How to Fix a Scratched Disc

By: Eric J. Leech, Planet Green  | 
A scratched disc. 
Achim Prill/istockphoto

In our quest to reuse and restore everyday household items, crafty DIYers have been constructing wind chimes, coasters, and Christmas tree decorations. But if you want to restore your CDs and DVDs, you're going to need to know how to fix a scratched disc.

Well in that case, grab a tube of toothpaste, some shoe polish, rubbing compound, a banana, and a towel and prepare to make a little magic.


Assessing the Damage

First, it's important to understand the extent of the damage. Light scratches and tiny scratches can often be fixed at home, while deeper ones often penetrate the top layer of the plastic discs where the data is stored, and may be beyond repair.

To assess the damage, hold the disc up to a light source. If you can see light through the scratch, the disc may be irreparably damaged. If you are unable to see any light shine through the other side, it may be fixable.


Cleaning the Disc

Before you attempt to fix the scratched surface, it's important to clean it to remove any dust, fingerprints, or grim that could affect playback.

  1. Use a soft, lint free cloth
  2. Wipe in straight lines from the center to the edge.
  3. Use a mild detergent or rubbing alcohol, mix a little with water, dip the clean cloth in the solution, and wring it out well so it's only slightly damp.

Once you're sure the surface layer is clean, set out to repair it using one of the following methods.


The Banana Method

As you may have seen on YouTube or equivalent, the banana method uses the natural oils of a banana to help fill in the scratches and restore functionality.

To do it, just cut a slice of a ripe banana, rub it on the scratched cd, then clean the disk by removing the banana residue with a soft cloth followed by a bit of glass cleaner [source: YouTube].


The Rubbing Compound (Polish) Method

Restore veterans prefer the good old standby of automotive grade rubbing compound, such as from 3M [source: 3M]. Admittedly, 3M polish is not necessarily a green product, it is after all synthetic in its basic composition, but you will need only a dab and quite frankly, there is no natural product that will even come close to the power of this stuff when it comes to resurfacing deep or multiple scratches.

The experts tell you to always polish in a straight line from the radius of the center to the outside, rather than polish in a circular motion. While this is good advice for the most part, since small circular scratches have been known to throw off the laser tracking system of a player, most tracking systems today are far superior to the ones you remember from the 90's. So, if you are willing to let the rubbing compound breakdown to its final stages, circle polishing can work well too.


When we refer to letting the rubbing compound breakdown, we're saying the rubbing compound formula essentially contains a grit that is designed to scratch the surface you are polishing, and wear down the deeper scratches until they are closer to the same height as the rest of the CD. It does this by starting out with a heavy grit, which breaks down over the polishing course into finer and finer grit, until it eventually leaves a mirror polished surface. But this is only if you put enough elbow grease into it.

Many find that circular polishing works just as well as radius polishing, but you can follow whatever advice you like, as this is simply a matter of opinion and personal experience. But what if you need to fix a CD right away and don't want to travel out to your nearest store to grab a bottle of polish, in such a case, toothpaste works reasonably well too.


The Toothpaste Method

Toothpaste is designed much the same way as a rubbing compound, in that it is manufactured with a gritty substance, which gently scratches the enamel on the teeth, to clean and polish them. It can offer your CDs the same service, albeit not to quite the extend as the polish, but if the scratches are not too bad, it may just do the job.

Start with the most simple toothpaste you can find, like Tom's of Maine Natural Toothpaste as it contains a basic enamel polish, without all the fancy gels, swirls, glitter, and bubble gum flavors [Source: Tom's]. All you want is a good old fashioned white toothpaste. There is no need for frills here. Squeeze a smidgen of paste on the CD and rub it in using a straight sweeping motion with your finger from the center radius of the CD to the outside. Work your way around the CD using this motion until the CD is completely covered with a thin layer of the toothpaste.


If the CD is badly scratched, you may want to rub the toothpaste around the radius of the circle several times. Once finished, let the toothpaste dry to the touch. Hold the CD under your sink with running water and gently rub the tooth paste off. When satisfied with the cleanliness of the CD, gently dry it with a clean, soft cloth.

Finish With Some Wax

It is not a bad idea to put a coat of car wax on the CD (if you have some available). Many prefer using an all natural 100% carnauba wax, which is made from the outside surface of a leaf [source: Oppido]. It is super strong and also friendly towards the environment.

It will first of all, help fill-in any remaining deep scratches, second, protect the CD from being scratched in the future, and third, help repel any future dust and dirt from finding its way onto your newly cleaned and resurfaced CD.


Keep on Spinning

Your CD should be good to play after all this hard work. If not, you can try the entire process once more and hope for better results. Scratched discs can often be fixed with a bit of patience and the right strategy.

Whether's it's a DIY fix like the above methods, or a professional resurfacing, it's possible to bring most discs back to life. Remember, the key to disc longevity is proper care and handling to prevent scratches from occurring in the first place.


Fix Scratched CD FAQ

Can a scratched CD be repaired?
If the CD is scratched on the bottom, you should be able to repair it.
How do you get rid of scratches on a disc?
Toothpaste can be used to repair scratches on a CD. Clean the disc with warm water, soap, and a cloth and then dry it, making sure that no lint is left behind. Squeeze toothpaste onto the disc and rub it on the disc in a straight motion from the center out to the edges. If the CD is badly scratched, repeat that process several times. Let it dry completely, then wash off the toothpaste, and carefully dry the disc.
What kind of toothpaste removes scratches?
You'll want to use a plain white enamel toothpaste. Avoid any type that has abrasives or glitter in it and be sure to pick a paste, not a gel.
How can I recover data from a damaged CD?
Your first option is to try to repair the CD using the toothpaste or automotive grade rubbing compound methods (both are explained in the article above). If that doesn't work, try free online software like Stellar Data Recovery Professional for Windows or MiniTool Power Data Recovery Personal Edition.
Can you buff out a deep scratch?
Buffing with the compound should be enough to erase most moderately deep scratches. The JFJ One-Step Eyecon CD repair machine is a good choice for deep scratches, though it isn't cheap — full price it'll run you about $160.
How much does it cost to repair a CD?
If an at-home method does work, your best bet is to purchase a kit or machine, as most stores don't offer CD repair services anymore. Two great options include the Maxell CD/CD-ROM Scratch Repair Kit and SkipDr.