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Offbeat Scratched CD Repair Tips


I guess it's finally time to write this page. It's only been mentioned on the “features” page for oh...it's been so long since I've forgotten. (Actually--I got this idea on November 22nd, 2004--or so indicates a rough draft of this page that I never finished.

It's a miserable thing to come along and find out that your favorite CD has been scratched so badly that it won't play. What do you do?

There have been some commercial CD repair service businesses. Some of these appear to have been short-lived. A few are still around. None are likely to be cheap.

You can buy fancy looking devices that lay claim to being able to resurrect a badly damaged CD or DVD. Trouble is, they cost a lot of money...and how do you know if they work?

What can you do on a budget? You can experiment, perhaps unwisely, with household chemicals in the hope of performing a miracle. Jesus made wine from water, Steve from The Sneeze made wine from moldy socks and fruit juice...so there almost certainly has to be hope that you can resurrect a scratched disc with the right choice of household chemicals.

(I'll practically guarantee you that a few God-fearing folk just reached up and clicked the back button after gasping in disbelief.)

As you'd probably rather not experiment on your priceless CD collection, I've decided to talk about what if any chemicals work best for scratched CD repair on a budget. No, I didn't experiment on my priceless CD collection. I'm not an idiot. Instead, I burned a CD with some music on it and set in to abusing it. I scuffed it around the basement floor with my feet. I threw it at the wall. I may have even sat on it, which is probably as close to breaking it as I came.

I then confirmed that, yes, I had a CD which would not play properly.

Time to break out the chemicals.

Oh. Yeah. Don't say I didn't warn you. These are REALLY offbeat tips and if you use any of them, you are doing so at your own risk. Chemicals are dangerous. They can hurt you badly. Water and electricity don't mix*. You could really mess up your CD player. Don't be stupid. Blowtorches set things on fire. Peanut Butter is full of fatty oils and proteins. Peanut Butter is also legally permitted to contain some quantity (serious link) of insect parts (fun link).

Don't come crying to me if you break anything. You're now the proud owner of multiple pieces instead of one, and that's that.

Water

Water is relatively benign stuff. Even so, there was a time when my tap water was somewhat flammable due to methane gas being delivered alongside it. One could hold a match over a freshly poured glass of water and watch in amazement as the methane gas sputtered and popped. Done carefully, you could get the same effect right from the tap.

Interesting fact: your tap water is actually held to higher standards than bottled water is. Don't believe me? Go look it up.

Water can also fill in scratches on a surface. The only difficult thing is getting it to stay where you put it. Even so, the surface tension of water is really quite incredible.

The following experiment, in addition to bringing back memories I have from junior high and grade school science (in addition to at least one science fair), will serve to prove this.

Get an eye-dropper and a glass of water. Fill the glass almost to the the point of overflow and put it somewhere stable.

 Then gently drop water into the center of the glass with your eye-dropper. If you're careful and go slowly, you will find that it's possible to build a nice lip of water over the edge of the glass as long as you don't jar it, go too fast or push things too far. This may not have any relevance to the topic of damaged CD repair, but it's still cool.

Water can't defy gravity, and so it won't stay on the data side of the average CD. As expected, the results with water were not productive at all. There is also the small matter of water and electricity not mixing—putting a dripping wet CD into your CD-ROM drive or CD player is likely to prove a bad idea.

Toothpaste

The ADA (not that one, this one) probably does not approve the use of toothpaste as a CD repair agent. Fortunately, toothpaste does not bear a label stating that use of it in a manner not consistent with the label directions will be a violation of federal law.

Toothpaste is a mild abrasive and is frequently used (with good results) to polish scratches out of watch crystals. So it might also work for CDs, given that those are made of the same material—polycarbonate.

I slathered up the CD with some toothpaste and had at it. Despite a lot of polishing, I only ever noticed a very small improvement.

Cooking Oil

Cooking oil might work better than water. It will tend to coat a surface with film and that film will pretty much stay there if you don't bother it or go after it with a surfactant of some sort.

Despite making the CD look “whole” again, the oil did little to improve its playback. The outer layer of a CD is said to be out of focus when the optics inside a CD player are reading the disc, but it still has to see through them to get at the data.

If any oil should drip off into your CD player, it may very well cause it to work improperly as parts slip instead of having sufficient traction to do what they need to.

Isopropyl Alcohol (or "Fool's Vodka")

Isopropyl alcohol promises at least some flammability. This can serve to make even the dullest experiments a little more exciting...maybe a lot more exciting if you've used a lot of it and started it on fire somehow.

Despite ranking very well in the flammability department, isopropyl alcohol did nothing to improve the readability of my test CD. And I strongly suggest that you not drink it, because the severe gastric disturbances mentioned on most bottles of it will be the least of your worries.

(Not to put too fine of a point on it, but if you want that, buy yourself a loaf of bread containing lots of fiber and eat the whole of it in one sitting.)

Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly seemed like it could work well until I smeared it on the test CD and gave it a try. It looked awfully foggy even after polishing the jelly as best I could. Not only that, but it got all over everything and was harder to clean up than the cooking oil had been. This was the one thing that I did manage to spill some of inside my CD player.

If anything, the petroleum jelly made playback worse, something was not caused with any other chemical I used.

Various Wax Products

I tried a few car wax and floor wax products, and none really did very much. Butcher's paste wax for floors did the most of anything that I tried, in that playback did improve very slightly.

Brasso Brash Polish

Brasso is the one really-kinda-nasty chemical I used in my CD repair adventures. If you use it, do exactly what they say on the can and protect your skin from direct contact with the Brasso polish. It contains silica, and you really don't want that on your skin.

