Fixing Scratched CDs

A simple and safe-to-do-at-home repair for scratched and scuffed CDs

When CDs first came out, there was a remarkable amount of sales hype about how indestructible they were. Those of us who work in radio stations soon found out! CDs are easily rendered unplayable by a small scuff or scratch to the playing surface. Fortunately, these minor abrasions can be easily fixed.

I'm making the distinction between scuffs and scratches because they interfere with the laser tracking and reading mechanism in two different ways:

  • a scuff mark renders the surface of the polycarbonate milky, rather than clear. This diffuses the laser beam, making it impossible for the tracking mechanism to locate and focus on the pits which carry the sound and tracking information.
  • a scratch which runs at an angle to the track usually poses no problem for the tracking mechanism. Indeed a well adjusted CD player should be able to track a disk on which a 1mm strip of black tape has been stuck - providing it is stuck on radially. But if a scratch is approximately tangential or circumferential, it can obscure the track below for enough time that the tracking or error correction cannot cope.
Both scratches and scuffs can be removed by the same method - by polishing them out using Brasso. Engineers have been using Brasso as a polish for plastics ever since it was released as a polish for brass.

Caution!  Since writing this, I've been advised that Brasso have changed their formulation and the new stuff will damage rather than repair your CD's.  So, if you have had your Brasso for some time, it's probably fine, but watch out if you are getting new supplies!  If in doubt, try some on a useless CD first - there are usually a few of these that came bundled with your computer!

Use the Brasso in the normal way. A drop or two is usually sufficient (one tin will last you a lifetime of great listening!). Use a soft clean cloth to rub the affected area with the Brasso until the mark is almost gone. Polish scuff marks radially. Scratches are best handled by rubbing along the direction of the scratch. With a scratch it usually is not necessary to polish it completely away - just clean it up enough for the laser to be able to see through it.

Finish up by letting the Brasso dry on the surface, then use a fresh soft cloth to rub it off. Just for good form's sake, do this last stage radially. Remember radial scratches won't generally interfere with the tracking mechanism.

When trying to work out which scratch is to blame for a mistracking, keep in mind that ones at an angle to the direction of rotation are not likely to cause problems. Also keep in mind that a CD plays from the inside out, so that a problem on an early track is more likely to be near the centre than the edge.

So far I have not found a scratched or scuffed CD I cannot fix using Brasso. I hope it works for you too!

Terry McGee 


Postscript

It's now many years since I wrote and published this article.  Seems like not much has changed however.  A recent study of the various fancy products now available for fixing scratched CDs reveals that they found Brasso is still the best!  For more details:

http://www.burningissues.net/how_to/scratchrepair/scratchrepair.htm

 


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