Picture of Soft Anti Reflective Lens Cleaning Cloths.

How to Clean a DVD Disc to Fix Freezing and Playing Errors

We’ve played DVDs for nearly two decades. Plus, now that there’s a huge market for used DVDs (digital video discs), we also see many smudged, oily discs. These often will not play without cleaning them up first.  To that end, we’ve found some safe ways for repairing these conditions with simple disc cleaning.  Some of our dirtiest DVD discs that refused to play at all before cleaning, played perfectly after cleaning.  So here, we show how to clean a DVD disc. The right cleaning often fixes the freezing and playing errors caused by dirty DVD discs.

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.  How to clean a DVD disc in fact, is simple once you learn how to handle 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.

How to clean a DVD disc: Picture of typical DVD discs.
How to clean a DVD disc: Showing typical DVD discs.

Given how data dense DVD discs are, following these tips for how to clean a DVD Disc, keeps them spotless.  Clean discs are critical for stutter-free, skip-free video playback.

Scratches and etches often impact DVD media, where a single hairline scratch can render the movie disc, unplayable. So again, select the softest cleaning cloths and gentlest detergents and purest water for DVD disc cleaning. We’ve found that the same cleaning materials that work so well with CDs and blu ray discs,  also work well 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. It also seemed to speed the “fogging up” of the protective plastic coating.  How?  By micro hairline scratching the disc.

Indeed, once you’ve washed and rinsed your DVDs, we’ve observed virtually zero scratching after using a microfiber cloth.  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.

How to clean a DVD disc: Picture of soft DVD disc cleaning cloths.
How to clean a DVD disc: Examples of soft DVD disc cleaning cloths.

Again, be sure to use a clean, soft lens cloth. Any oil in the cloths can wind up  on your washed DVDs as you dry them.  The resulting smears can degrade how well they play, perhaps irreversibly. 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. They are easily scratched or destroyed if you expose them to industrial lubricants or solvents.

Recommended Cleaning Procedure for How to Clean a DVD Disc

To sum all this up, here’s our tried-and-true procedure for How to clean a DVD disc.

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 DVD 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 those DVD disc transparent surfaces.

4. Clean the Label Side Only if Needed

The soap on your fingers from the first side should be sufficient to clean the label side if needed. But we advise against washing the label side unless absolutely necessary.  Why?  Because the inks and paints on older DVDs in particular, might come off.  How to clean a DVD disc best means not damaging the label side if possible.

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.

How to Clean a DVD Disc: Preventative Tips and Advice

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 avoiding 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 DVD Discs

True, some body oil will most always appear on often-handled discs. But keep in mind.  Even when you use the procedure above for the gentlest cleaning, you may still scratch the discs slightly.  Practically any cleaning stresses the protective plastic transparent covering over the data area. Too much cleaning can add hair line scratches to them. So, store your discs such that they need to be cleaned as little as possible. But when cleaning becomes necessary, use the procedure above. It least damages your discs and restores your DVDs to good performance.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals and Abrasive Solvents

Don’t use cleansers, polishes, waxes. ammonia, or bleach based cleaners.  These can soften or strip away the thin protective layer, particularly on blu ray discs. Instead, you want just a basic dishwashing-by-hand liquid with no extra chemicals besides the soap.

We also advise against using 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 Residue Soaps

Why spend lots of money on other optics cleaners and wipes?  Experts say that to preserve DVD life, simple supplies work well.  The best DVD disc cleaner is a lotion-free, mild and non abrasive dishwashing liquid.  We use Great Value, Dawn, Joy, or Ajax brands.  Plus, 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. But avoid dish soaps with moisteners, oils, and lanolin for skin softening. These can leave smears on your film discs that even the lens cleaning cloths may not remove after rinsing. Such smears can reduce playability. We recommend perfume-free dish soaps to further reduce potential deposits left.  Thinner soaps work well in how to clean a DVD disc. They rinse away more easily, and so, smear less.

Wash the DVD Disc Cleaning Cloths Often

We have many of these velvety feeling cloths on our media shelf. Pus, we wash them along with color laundry, in fabric softener-free, scent free laundry soap only.  Hand washing them in the bathroom sink and drying with these cloths works well.  It removes disc dirt, oils, dust, and other deposits.  How to Clean a DVD Disc would be much less safe without these optical cloths.

Suggested Reading

How to Clean a DVD Disc: References

Revision History

  • 2018-04-01: Revised post content.
  • 2015-10-14: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2015-10-09: Originally published.