How to fix a scratched DVD or CD

Want to save your favorite movie? 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 pry the shingles off their roof. Sure, you could go out and buy another copy, but that will cost you precious Amazon dollars or an inconvenient excursion to Best Buy. Luckily, there are a few methods available when it comes to fixing a scratched DVD or CD, which 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. For example, many video game publishers will send you a new copy of their title in exchange for the damaged copy and a nominal fee. 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 and using our guidelines.

It’s important to note that these methods will not work with Blu-ray discs. Those discs use a harder coating that’s more difficult to scratch and damage, which is good, but 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 for a Blu-ray. 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. This is usually done by trying to play the disc in another device that has 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 player 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 is 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.

Movies & TV

Can't get enough lightsaber action? Here's how to get your Star Wars fix online

Few of us want to deal with DVDs or Blu-ray discs anymore. Unfortunately, the Star Wars movies are few and far between when it comes to streaming. If you want to watch Star Wars online, check out our guide on where to find the films online.
Computing

Here’s how to install Windows on a Chromebook

If you want to push the functionality of your new Chromebook to another level, and Linux isn't really your deal, you can try installing Windows on a Chromebook. Here's how to do so, just in case you're looking to nab some Windows-only…
Computing

Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

Given today's rapid technological advancements, physical discs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Check out our guide on how to convert a DVD to MP4, so you can ditch discs for digital files.
Gaming

The most common Nintendo 3DS problems, and how to fix them

The Nintendo 3DS has seen its fair share of issues since it launched in 2011, including poor battery life and fragile Circle Pads. Here are some of the most common, as well as the steps you can take to solve them.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2018, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR, and much more.
Home Theater

Streaming services blast past networks for the most scripted TV shows in 2018

For the first time in history, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, produced more original scripted series than broadcast or cable channels, setting a new record for the number of TV shows on the air.
Movies & TV

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of ‘The X-Files’ with the show’s 10 best episodes

The X-Files premiered 25 years ago, so here are the 10 best episodes of the award-winning sci-fi series. From alien-abduction drama to hilarious satires, these are the best episodes from all 11 seasons of the hit series.
Home Theater

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Battle of the streaming giants

Trying to figure out which subscription streaming service to use while sticking to a frugal entertainment budget? Check out our updated comparison of the big three: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.
Home Theater

What is Terrarium TV? Here’s everything you need to know

Terrarium TV offered a way to watch movies & TV for free, but now after a troubled existence, the app's developer has shut it down, and offered an ominous message to users on his way out.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in every genre for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Movies & TV

Do you have questions about Hulu? We’ve got answers

Not sure which Hulu subscription is right for you? We're here to help. This is your complete guide to Hulu and Hulu with Live TV, including content offerings for each service, pricing, internet requirements, and more.
1 of 2