Technology Explained

How to Repair Damaged CDs or DVDs and Recover Data

Christian Cawley Updated 25-09-2019

Optical media is fragile. A few scratches here and there and your CDs and DVDs can easily become coasters on your table. I have had plenty of them myself.


Let’s look at some of the ways to repair damaged CDs and DVDs and recover data from those scratched discs. These tips will also work on game discs for popular consoles, karaoke discs, and more.

Anatomy of an Optical Disc

Before learning how to repair a damaged CD or DVD, it’s worth learning how optical discs work. You might know that a small laser reads data from the CD (which is why we use the term “optical disc”) but how is the disc constructed?

Can you fix a scratched DVD?
Image Credit: Mac Morrison/Flickr

In general, an optical disc is a sandwich. While the design differs depending on whether it is a CD, DVD, Blu-ray, or a derivative, the principle is consistent. A layer of aluminum (or similar material) is sandwiched between two layers of polycarbonate plastic. On one side, you’ll find the label, while the other side is clear.

The plastic protects the data and helps to focus the laser, which reads the data from the aluminum layer.


Scratches in the plastic layer are usually what cause CDs and DVDs to fail.

Two Types of CD/DVD Scratches

Scratches on optical media generally come in two broad types: perpendicular, and those that run along the grooves.

  • Perpendicular scratches: these run from the center to the edge of the disc. They’re bad, but not the worst.
  • Circular scratches: these are more damaging, running along the spiral.

Perpendicular scratches are usually not so bad as the laser can jump over the scratch and continue reading. However, concentric scratches are more devastating, potentially causing bigger jumps or even resulting in the disc being unreadable.

If your CD or DVD has more circular scratches, the chances of recovering data are small. Fortunately, several DIY options are available to you for repair.


5 Ways to Repair a CD or DVD

Some hands-on methods have been discovered to help repair scratched CDs and DVDs. Note that these fixes are not guaranteed. Similarly, if you should have success, it is advisable to close the disc immediately. The fix typically won’t last long-term.

  1. Clean the disc using a soft lint-free cloth and a dab of warm water and mild detergent. This is the most reliable fix, as it is the most common. You wouldn’t believe how much trouble greasy hands and food residue can cause!
  2. Fill scratches with toothpaste. Certain substances can fill the gaps caused by scratching and when polished enable the laser to read the data from the disc.
  3. Soften scratches with heat from a 60W lightbulb. If you have access to an incandescent 60W bulb, exposing the scratched disc to the heat can soften the plastic a little, potentially enabling the data to be read.
  4. Fill the scratch with a wax-based product. Lip balm, shoe polish, and other wax-based products can fill the scratch in much the same way as toothpaste.
  5. Cover holes in the data layer with pen and tape. Not all discs are damaged by scratches. Where holes have perforated the data layer, cover these with tape and a dark pen to ensure the disc can be read.

For more details on each of these, check our guide to fixing scratched DVDs with toothpaste Can You Fix a Scratched CD With Toothpaste? Here's How! Need to play a scratched disc and can't? Here's how to fix a scratched DVD or CD with toothpaste and other household items. Read More and other household items.

Tips to Recover Data From a Damaged CD/DVD

Running into trouble recovering data from your damaged optical disc? Try these tips:

  • Use a CD/DVD writer rather than a reader. Writers are generally more precise and can see the tracks better.
  • Where possible, attempt recovery on the same drive that was used to create the disc. Chances of success have been found to increase if you use the same drive or at least the same manufacturer.
  • Unable to read the data with your operating system? It’s time to employ some recovery tools.

Additionally, be forward-looking with your recovery. If it happened once, it could again.


How to Recover Data From a Damaged CD/DVD

In some cases, you may need to use an optical disc recovery tool to help back up the disc contents.

Many software utilities are available for this, but most are out of date, rarely updated, and typically don’t work. The reason? Well, few people use CDs and DVDs these days. Games may ship on DVD and Blu-ray, but digital versions are typically available too. Few people use optical media for storage.

So, what are your options? Well, it depends on your operating system.

Recover Damaged CDs and DVDs in Windows

Recovering data from a scratched CD or DVD in Windows isn’t easy. One good option is IsoBuster, which can create a byte-by-byte copy of your disc’s contents.


