do not wash the label side unless necessary.  The inks and paints on older CDs can wash off if wiped too much.

5. How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches: Then, Rinse Soap Off

Rinse the CD under warm, filtered, running water until your fingers squeak when run across it.

6. Dry the CD Disc

Then, use the anti reflective lens cloths mentioned earlier to completely dry the CD to a vivid shininess.

How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches: Preventative Tips and Advice

Keep CDs Clean, Before They Get Dirty

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when maintaining these delicate audio discs. To preserve peak performance, avoid dirtying the CDs in the first place. Or at least, minimize how dirty you get them. Always store CDs in their cases when not listening, and avoid exposing to weather and direct sunshine.

Never Touch the Play Surface

Avoid touching the play side of the CD 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 CDs

True, some body oil will most always appear on often-handled discs. But keep in mind.  Any cleaning stresses the CD.  Even when you use the method above for the gentlest cleaning, most any cleaning damages the disc a little.  Cleaning operations stress the protective plastic transparent covering over the data area. They also add micro scratches in most cases.  So, too many cleanings during the life of the CD will likely damage it. So, store your CDs such that they need to be cleaned as little as possible. But when disc cleaning is absolutely necessary, use the procedure above for the least damaging yet most restorative of performance.





Avoid Harsh Chemicals and Abrasive Solvents

Avoid abrasive cleansers, polishes, waxes. ammonia, or bleach based cleaners. These can strip away the thin protective layer on the CD’s data side. Instead, use a basic, water soluble 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, even after just one cleaning. These scratches become more visible with repeated machine cleanings.

How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches: Tips and Advice Continued

Use Only Gentle, Low or Zero Residue Soaps

Why spend premium amounts on dedicated optics cleaning solutions and wipes?  In fact, experts say that to extend CD life, use a gentle soap water solution.  The best soap cleaner is a lotion-free, mild and non abrasive dishwashing liquid.  These include brands like Great Value, Dawn, Joy, or Ajax. And, the best cloth is a reusable microfiber eyeglasses wipe. Also, dilute the thicker soaps 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 surface. But avoid dish soaps with moisteners, oils, and skin softeners.  Why?  Because these can leave smears on your CDs that not even the lens cleaning cloths can remove.  These smears often remain even after long rinsing. Such smears reduce playability. We also suggest perfume-free dish soaps to further reduce deposits left behind on the CDs.

Periodically Wash the CD Cleaning Cloths

We have many of these velvety feeling cloths on our media shelf.  We wash them along with color laundry once every few months, in fabric softener-free, scent free laundry detergent only. Hand washing them in the sink works well also.  Maybe better in fact.  Less stress on the cloth than tumbling around in a clothes washer.

Ideally, you should never have to know how to clean a cd disc with scratches.  If you keep them clean and always in their cases when not being played, you’ll never have to clean them.  But hey.  We understand that stuff happens.  Even the most careful person gets fingerprints on a CD once in a while.  So, it is for those occasional accidents that this post, we hope, is helpful.

Enjoy your CDs.





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References for How to Clean a CD Disc with Scratches

  1. What is a Compact Disc (CD)?    On Wikipedia

Revision History

  • 2019-05-11: Added tags, tuned the targeting for ‘Clean a CD Disc with Scratches’, and removed ad code scripts.
  • 2018-04-02: Revised and rearranged the post content.
  • 2017-02-13: Revised the tags list, and added a featured image.
  • 2015-10-11: Originally published.
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