I didn't notice much improvement from the Brasso. Some people have said that it does work to polish plastic, so maybe I didn't polish it enough or something?

Peanut Butter

Okay, this one's the good one. Peanut butter? On a CD? (What's that they say about saving the best for last?)

There's something you don't often see outside of certain Twix commercials.

Interestingly, that's not where I got the idea to try this. I don't honestly remember for certain where the idea came from. I really doubt I dreamed this up on my own.

Anyway. I applied a moderate coating of peanut butter to the CD, smeared it around and buffed it out to a hazy shine. Then I put it into the CD player and hit play.

I am absolutely not joking when I tell you that the disc played almost perfectly.

Yeah, how's that for far out? Isn't it amazing all the stuff that peanuts can do?

It kinda makes you think about what George Washington Carver would have come up with if he were alive today, doesn't it?

This one's a winner. If you're desperate to repair a scratched CD, only need it to play just that one more time and don't have the money or resources to do anything else, peanut butter really works. You can go ahead and say that I'm joking, but the simple fact of the matter is that the improvement was unmistakable.

Other people have told me that I was joking or faking it when I did other radical stuff, so don't worry. You won't be the first.

Blowtorch (and Cigarette Lighter)

This one is actually in the sci.electronics.repair FAQ, although it's clearly stated that nobody besides the person who claimed it work can vouch for its efficacy. The viewpoint expressed there seems somewhat skeptical if you ask me.

Warning: all kidding aside, if you try this, you'd do very well to do it outside or in a very well ventilated area. Furthermore, don't underestimate the risk of starting a fire. Polycarbonate will burn and it may put off some truly nasty stuff in the process...the kind of stuff that could kill you or cause your children to be born with gills. So don't screw around. Go outside or establish some ventilation, and be prepared for a fire should one start. Really, don't screw around with this. I'm serious. Don't do anything illegal, stupid or that will get you hurt or killed.

I tried a blowtorch (plumber's type, using propane gas) first and while it did “heal” the scratches on the disc, it had the undesirable effect of warping the disc no matter how quickly I worked or how careful I was. I tried with high and low flames alike, yet there was no difference that I could see. The disc still warped from the heat.

As badly warped as it was, I didn't even try playing it in the CD player. I doubt that it would have worked at all.

A cheap cigarette lighter filled with butane fuel did no better.

I don't think this can work.

Digital Innovations SkipDr CD & DVD Repair Device

Any product with an ampersand in its name has to be good, right?

Out of every product and chemical mentioned on this page, this is the only one that's sold as a CD and DVD repair tool. Furthermore, it's not cheap. It costs enough that I wouldn't have even bothered reviewing it here had my dad not found one being practically given away in a bargain bin. What he found as the “Game Dr.” variant, but I suspect that all are pretty much the same thing...a polycarbonate optical disc is a polycarbonate optical disc, after all.

What you get with this is a little spray bottle filled with liquid and The Machine**.

What's in the spray bottle is nothing more than filtered, distilled water and a little alcohol. The alcohol probably helps to keep mold and spots from growing inside the bottle and subsequently being sprayed out onto your disc. I doubt there is enough alcohol in there to soothe your hurt by drinking it should your disc repair efforts be unsuccessful. Even so, it's probably Fool's Vodka and drinking that is always a bad idea.

Note that if you need to refill the little spray bottle, you can...but you really should use filtered and distilled water so as to be sure there is nothing abrasive in it. Otherwise, you'll really feel dumb if your water is really nasty and you spray a bunch of abrasive minerals or diatoms (!!) on it, thusly scarring your disc further.

The machine itself consists of a clamping tray in which a victim disc can be placed. This clamps firmly into place when you shut it. (In fact, it fits so tightly that opening the tray in the frist place is difficult. Or at least it was with the unit I got.)

You spray the disc with the contents of the spray bottle until it is pretty well covered in mist. Then you clamp the disc into place and run it around for a few turns. While you crank the handle, the disc revolves slowly as a surfaced wheel runs over it at a much greater rate of speed. After a few rounds of that, you are to polish the disc with a clean, non-abrasive cloth.

It's not nearly as much fun as spraying or pouring random chemicals onto a CD-R disc, but I can say this: it works. Although the CD-R was long gone by the time I had the SkipDr. machine, it has worked on numerous rental DVDs, abused audio CDs and even video games. 

This is probably the most sure-fire do-it-at-home disc repair product that I know of. It really does do what it says on the tin.

I don't know what chemical is used on the rubber-like roller wheel inside the SkipDr. unit, but the odds were overwhelmingly in its favor when it came to effective repairs. As mentioned before, the spray bottle itself contains only purified water. The instructions that came with mine said it could be refilled at home. The Digital Innovations web site seems to contradict this, as they sell the water for $2.99 per bottle***.

So there you have it.


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Copyright 2011 William R. Walsh. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce this material or to use any part of it in other creations, so long as the following terms are met: attribution to this page and its author must be supplied, no part of this page may be displayed along advertising content of any sort, no fee may be assessed to provide access to this information (except as reasonably necessary to cover connection time or printing supply expenses) and no part of this material may be used in creations that are illegal, dangerous or derogatory. Created, edited and posted 05/16/2011.

* Believe it or not, water in and of itself is not a particular good conductor of electricity. Minerals and impurities are the main reason why water and electricity don't mix.


** capitalizing it just makes it sound that much more impressive. Or ominous. It's your choice. Besides, I hadn't said anything funny in several sentences, and this was the best I could come up with.

*** more than bottled water, and you get far less. This sounds like a racket I need to get into.