Fixing Damaged CDs and DVDs

Whats worse than watching a good Netflix Movie that’s getting to a really suspenseful part and suddenly the screen stops.. The beach-ball appears.. Then DVD Player quits and says the disc is scratched or unreadable. You re-insert the movie and scan to the part, only to find out you’re going to miss about 5 minutes of the scene, if you’re lucky. Sometimes the disc is so bad, you just need to send it back.

Thats great with Netflix but what happens if the movie is one of yours? What if its so bad, OS X won’t even give it the time of day, ejecting it after a minute of spinning? What if its a CD you burned years ago? Or some software you bought? How do you fix the CD or DVD so that OS X will read it again?

Inspect the CD/DVD – Is it Dirty or Damaged?

Its important to determine if the disc is dirty or has damage. Dirty is easier to handle but behaves the same way in your player as a damaged disc. Eject the DVD and examine it in good lighting.

A dirty disc will have smudges, fingerprints, spots, dried liquids or some other soiling on it. It will look different than scratches, cracks and gouges which indicate damage. Sometimes discs are both dirty and damaged. We’ll deal with cleaning a dirty disc first, then move on to the damage.

Cleaning a Dirty Disc:

A dirty disc full of fingerprints can be wiped off with a nice microfiber cloth. Anything safe for eyeglasses or your LCD monitor is safe for CDs and DVDs. The important part to remember is to always wipe from center to edge, in a straight line. Never rub a CD or DVD in circles, or any other direction other than straight from center to edge, you will make it worse if you do.

Some discs are too dirty that the simple rub isn’t enough. Netflix recommends spraying their DVDs with window cleaner and wiping it off (center to edge only). Other sites around the web advocate washing the shiny side with warm water and a drop of dish soap. If you do use any cleaning products, just make sure they’re not abrasive. The main takeaway from this section, whatever method you use, is to always clean from center to edge in a straight line.

If cleaning the DVD doesn’t help any – or makes it better but not 100%, read on…

Ripping a Damaged Disc:

I’m bringing up ripping a damaged disc before attempting to repair for two reasons.

1. Commercial CDs often contain error correction. Ripping them might easily extract their data so they may be re-burned, without dealing with the hassle of repairing them.

2. There’s always the chance you might make things worse by “fixing” it. Save yourself the headache.

Audio CDs:

Hands down, the easiest way to rip an Audio CD is to just let iTunes do it. Open iTunes and insert the Audio CD. iTunes should automatically access the Gracenote database to get track listings and disc information. If it doesn’t, click “Advanced” at the top and select “Get CD Track Names”. Then if iTunes doesn’t automatically ask you if you want to import the CD, highlight the CD in the sidebar to the left and click “Import”. iTunes will automatically rip your Audio CD according to your settings.

By default they will be in AAC format. I would suggest changing this to using the WAV encoder for Actual CD Quality, especially if you’re trying to replace a damaged CD. To do this, open iTunes Preferences and under the “General” tab, click on “Import Settings…” While you’re at it, make sure the “Use error correction when reading Audio CDs” button is checked. A severely damaged disc may take a while to read but this might make your disc salvageable.

Data CDs / DVDs:

Home-made CD-R / DVD-Rs and some commercial CD/DVD-ROMs are also easy, just load it in and copy the folders to your desktop. Then re-create and burn the CD / DVD. One bit or warning, many commercial software CD/DVDs contain copy-protection. You’ll have to figure out how to deal with that on your own.

If it doesn’t mount and you’ve already cleaned it, try another computer. Different computers may read CDs / DVDs that other ones won’t. Some players seem to be more finicky than others when it comes to scratches. If it still won’t mount because of damage, continue on to the next section.

DVD Movies:

DVD movies are a little difficult. You can’t just pull off the files and re-burn them like a Data DVD. Like Audio CDs, they have to follow a certain standard to be played like a DVD. Its the reason why you can’t just take an iMovie project, export it and play it. You have to run through iDVD first. This is where things get dicey, especially with Commercial DVD Movies as breaking the encryption isn’t legal in certain countries. The following programs may or may not help you out:



Mac the Ripper.

Depending on the material your CD or DVD contains, this may or may not constitute piracy. We’re all adults here, use your judgement.

Repairing a Damaged Disc:

As a last resort, where nothing else has worked, you can try to repair your damaged CD or DVD. In this case you are going to need a product that will gently buff out the scratches so that your CD / DVD player’s laser doesn’t scatter, making the discs unreadable. I recommend cleaning and ripping / copying first because if you try to repair your damaged disc and it gets worse, there’s no way to reverse the damage.

Some recommended products are a polish named Optrix which is supposed to make your Audio CDs “sound better” by polishing the disc. Whether it does this or not, the polish is great for filling in the scratches and getting unreadable discs to work again.

Another product is the Audiovox DVD/CD/Game Disc Scratch Repair Kit. According to the reviews at the bottom of the Amazon page, it seems to work best with lightly scratched discs. Anything seriously messed up might not work with this.

Another common tip on the internet is to use Regular White Toothpaste or Brasso to buff out the scratch, however please note these products are abrasive and it you rub too much, you’re going to create new scratches.

Once you have the product of your choice, apply a small amount to the scratched area and gently buff it out. In this case, you will gently buff in small circles, like when you’re waxing a car. The key here is to gently do it. As the polish wears down the plastic, the scratch should fade. When you’re done, rinse off the disc, dry it thoroughly and put it in your CD / DVD drive. If you’re able to play the disc again, don’t just keep using it. Follow the above instructions to rip it and re-burn the disc.

If all else fails and its a seriously important disc, you’re going to need to search for professional CD repairs. Usually a music store that sells used CDs or a DVD rental place has refinishing machines that should fix you up for a few dollars.

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