Fixing Scratched CDs, DVDs and Game Discs

I first wrote this guide a couple years ago, and so much has changed that I have rewritten it yet again. I can’t go back and just edit my old posts, so I’m starting a new thread.

Fixing Scratched CDs, DVDs and Game Discs

Some folks will swear by retail repair kits, commercial repair systems, Brasso, or even common toothpaste. I have tried them all, and nothing takes the place of a few scraps of sand paper and some inexpensive liquid polishers.

In 2008, a company called ViaMarket came up with Scratch Out!, a liquid abrasive designed for CD and DVD repair. The stuff is wonderful. A 3.5 oz. tube sells for $6, and lasts months, if not years. Get some. Also, pick up a bottle of Meguiar’s PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Polish. I buy Scratch Out! from my local Staples office supply store. Meguiar’s products are found in automotive supply stores.

The liquid polishers repair most mild scratches. For severe scratches, I generally use 3M wet-dry emery paper in a number of grits, from 1000 to 8000. 3M has micron-graded emery papers that are of especially high quality, and I’m using those now to great effect.

You will quickly learn which scratches can be repaired with liquid polishers, and which ones require sanding the disc. Whenever you’re not sure, try liquid polishers first—you can always go back and sand the disc later, if needed.

The WORST scratch I’ve EVER seen was made by an X-Box 360 on my kid’s Gears of War disc. The system has a known flaw whereby the laser lens can come into contact with a spinning disc. If I can fix an X-Box 360-scratched disc, I can fix almost anything. I also get a lot of CDs and DVDs from the local library. Many are scratched too badly to play or rip. I’m always able to fix them myself.

Let’s assume you have a badly scratched disc, and liquid polishers alone won’t fix it.

Sanding is done with nearly perpendicular movements and increasingly finer grades of emery paper. You sand in one direction with a rough paper, then sand in a roughly perpendicular direction with a finer paper, repeating this until you’ve got the finish you desire. On a CD or DVD, you might follow pattern A with 2000-grit, pattern B with 2500-grit, pattern A with 3000-grit, pattern B with 4000-grit, and so on.

Because of the way data is encoded to and read from an optical disc, radial patterns A and B are best for sanding. Sanding in other directions may leave behind small circumferential scratches to interfere with the normal operation of your CD, DVD, or game player.

I like to sand discs on a smooth, clean countertop, as in a kitchen or bathroom. I clean my work area off, then wet it (the water protects the label side from scratches). I run water over both sides of the disc, and set it label side down on the wet surface. I wet my emery paper before using it. Everything needs to stay wet. Try to keep water on the disc as you work.

A 2000-grit emery paper will remove most bad scratches, but especially horrid ones may require the use of 1500 or even 1000-grit paper. I do not recommend using anything more abrasive than 1000-grit paper.

Start with 2000-grit and evaluate the results. If scratches do not quickly vanish, consider using a coarser grit. Slowly rotate the disc with your off hand while sanding back and forth, making a few full rotations.

After working the scratches out with the rough paper, switch to the next finer paper and change the angle of your sanding, switching to pattern B, above. Repeat the process using progressively finer grit emery papers for the best results. Usually, I work all the way up to a micron-graded 8000-grit paper. I rinse and dry the disc when finished. Sanded discs are going to look hazy. This cloudy haze will prevent the disc from being read, so the next step is to remove the haze.

Scratch Out! is the best thing for removing light hazing. Do not follow the bottle’s printed directions—follow mine, instead. The printed directions instruct you to wipe the disc clean, presumably with a dry cloth, as if you were waxing a car. This only causes a lot of extra scratching and hazing.

Use the liquid polishers at a dry work area. I like to put the disc’s label side down on a clean sheet of paper near the edge of my desk for the next procedure. Apply a fairly generous amount of Scratch Out! to the disc and polish with a clean scrap of cotton cloth, using the elliptical pattern shown in figure C (work in the opposite direction if you are left-handed). Slowly rotate the disc with your off hand while you work. You can use heavy pressure to start, and gradually relax with subsequent revolutions of the disc. Do not continue polishing if the compound begins to dry on the disc surface! Polish only while the compound remains moist! Before it dries, wash the compound off with soap and water. Dry the disc with a clean towel.

