Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

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toothpastecd   Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?Whenever there’s any sort of topic where the general population doesn’t have a solid understanding of the technology at hand, urban legends are born. You’re probably familiar with such exaggerated stories – like the one where water boiled in the microwave can explode (only partially true), or the one about the Microsoft email beta test where Bill Gates is sharing his fortune with people who forward the email (people actually bought that story?) – in each case people believed the story because they had very little understanding of the underlying technology.

Varun wrote an article a while back on how to repair damaged CDs and briefly mentioned using toothpaste.  In this article, I’m going to take a closer look at the claim that even when many store-bought CD-repair products fail, you can fix a scratched CD with toothpaste.

True or False: Can You Fix a Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

Taken at face value, the claim seems very odd and very likely false. How could smearing a paste on the surface of your CD save the data that lies within? Why not just dip your CD in ketchup, jelly or dish soap for that matter? The truth about the toothpaste claim comes out when you take a look at how a CD actually works. Please examine my poorly drawn sketch of a cross section of a standard CD.

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tooth1   Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

Each of the major layers of a typical CD are displayed here. When you flip over a CD and hold it up to the light to look for a scratch, what you’re looking at is the “thick” polycarbonate plastic layer. I put the word thick in quotes, because we’re talking 1.2 mm here.

Now, if you follow the path of the laser beam through the clear plastic layer, you’ll see that it strikes the aluminum (or reflective) layer. This layer bounces the light directly back to the CD reader. As the CD spins, the time it takes for the light to reflect and return tells your CD ROM whether or not there’s a “pit” or “land” – the structure within the CD where the data is encoded.

cdrom   Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

The technology within your CD/DVD drive is actually very impressive considering that the process where the laser from your drive “reads” this structure is very precise.  When the outer surface of the polycarbonate layer is nice and smooth, this process works slick – and your music or video game runs like a champ. However, what happens when there’s a significant scratch on the outer surface of the polycarbonate layer?

tooth2   Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

As the CD spins and the laser is busy scanning the pit data pattern along each track and decoding the information, when it hits a significant scratch in the polycarbonate surface, the laser beam is deflected just enough so that the pit data pattern is misread.

Now, normally for very small or occasional scratches, this isn’t a huge deal because the data on the CD and the CD drive circuitry has an integrated error-checking code system to handle the occasional misread bit here and there. However, when the scratch is significant enough so that the laser beam misreads a large batch of the track, the disk either skips or becomes unreadable.

Toothpaste To The Rescue – A Minty Fresh CD Repair

A lot of people testify that rubbing toothpaste (either with a soft cloth or a cotton swab) along the scratch has the ability to correct the problem described above. Does this really work, and if so – why? The answer is: Yes. It works, and it works well.

First, when you place a dab of toothpaste on the scratch (preferably baking soda or other “gritty” paste, not gel) and rub the paste into the scratch from the center of the CD outward, you are essentially “sanding” down the imperfection on the surface of the polycarbonate plastic layer. By sanding away the imperfection, you’re removing deflection of the laser beam, and by doing so you’re correcting the problem. Of course, before you attempt to do a “toothpaste buff,” always make sure to wash off any dust and fingerprints from the surface of the CD.

cd5   Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

Dry it off with a soft cloth, and always wipe the CD starting from the center and outward toward the outer edge of the CD. This will reduce the chance that you’ll introduce any additional scratches across multiple tracks. Once the CD is clean and dry, you’re ready to buff the surface with toothpaste.

Apply a dab of paste (not gel) to a cotton swab or soft cloth and apply it directly to the scratch. Rub the toothpaste in small circles (like you’re buffing a car) along the length of the scratch. This goes against everything your mother ever told you about not touching the back of a CD – but trust me, you’re doing the right thing.

cd41   Geeks Weigh In: Can You Fix A Scratched CD With Toothpaste?

