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How to Clean Your Own CD or DVD Player

(and save about a few $!)

Note: This is not really how the repair shops do it, (because virtually no one would have the proper supplies at home), but it's the easiest way to do a reasonable job with what most people would have on hand. Your results won't be quite as good as a professional job, but if you do it properly, you'll do a better job than a "cleaner disk" and save yourself the cost of the disk in the process.

Q: How do I know when to clean my CD or DVD Player?
A: Generally if a CD or DVD player seems prone to skipping, can't read the TOC (number of tracks, total playing time, etc) of a disk, or it's slow to access tracks, pauses or freezes, that's an indication that it could need cleaning.
The only trouble is, those same symptoms can also mean you have a disk with excessive scratches or "pin holes". (Hold it up to the light and see if it looks like a constellation map!) It can also mean that the player's laser is weak, or the spindle motor has problems, or even that the alignment is out! It seems to me that the vast majority of CD and DVD players end up in the dump because their lasers have expired. Even the most expensive optical disk lasers are, at best, fair, and it's sad to see that manufacturers/designers who all tout their product as the best, can't seem to provide an optical disk laser with anything better than mediocre durability.

My point is that chances are cleaning is not going to provide a miracle cure, and if yours is a cheapo from a department store, the laser is probably worn out before the dust has had time to settle on it. Many cheap Wall-Mart players are barely functional right out of the box. :(

I am only going to cover the "top loader" or "door loader" type because the front loading drawer types, pack types, carousel types, and CD "jukeboxes" can be vastly different to work on. The pack and jukebox types also can have an excessive amount of mechanism to remove, making it too much for the "home mechanic". With some of those models, it can take an experienced technician about an hour to do the disassemble/reassemble procedure required to clean the lens! Besides, the top loaders are the most likely to need cleaning in the first place. The others are reasonably protected from dust. Usually my procedure can be used on most drawer type CD and DVD players because removing the top cover will reveal the player deck. Just don't get carried away removing screws, and unplug it first!!

You will need:
  1. Common Sense (very important) - stop now if you don't have it! :)
  2. Some clean cotton swabs
  3. Isopropyl alcohol, or better yet, lens cleaner from an optical store - preferably not rubbing alcohol
  4. Your grubby CD or DVD player

1. Open the top (or front) door of the disk player and make sure the player is unplugged, or turned off if it's a battery powered unit. (If you have a front loading drawer type DVD or CD player, you'll need to get a screwdriver and remove the top cover of the player. Usually it's just held on with a couple of screws.)

One of my customer's CD players
 with the door open

2. You should now be able to see the laser lens. It's the little glass "bubble" about 1/4 inch in diameter. (For you front loader owners, the lens will probably be underneath a "flapper" that holds the disk in place while it plays.) Get a bit of lens cleaner or alcohol on a cotton swab and gently brush the lens in a circular motion. The lens will seem very loose, but that's normal. Just be careful. It shouldn't take more than 10 seconds to do.

3. It will take about 10 minutes to dry enough for the laser to be able to "see". (If you wear glasses, you know it's impossible to see through a blob of water on a lens) The CD player will be non-functional until it's dried out enough. If you were very liberal with the alcohol, and even a drop spilled over into the optical assembly, it might take 20 minutes or more to dry.

If it works any better, congratulations! If not, you can try cleaning the lens again, but if the second attempt still fails, it's time to find a reputable repair shop. (Unless your machine is a department store cheapie, then just find a recycler who takes e-waste)

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This page was written with a 1984? 8088 XT, 640Kb RAM, DR-DOS, and Arachne!
Greg's Electronics
Phone: (519) 844-2442
This page updated December 3rd 2007