How to fix a scratched DVD or CD

Want to save your favorite film? Here's how to fix a scratched DVD or CD

How to fix scratched dvd
belchonock/123RF
belchonock/123RF

We’ve all been there. You lend a buddy a copy of your favorite DVD and it comes back looking like they used it to rip the shingles off of their roof. Sure, you could go out and buy another copy, but that will cost you precious Amazon dollars or a lengthy excursion to Best Buy. Luckily, there are a few methods available when it comes to how to fix a scratched DVD or CD that you should give a shot before you disown the irresponsible guy you once called a friend.

Before we continue, it should be noted that the best way to deal with a scratched disc is, in fact, to simply replace it either through the store where you bought it or by getting in touch with the manufacturer. Many video game publishers will send you a new copy of their title in exchange for the damaged copy and a nominal fee, for example. You should also keep in mind that all of the methods below have the very distinct possibility of further damaging your discs, even when done carefully using our guidelines.

It’s important to note that these methods will not work with Blu-ray discs, given those discs use a harder coating that’s more difficult to scratch and damage. The downside to this is that once it does scratch, the Blu-ray disc typically becomes unusable and has to be replaced. Minor damage may be corrected with a microfiber cloth, but the data density and layers prevent any of the options outlined below from working particularly well or even being advisable. Error-correction features on the best Blu-ray players may help them to ignore scratches, of course.

It’s also a good idea to back up your DVDs, CDs, and Blu-rays by copying the data to a hard drive, also known as “ripping.” This will keep your music and movies safe and watchable for as long as you need — provided your hard drive doesn’t become damaged — and if you still want physical copies, you can simply burn them onto a rewritable disc.

There are all sorts of ways you can damage a disc, but it’s important to identify how deep a scratch is or what caused the disc to malfunction before proceeding. The first trick is to identify that the problem is actually the disc, usually done by trying to play it in another device with a disc drive or inserting another disc into the original drive that gave you issues.

What you should know before you begin

How do scratches affect discs?

A CD or DVD is composed of layers. At the top is a layer of plastic, with the label printed on the surface. Data is stored on the disc in the form of ones and zeroes. When a disc is printed, a laser burns tiny pits into the plastic, so that the surface consists of various pits and flat surfaces called “lands.” Beneath this is a layer of reflective aluminum, and it’s important: When a CD or DVD players reads the disc, it runs a laser along it. The laser detects whether it is running over a pit or a land before the aluminum reflects the laser back to the player.

Finally, the bottom layer of the disc is a layer of polycarbonate, which is meant to protect the data from damage. If this protective layer becomes scratched, the laser’s path can be altered, thus hindering its ability to accurately read the pits and lands. In order to fix the disc, one must either buff out the scratch or fill it with a transparent substance, so that the laser can travel through to the data.

Five tips before you start

Although we cover different methods for cleaning and resurfacing your discs, it’s important to remember a few key rules if you want to save yourself a headache while going through the process.

Step 1: Wash and dry your hands before handling your discs. It’s surprisingly easy to mess with the delicate data imprinted onto a disc’s polycarbonate layer, and both grease and oil are known to cause playback issues even if the disc shows no signs of physical damage. Better still, put on a pair of latex gloves, if you happen to keep them around.

Step 2: The best way to clean your discs, with any material, is to start at the center of the disc and work your way outward in a straight line. This allows for a better grip while cleaning and lets you avoid damaging any of the data printed onto the polycarbonate layer below. The reason for this is that the data runs in a spiral around the disc, as on a vinyl record. Because the disc spins so fast, the reader has to be able to compensate for missing bits of the data as it goes, and when a scratch runs straight out from the center of the disc to the edge, it’s a lot easier for the algorithm to catch the error and fix it automatically.

Step 3: Tray-loading drives may be more likely to read a damaged or scratched disc than slot-loading drives. If possible, it’s a good idea to use one of these drives when trying to salvage a disc to lower the number of variables at play.

Step 4: Given that the layer of data that’s encoded onto the polycarbonate surface is so close to the top layer of the disc, scratches and dents on the label can cause read errors in the same way a ding in the reflective surface can. Make sure to store all your discs in cases or on spools, and handle them by the inner ring to avoid damaging the data.

Step 5: The best way to repair discs is not to scratch them in the first place. It sounds silly, but using good cases and spools can significantly reduce the chance of damaging a game or DVD, which will, in turn, save you the hassle of repairs in the first place.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robo sidekicks, AC for your bed, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Music

How to clean your records to keep them looking good and sounding sweet

Vinyl records are back in a big way, but the sound quality can suffer if you don't keep them clean. Check out our tips for keeping your vinyl and stylus immaculate, so you can hear every note of your favorite tunes.
Home Theater

TV calibration 101: Here's how to tune up the picture of your new TV

You’ve got your new TV out of the box, but now what? Our TV picture adjustment guide takes you through the simple steps to get the best picture from your brand new TV so you can set it and forget it.
Home Theater

Here's how to preserve your precious VHS memories in a modern format

There's no reason you should have to lose those precious home videos just because VHS is a dying format. Here, we'll show you how to convert VHS tapes to a digital format, and save those memories forever.
Home Theater

Any night can be a night at the movies with the best home theater projectors

Are you sick and tired of those cumbersome big screen TVs? Don’t want to spend big for a huge TV? These home theater projectors will bring you that big screen experience without breaking the bank.
Home Theater

Set your ears free with the best completely wireless earbuds

If you can't stand the tangle of cords, or you're just excited about completely wireless earbuds, you're going to need some help separating the wheat from the chaff. Our list serves up the best wireless earbuds around.
Product Review

No blackout shades? No problem! BenQ's TK800 projector battles bright light

With gorgeous 4K picture, 3000 lumens of brightness, and effective HDR performance, the BenQ TK800 projector is an affordable home cinema monster that you don’t have to place in a completely darkened room.
Music

How to convert and play FLAC music files on your iPhone or iPad

The high-resolution revolution is upon us, and FLAC files are a popular way to store hi-res sound. But what if you’re an iOS user? Check out our article to find out more about FLAC files, and how to use them on Apple devices.
Home Theater

Dish Network or DirecTV: Which is the better choice for you?

So, you’ve chosen to go with a satellite television provider. Check out our quick rundown of what both Dish Network and DirecTV offer in terms of content, hardware, and pricing, and why you might choose them over streaming services.
Home Theater

Beem United’s latest wireless earbuds track your heart rate during workouts

Beem United is launching the second product in its BeActiv line of fitness-focused earbuds, the BeActiv S100, which builds on the foundation laid by the previous earbuds but adds an integrated continuous heart rate monitor.
Movies & TV

Latest 'John Wick 3' photo confirms the return of two powerful characters

The third installment of the wildly successful action series that stars Keanu Reeves as a deadly assassin forced out of retirement, John Wick 3: Parabellum, hits theaters in May 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.
Home Theater

Do you need an $8,000 gold-plated digital music player? Sony made one anyway

Sony's new DMP-Z1 digital music player features "audiophile-grade" sound quality and a gold-plated volume knob to let everyone around you know you take your music extremely seriously.
Home Theater

Everything you need to know about Google’s Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Movies & TV

Tarantino casts actor to play Bruce Lee in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

Quentin Tarantino's ninth feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, uses the infamous 1969 Manson murders as a backdrop to tell a story set in bohemian Los Angeles. Here's everything we know so far.
1 of 2