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

How to Clean CDs and DVDs, Tips, Advice

We’ve worn glasses with anti reflective, anti glare coatings for many years. We also have thousands of CDs and DVDs.  We find that both glasses and discs get dirty or damaged from about the same dirt sources. These include oily fingerprints, dust, and scratches.  So both discs and glasses demand the same gentle cleaning methods to restore them to their brand new looking luster. Thus here, we show how to clean CDs and DVDs in the safest yet most effective and best way.

How to Clean CDs and DVDs Intro

Cleaning CD and DVD Discs  is easy once you learn to handle them safely, which cleaners work well, and which polishing cloths scratch the least.  Scratches and abrasions, the nemesis of most any optical disc, should be fervently avoided.  All of these are essential factors in preserving the clear, smooth surface, and thus, error free playing, for as long as possible.

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

Keep All Discs Scratch Free

Given the higher data density of DVD discs especially, keeping these spotless is critical for stutter-free, skip-free video playback.  Scratches and etches seriously impact DVD media, where a single hairline scratch can render the entire disc, or at least some minutes of the movie, unplayable.  So again, it’s paramount to select the softest cleaning cloths and gentlest detergents possible when cleaning.  We’ve found that the same cleaning materials that work so well with anti-reflective lenses, also work extraordinarily well on these media discs.

About Lens Cleaning Cloths

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 limited success.  Invariably, this cleaning duo left smears and streaks on the discs, and seemed to speed the “fogging up”  of the protective clear plastic / acrylic coating over top of the reflective data surface, due to micro hairline scratching of the disc.

Overview of How to Clean CDs and DVDs

Then, once you’ve washed and rinsed your media discs, use a microfiber cloth, specifically intended for safely cleaning anti reflective lenses.  These are more than gentle enough for safely drying the discs.  You can get these soft cloths at most vision shops such as Walmart, Pearl, Lens Crafters, Sam’s Club, et al.  Use this cloth, only to dry the rinsed discs; not for actual cleaning.  For that, 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 prematurely wear out the surface.

Picture of soft lens cleaning cloths.
Examples of soft lens cleaning cloths. How to clean CDs and DVDs.

Be sure to use a clean, soft lens cloth.  Any oil contamination in the cloths can spread to your clean CDs and DVDs as you dry them, impeding their play performance, or potentially permanently degrading them.  Fortunately today, media disc coatings have become more durable, and generally last longer under most playing conditions.  But don’t be lulled into thinking that digital discs are indestructible.  Their coatings are still quite delicate, and can easily be scratched or destroyed if you accidentally get industrial lubricants or solvents on them.  So be cautious.

How to Clean CDs and DVDs, Detailed Steps

To sum all this up, here’s our tried-and-true procedure to clean optical media discs of all types.

1. Apply Water

Moisten the data side of the disc with clean water; preferably filtered and softened.  This helps prevent suspended particles in the water from scratching the delicate plastic disc surfaces.

2. Apply Dish Soap

Then, apply one or two drops of dish washing liquid; the manual wash kind, not that for automatic dishwashers.

3. Softly Scrub the Data Side of the Disc

Next, gently rub the disc surface with your fingers only. Take care not to press too hard.  Also, be sure you have no callouses, scabs, dry skin, or other rough edges on your fingertips. Indeed,  these can mar these transparent surfaces.

4. Clean the Label Sides Only If Needed

The soap you have on your fingers from the data side should be sufficient to clean the label side if necessary.  However, we recommend not washing the label side unless absolutely required, as the inks and paints on older CD and DVD discs in particular, might come off.

5. Rinse Soap Off

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

Dry the Discs

Then, use the anti reflective lens cloths mentioned above to fully dry the disc to a vivid luster.

Preventative Tips and Advice

Keep CDs and DVDs Clean in the First Place

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to cleaning CDs and DVD discs.  So to preserve their peak performance, avoid getting them very dirty in the first place, or at least, minimize how dirty you get them.  Avoid solvents like turpentine or citrus-based cleaners, or any harsh chemicals, as these can quickly obliterate the micro thin protective layers.

Keep CDs and DVDs in their Cases

Avoid handling the discs more than is absolutely essential in order to play them.  And, when you do,carry them by the edges only.  Do not grasp them via their flat surfaces.  This limits the need to ever clean handprints from them.

Wash Hands Before Handling CDs or DVDs

True, some body oil will most always appear on often-handled discs.  But remember that even when you employ the procedure above for the gentlest cleaning, cleaning operations stress the anti reflective coatings.  Too much cleaning will damage them.  So, wear and store your discs such that they demand as little cleaning as possible.  But for those times when cleaning is indicated, use the procedure above for the least damaging yet most restoratve of performance.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals and Solvents

Do not use cleansers, polishes, waxes. ammonia, or bleach based cleaners.  Why not? These can soften or strip away the thin protective layer. This is most true for DVD discs.  You want just a basic dish washing-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 CDs and DVDs.  These scratches become more visible with repeated machine cleanings.

Use Only Gentle, Low Residue Soaps

Why spend premium amounts on dedicated optics cleaning solutions and wipes when many experts agree that to best preserve the life of these music / movie / data discs, 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 Soaps that Rinse Quickly and Fully

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 audio and movie discs that not even the lens cleaning cloths can remove.  Such smears can degrade playability.

Wash the Drying Cloths Now and Then

We have many of these velvety feeling cloths on our DVD shelf, and wash them along with color laundry, in fabric softener-free, scent free laundry detergent.

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References for How to Clean CDs and DVDs

Revision History

  • 2019-06-08: Added key phrase targeting for ‘How to Clean CDs and DVDs’, removed ad code, and added more tags and links.
  • 2016-01-03: Added more appropriate tags.
  • 2015-11-03: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2015-10-08: Fixed typos.
  • 2015-10-02: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2015-06-25: Originally published.