After a while, you’ll notice that while you’ve created some very fine surface scratches, the deeper scratch has either grown faint or entirely disappeared. Don’t apply too much force when you’re “sanding” the scratch – a gentle circular motion is all you need to buff it away. When you’re satisfied that the scratch is either gone or reduced enough to make a difference, put the CD through another gentle rinse and dry.

Congratulations – you’ve just proven that yes, it is possible to fix a scratched CD with toothpaste! If it doesn’t work for you, then follow Karl’s advice on how to read the data off of your scratched disk.

Have you ever attempted the toothpaste CD repair, or do you have any tips and tricks of your own to fix scratches on a CD? Share your insights with MakeUseOf readers in the comments section below.

Image Credit : Gustavo

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25 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Ezra

I’ve never tried it, but my wife swears on smooth peanut butter fixing her skipping CDs.

Reply

Alaerus

A better solution, IMHO, is to use “Brasso” and cotton balls. I put a small amount of Brasso on a cotton ball and gently rub small circles on the disc, until it is well covered. I let this sit for about five minutes, then take the disc to the sink and rinse it off with lukewarm water and a very small amount of hand soap. Then I dry it off with a microfiber cloth or some other lint free substance. This has worked for me almost every time, unless the scratch extends beyond the depth of the plastic into the inner coating.

Reply

Abhilash

I have used hand cream and Vaseline to the same effect.

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Mike

This was a useful and informative post, and I learned some things that I’m now going to try at home. But:

“As the CD spins, the time it takes for the light to reflect and return tells your CD ROM whether or not there’s a “pit” or “land” – the structure within the CD where the data is encoded.”

I hate to nitpick, but there’s just no way that the time delay in the the light “echo” is how a CD reader works. Right? Light is really, really fast and the pits are really shallow.

Ryan Dube

Hey Mike,

Yes, technically you’re right and that one line was sloppiness on my part – the 0 or 1 comes from whether or not the laser is reflected or refracted. Almost literally the light coming back turns off or on because a pit doesn’t return the light to the reader – not a “delay.” Thanks for the correction! Don’t worry about nitpicking – nitpickers keep the facts straight. :)

Reply

www.stage-drama.com

This Really Works?????

Ryan Dube

It sure does – although grittier toothpaste (like with baking soda) works best. As other readers have commented, Brasso definitely works as well – but if you don’t have any available, just dig out your toothpaste and buff away!

Reply

Neels Hattingh

I have heard Brasso does the trick. I have used toothpaste on several occasions and found that most times it worked only on shallow scratches. Deeper scratches require the disc to be polished by my local video store clerk.
Ezra, peanut butter?

Reply

Ankit

Does this will also work for DVDs ?

Ryan Dube

Hi Ankit,

Yes – but with DVDs you’ll want to be more careful for a few reasons. First, the data “bumps” are jam packed much closer together so more susceptible to any surface damage that may inadvertently re-direct the laser beam – and secondly in order to increase the sensitivity of the reader, DVD’s have a thinner plastic outer layer than CD’s, so while it’s still okay to sand/buff with toothpaste, you’ll probably want to do so with a DVD a bit more gently… There’s a LOT more data jammed together on there!

Reply

Shaun Brown

I swear by using Pledge wood polish. The spray kind, regardless of scent works to fill the small scratches in CD’s and I use it regularly. The wax that is sprayed out on the CD fills the gaps and makes your CD’s like new again. I’ve used it probably 30 times with only a few failures due to really deep scratches. Kids movies are safe again!!

Ryan Dube

Hey Shaun – thanks for your comment. Good point! Waxing is another approach I’ve heard people use with great success, although I believe wax is a temporary solution. So I’m curious – do your wax-repairs last long after you get the CD to start playing again?

Shaun Brown

They do last for the entire time the disc is playing but may need occasional re-application. The thing is, pledge is seriously cheap, quick and easy to apply. It may not be permanent but it sure works in a hurry when you have an upset 4 year old wanting to watch Thomas the Tank!

Reply

Aden

A couple of notes, first off – good article. I have seen many CD’s and DVD’s trashed when a simple resurfacing could have restored them to playabilty.

