Scratched CD Repair?
May 2013

When CD's were introduced, they were supposed to be "forever".  More "archival" than vinyl or tapes, they said.

Yeah, right. 

The very nature of compact discs ensures they will get trashed sooner than anything, because...

1.  they are in your car, where they're not handled carefully
2.  typical storage methods in your car will scratch them
3.  car players will scratch them
4.  the center-gripping thing in many cases will cause them to fall out... scratching them

In a previous article I talked about layer separation.  In this article, I'm going to talk about CD scratches and how to repair them.

Why repair CD's?  Well, mainly, some of them go out of print and can't be obtained anymore.  Say, that's another thing that was never supposed to happen.  What's going on here?

I'm thinking that's going to skip.

First of all, you're probably wondering:  Can you really repair scratched discs with toothpaste?  Well, yes, you can, but if you're looking at a CD like the one pictured above, that's going to set you back some hours.  Also, it's important to wash the CD thoroughly to get all traces of toothpaste out of the surface.  All cleaning methods will haze the protective layer, and this haze provides microscopic places for residue to stick.  This can make the CD's skip.

I've gone through just about every compact-disc cleaning method I could think of.  I've even tried using acetone to re-float the surface (big mistake;  don't try it.)   After a long time, here's what I've come up with.

1.  Plastic polish is very good, but only if you first deal with the scratches that are bigger than the size of the polish particles.  Many people don't realize this.   If your polish particles are only the size of bowling balls, how long would it take you to polish away a scratch the size of the Grand Canyon?  Too long!

First, you'll have to get yourself a set of ultra-fine sandpaper and work down through the successively finer sizes.  I'd pick up a pack of 3M 03006 Wetordry (about five bucks here;  also grab a container of Meguiar's #10 plastic polish through this link.)  Start with the 1000 or 1500 grit sandpaper, then finish with the 2000 and then perhaps the 2500.  This should go without saying, but always work from the coarser sandpaper (lower grit number) up through the finer sandpaper (higher grit number).   Work radially.  In other words:  in straight lines out from the center toward the edges.  Don't go in a circular direction around the disc!  Use the sandpaper wet, with distilled water.  Rinse the CD (distilled water, preferably), then use the plastic polish with a soft cloth.  Obviously, don't use a coarse paper cloth.

2.  Furniture wax is a temporary fix if you just want to rip the CD onto a computer so you can make a good copy, but be careful.  Many waxes have volatile components.  What this means is that they will evaporate from your CD surface.  They could re-condense on the lens inside your CD player, though chances are this won't happen if you let the wax dry for a while and buff away the excess.  (And don't use the discs in a hot car).   If you want to know the best wax on earth, get a container of this stuff right now.  It's useful for so many things, and it doesn't have a bunch of useless extra ingredients added to it (but just so you know, real paste wax has its own hydrocarbon-y smell).

3.  Motorized CD repair kits and polishers are actually pretty good, if you're prepared run the thing three or four times on a disc.  Make sure you spray the clean water on the cd each time.  I have repaired a lot of CD's with one of these, and I'm here to tell you it sure beats spending three hours hand-polishing the plastic.   If you have scratched CD's, I suggest you click on this link and get yourself a SkipDr kit straightaway. 

I know the CD's get a weird, radially-hazed look when you're done, but I want you to take a look at that photo above.  That was my "Vintage Bluegrass" CD that had been skating around loose in the bottom of a gritty plastic box in my car.  It wouldn't play.  After the SkipDr, I was able to recover every song off it, without one skip.  It did not remove all the deeper scratches, but it removed enough that the player's error-correction mechanisms could take up the slack.

Your mileage may vary, but this thing has saved a bunch of really scratched CD's.

One more thing... don't ever try to polish the top side (label side) of a CD.  The plastic is extremely thin there.  Even a tiny scratch can render the disc useless.  I'm not sure how many people would put the disc into a SkipDr upside-down, but if you do that, the music will be toast, permanently.

This has been a look at some repair methods for scratched CD's.  I'm not saying you'll be able to repair everything with these methods, but let's say 90%.  There will be some discs that are so messed-up that you'll just have to buy new ones, but at least you can fix most of them.

By the way, if you're shopping for music CD's, stereo equipment, cameras, or just about anything else, it really helps me out if you use the links on this site to buy your stuff.  

Thanks for visiting!


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