Scratch Out! removes the haze left behind from sanding, but leaves light scratches you can still polish out. For that, you will use Meguiar’s PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Polish. Return to your dry work area and apply several drops of Meguiar’s to the disc. With another clean scrap of cotton cloth, polish the same way (figure C) as before. You don’t have to leave the Meguiar’s to dry on the disc—it’s not like waxing your car. You basically polish until your cloth has absorbed all the excess goop and the disc is bright & shiny, which doesn’t take long at all. Get a good polish on your discs, all the way out to the outermost edges. Buff away any residue with yet another clean scrap of cotton T-shirt when finished.

Your disc should look really, really good—not brand new, mind you, but good, nonetheless. Discs do not need a mirror finish to function perfectly. They need to be free of haze and reasonably free of errant scratches. If it won’t play or rip, you may have to repeat some or all the steps, above. With experience, you’ll tend to nail it the first time. All this may sound like a terrible bit of effort. In reality, it’s only about five minutes per disc, depending upon how bad the damage is.

While there are a couple of good (and expensive) commercial-grade disc polishers out there, none of the retail machines you’ll find can do what you do with your own two hands in just a few minutes. Serious scratches require more abrasive action than is available with any retail product. Honestly, every last one is a money-wasting rip-off.

A bottle of Scratch Out! costs six dollars. The Meguiar’s costs just a few bucks and lasts years. 3M wet-dry emery paper is very cheap, so don’t settle for generic brands, as the abrasive may come off when the paper gets wet, which defeats the entire purpose of wet sanding, doesn’t it?

Auto supply and other retail outlets carry the coarser emery papers, while extremely fine emery paper is sold by outfits that deal with jewelers and other artists, such as Rio Grande and Micro-Mark. You may even find it through Amazon.

CDs, DVDs, and console discs are all the same when it comes to fixing scratches. If you can fix one, you can fix them all.

With audio CDs, scratches on the data side (the shiny, reflective side) aren’t as serious as scratches on the label side. You’re able to sand the working face of a disc because it’s a rather thick layer of plastic. In an audio CD, the actual data layer is closer to the label than the other side. For this reason, a good scratch on the label side can permanently destroy a disc.

That’s everything I can think of. By sharing my experience, I hope to save you time and money should you ever need to restore your own DVDs, console, or audio discs.

So go fix some scratches already!

A little update:

Staples stopped carrying Scratch Out!, and I had to buy it recently from Best Buy, for almost $2 more. That got me wondering about other things I could use that may be easier to find or cheaper over time.

So I tried some car wax this morning. Specifically, I used Mothers California Gold Original Formula Carnauba Cleaner Wax.

It worked really, really well. I had a disc that was severely damaged; even after sanding and polishing, some tracks would not rip without error. So I used the car wax, the same way I’ve used Scratch Out! and the Meguiar’s PlastX. I did let the wax dry, then buffed the disc clean–just like when waxing a car. Afterwards, I finally got those troublesome tracks to rip.

So, if you can’t find Scratch Out! or PlastX, try a “cleaner” wax–these have mild abrasives that can remove some scratching. Certainly try a car wax on any discs you are having real trouble with.

Thank you very much for your advice.
I will try your recommendations.

I have been polishing out scratches for years with car polish.

You dont want too much ‘cut’ in it, try to look for ‘new car’ or ‘PDI’ (pre delivery inspection) wax polish for the really fine stuff, but the deeper the damage the faster the cut will take it out.

Remember you cant get it back after you have taken too much off so you could use anything, just start slow and using a very slightly damp cloth is best for the polishing, and then I have found it is best to clean the polish off after as some of my older SAP’s are not so happy with the polish layer left, it might scatter the light in a way not expected.

I want to update this again.

I’m using Scratch Out! and car wax to remove most wear on DVDs. I haven’t had to sand many discs with emery paper, and that’s a good thing.

Scratch Out! has to be the best product to hit the market since the original version of the Disc Dr. (I mean the one from the late 90’s–the one that actually worked). Scratch Out! removes most damage quickly and easily, provided you DON’T follow the directions! Instead, polish only while it’s moist; don’t allow it to dry on the disc; wash it off with soap and water. Follow with a gentle car wax, and you’re good to go.

There will still be discs that are really jacked up and first have to be sanded with emery paper. Often, you can sand up to 3000 or 4000-grit, then switch to Scratch-Out for a fine polish. Some times, it seems I have to go higher, up to 8000-grit. But I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS follow sanding with Scratch Out! And then some of that Carnauba car wax.

Some guys are doing well with just a cleaner wax–car wax with a mild abrasive added–like Turtle Wax.