However, I would recommend NOT using soap and water to clean any disc, as the water will tend to cause the aluminum layer to separate from the acrylic substrate. Isopropyl alcohol(aka rubbing alcohol) works great for cleaning and will prevent separation. Make sure to gently clean in straight lines from the inside rim to the outside.

Second, use the same stroke for the toothpaste or Brasso, straight lines from inside rim to outer rim with a soft, lint-free cloth. The reason is that circular strokes will lead to longer grooves that more readily deflect the laser beam and cause mis-reads and errors.

Reply

TAKASTONE

I think there’s some concepts left a little murky by this article and following comments……..
1st of all……nowhere is it mentioned that the “foil” side of the disk IS EXTREMELY DELICATE!! You can put a scratch in THAT side of the disk with a light fingernail touch….and if you put any damage on that side IT IS UNREPAIRABLE! So be very gentle and careful where you put it down while you rub your stuff on the plastic side.
Repairing a hugely damaged plastic side of the disk is simple and effective. You are buffing a blemish and taking off some of the plastic to smooth out the damage and allow the light to pass undeflected. I use a buffing machine and have repaired completely unreadable disks that have sit on the floor of the car for months (kids!) with dust and soda pop stains all over them IF THE FOIL ON THE WRITING SIDE IS UNDAMAGED. Be careful using machines and buffing…..they will heat the plastic and you can melt it and make an unfixable problem if in the process you heat it up too much.
Be careful but I’ve never had a failure if it’s just cleaning up the plastic side.
taka

Ryan Dube

Takastone – Awesome points about the opposite side of the disk. A lot of folks believe that since there’s a label then that side is protected, but you bring up an excellent point. Put a deep stratch on that side of the disk and you may as well throw it in the garbage! Thanks for your comment!

Reply

Ossie

Hey Ryan,
I use a car care product on my discs and a microfibre cloth. ‘Meguiars Plastex’, which is for eliminating the haze and scratches from your headlights, even states on the bottle that it can be used for removing scratches from CD’s. ‘Mothers’ makes a similar product. I have brought back to life so many Playstation discs, some that would not even load, mostly with just one application. One stubborn disc had about 10 cleans as it continually stopped reading the further I progressed in the game, and each clean let me keep going until I completed it. Went all the way from unreadable to completed. This stuff just keeps building on the repairs it has already done.You only need a tiny drop the size of a chocolate chip to clean a whole disc, not just a small part of it, so it’s far greater value than products sold specifically for disc cleaning. You could do 100’s of discs from one bottle.
FYI, toothpaste is really good for cleaning the grease off your hands after you’ve been working on the car.

Reply

KZ

Hi, i have this cd that has really deep scratches made by a pen i assume (my sister scratched it up, i dont know why) would this work?

Reply

micheal

toothpaste is a terrible try scratchout its a great product

Reply

micheal

toothpaste made my cd worse is there any produt out there thats is effective?

Reply

zoya

didnt work for me i guess i still see small scratches even after 2 buffs of toothpaste

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CJ_Smokum

Yeah man the toothpaste method in my opinion is as real as jenkem. Thier both things that thousands on the net claim is real but is just another legend for us to all get excited about with embarrassingly disappointing results… Mythbusters anyone? But really, look up jenkem everybody. Its xxxxx up shit.

Reply

Lindsay

TOOTH PASTE RUINED MY CD! I’t seriously made it worse…I can’t even use it now. It was messed up, but it kind of worked the sound would cut out after a certain amount of time, but hey I figured I would use the toothpaste trick, because a lot of people use it and swear it works…well not for me it made my dvd player act up. It froze on my computer afterwords…. o.o

Ryan Dube

Hi Lindsay, I realize this might be a silly question, but did you make sure the clean it off thoroughly before you tried it again? The toothpaste can obviously get trapped in the scratches so thoroughly cleaning it off well after the buffing is an important step!

Reply

Andrew

Could you also use a piece of very fine sand paper? (like 1000 grit?)

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