Download: IsoBuster (Free trial | $30 for Pro version)

However, you may prefer to use Roadkil’s Unstoppable Copier utility. Our detailed guide to Unstoppable Copier will help you back up your scratched DVD on Windows How to Read Scratched CDs or DVDs in Windows Do you have scratched discs that your computer can't read? Don't despair! Here's how to read scratched CDs and DVDs in Windows. Read More .

Download: Unstoppable Copier (Free)

Read and Backup a Scratched DVD on macOS

The simplest option on macOS is to use the Disk Utility tool to clone the fixed optical disc. This archives it as a disk image on your computer.

Open Disk Utility, select the disc in the left-hand pane, then File > New Image. Follow the steps to name the DVD file, select a save location, then Save to start the backup.

Once done, you’ll be able to mount the disc image without requiring the physical disc.

Recover Data from a Scratched Disc in Linux

Like Windows, you can try Unstoppable Copier for Linux, available from the same link.

You can also try ddrescue. This command line tool offers many options covering all types of storage media.

Download: GNU ddrescue (Free)

Fix and Recover Data From Those Damaged DVDs

Whether you used toothpaste or found some other way to make the disc readable, you’ll be pleased it works. But how long will this moment of success last?

It’s worth considering some general tips going forward:

  • Once recovery is successful, immediately backup the contents and/or create an ISO copy of the disc.
  • Always use high quality optical media.
  • Take good care of your CDs

For the best results, we recommend taking advantage of the low price of hard disk storage and cloning the discs as ISO files. These can be archived until needed, then either mounted as virtual discs or burned to fresh media.

Trouble with storage devices? Here’s how to repair a dead hard disk drive and recover your data How to Repair a Dead Hard Disk Drive to Recover Data If your hard disk drive has failed, this guide will help you with the hard disk drive's repair and data recovery. Read More . Or if your entire computing needs fixing, here’s how to repair a PC cheaply.

Image Credit: Asiorek/Depositphotos

Related topics: CD-DVD Tool, CD-Rom, Data Recovery, Troubleshooting.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Defiant Lion
    December 16, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Where did you copy this article from, where everybody else also copied & paste this work from & sent if for a easy Money! You still didn't answer you unoriginal criminal. Why don't you do some real work & stop repeating what we already know! DUMBASS !

  2. Peter John Mensing
    January 10, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Hello! I own a national media recovery business. I restore media for public and other types of libraries all over the nation. I enjoy reading articles like this one and I am always willing to offer whatever knowledge my company has gained over the past decade and a half in order to keep people smiling everywhere. So here goes. This is the best order I have found, going by experience, BUT FIRST, before anything else, WE MUST have a good understanding of how CD's work. It's important! OK?
    A CD has digital info on it (ok, I know you knew that!) but check this, even though it sort of looks like a baby record, it's not. In other words, The data is written on a CD in tiny short strips. It's NOT like a record groove on a music record. Not at all, in fact, the beginning of a CD goes from the center OUT, the opposite of a vinyl music record.
    It also spins at many different speeds depending its current read status.
    When a laser writes to these, it burns a spot. that spot looks different than a spot that is not "burned". So that is how it is read, whatever the series of burnt and not burnt equate to forms bytes
    That burnt or not surface is a layer that is very thin in the middle of the CD's thickness
    The problem we have is the plastic gets too messed up for the reader to determine what that thin layer looks like through the messed up plastic.
    So here's what you do. You must carefully remove the surface abrasions like this article says, but there is more to it than that. It is quite similar to sanding fine furniture except even way super more sensitive
    When you remove surface from a CD (this is really important), it MUST be removed evenly throughout the entire surface of the CD. This is something that is extremely difficult to do by hand because when doing it by hand, we cannot consistently regulate the amount of pressure being applied accurately enough to remove the bad surface evenly enough. Well, some of us can do it somewhat, but if you have deep gouges in the CD, what you will need is a surface removing tool in order to be successful to go deeper toward that reflective layer where the data is read.
    Another problem arises from all this surface removal folks! Eventually the CD become extremely unstable and you cannot spin it at anywhere near normal RPM. If you do, when enough surface is removed, the CD will shatter. It will not hold up. A good hint is if it begins to crack from the center out. Then what is needed is a special reader where the operator can control the spindle speed of the CD to keep it from coming apart.
    It can get so sensitive that we can no longer even touch the CD, no less spin it. We have special reading devices that can look at the CD when it is just laying on its back per se.
    If you have important data you MUST recover, consider going to a computer store and purchasing a surface removal tool. The slower you remove the material, the better. You can then carefully take the disc to Best Buy and tell them you just need the disc copied, that it has been resurfaced beyond the ability of normal reading and needs to be read starting at the slowest speed possible and increase the speed until there is a read error or no greater than 62.5 RPM. They will charge for the service, but you needed that data! right?
    That is about your most successful route to make it happen.

    Can I just add one more thing for you nice people? Patience. You really got to have quite a bit. Take your time. The easier you go on the CD, the better your chances of it surrendering the data that's on it.

    Thanks for reading this. I sure hope it helps, and I think you got what it takes to make it happen.
    Peace to all.

  3. rmdin
    December 5, 2017 at 8:29 am

    I have another way to get data back from old scratched DVDs - WinX DVD Copy Pro. This is a DVD backup solution that can transfer your data of old scratched discs to a new blank one or convert them to digital files for saving on computer or other storage devices.

    As for completely ruined DVDs, we once made them into small pieces and created a photo frame. It's beautiful.

  4. Abhijit Sen
    September 13, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Thank you so much. Roadkil Unstoppable Copier works great.

  5. vinay
    March 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    i bought gta 5 pc and now my disk 1 is installing

  6. anshul
    January 4, 2016 at 11:05 am

    i just bought gta 5 DVD set and 3 disk is not working

  7. Big installer
    February 8, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Thanx for article! I have one damaged CD with a lot images, and I can recover them, but I'm used other tool named Max Data Recovery.

  8. Stuart
    November 21, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Anybody got any ideas how I can repair the CENTRE part of a DVD ??....I have one of family when we were young, which is priceless, but now so badly damaged I cannot play it...It's not badly scratched but the centre of the disk is just a mess!

  9. Blake
    October 3, 2009 at 6:16 am

    I have a few DVD movies that are totally screwed up and at a certain chapter, it just freezes and skips to the next part. I tried every DVD repair technique and they still won't work! The movies I own that are messed up are The Mummy, Godzilla 2000, The Thing and Bruce Almighty. Please let me know if you have any suggestions on what I should do. Thank you

    • CharleyO
      September 27, 2019 at 7:32 am

      I just checked SantaClara Library syatem and they are all availble for borrowing.
      Or, search ebay for them - you can buy them cheap!

  10. Rajesh
    June 2, 2009 at 6:28 am

    really awesome software,, thank you for sharing ,,if possible keep touch wid my site too..

  11. Tyler
    May 31, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    What about Blue ray disc's?

  12. Vinod
    May 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

    My son has literally damaged the DVD disc, all their Memory fotos had been copied on to that disc, please suggest me some solution as to how to retirve that data back .


  13. Mohit
    April 13, 2009 at 2:21 am

    Generally using spirit will do the good job.

  14. nfhiggs
    January 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Rubbing compound or jewelers rouge should work as well as Brasso to polish out scratches. The risky thing here is you can polish too much of the plastic away in one spot and unbalance the disk. Unbalanced disks can shatter in a drive.

    December 28, 2008 at 1:16 am

    A TERM THAT MEANS The major varieties of Shuriken are the Bō Shuriken (棒手裏剣, Stick Shuriken) and the Hira Shuriken (平手裏剣, Flat Shuriken), or Shaken (車剣, also read as Kurumaken, Wheel Shuriken).

    • mrintech
      December 28, 2008 at 6:28 am

      WTF! What you wanna say??? :O

      BTW Really nice article. I will try this. Got a plethora of dirt covered cd's and dvd's

  16. absurdist
    December 27, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Pledge or other liquid furniture polish also works well as a last resort. Spray it on, wipe the disk so only a thin film remains, and often it will fill in the scratches enough to enable you to peel the data off.

  17. will
    December 27, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    you can also use a banana peel. just clean the disk, then rub the peel everywhere, then clean it off with a wet cloth. I did it with a scratched up COD4 disk and it started working perfectly.

    • Varun Kashyap
      December 28, 2008 at 3:46 am

      Yeah, I have heard about banana peel being used for similar purposes but never tried it.
      Good you got your disc back, hopefully you backed it up by now.

  18. Monica
    December 27, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I like the other uses of a disc.. :)