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How to Fix or Tune up a CD or DVD Drive and Maintain it in Top Condition

by Robert Seth on July 5, 2011

CD and DVD drives are high precision devices that need occasional maintenance to stay in top shape.  In this article we talk about how they work and what to do to keep yours at its best.

Have you ever slipped a CD or DVD into your computer or DVR drive only to get lots of noise but no action?  I’m pretty sure this has happened to most of us.  When it does happen it’s easy to assume the drive is broken.  This is often not the case though.  The problem is usually that the drive is just dirty. It takes a surprisingly small amount of dirt to cripple a CD or DVD drive.  Before we look at how to clean one, let’s take a look at why it’s so easy to mess one up in the first place.

 

 

The photo on top is of a typical CD/DVD drive reading mechanism.  The critical part that we’re concerned about is the little blue object inside the red circle.  This is a tiny lens.  The penny on the bottom is provided for a size comparison.

A laser beam is used to read the information on the disk.  The beam is reflected off the disk and then passes through this lens when the drive is reading information.  The lens is supposed to keep the beam in focus at all times by varying the distance between the disk surface and itself.

This laser beam and the information it must read are very small.  Let me give you an idea of just how small.  The data on a DVD is arranged in a spiral shaped track.  The track has approximately 50,000 complete turns and is almost 39,000 feet long!

In order to fit that long of a track on a disk, the width of the track is only .4 microns.  A micron is really, really small!  A human hair is about 25 microns.  That means it would take about 62 tracks to equal the width of a human hair.  So you can see (actually you can’t because it’s so small) how small all this stuff is.

With the information on the disk being so tiny, the laser has to be controlled and focused very precisely.  That’s where our dust and dirt comes in.  It only takes a little bit of dust on the lens, in just the right place, to get in the way of the beam.  This causes it to become out of focus making it much more difficult to read the information correctly.

If it becomes too out of focus, it will not be able to read the disk at all.  The drive will just spin and make noise as it tries every way it can to read the data.  So if your drive is working poorly, or not at all, there’s a good chance that it’s only dirty and not really broken. 

Let’s look at a couple of different ways to clean the dust off and bring your drive to practically new condition.

The first method is fairly simple and straightforward.  It’s also pleasantly inexpensive.  It involves nothing more than a can of compressed air!


The little straw attached to the nozzle of these cans is perfect for getting into tight places.  If your drive is a drawer type, make sure it’s open when you clean it.  If it’s the kind that sucks the disk in through a slot, just insert the straw a little ways into the slot.  Make sure there is no disk in the drive before doing this.

Move the straw back and forth, and in and out, as you press the trigger to blow in the air.  Do this fairly quickly as the liquid in the can will soon become quite cold and lose its pressure.  If this happens, you will need to let the can warm up again before continuing.

Be very careful to keep the can upright.  If you turn it sideways or upside down you can blow pure liquid coolant into the drive or get it on yourself.  This is not good for the computer or you.  The liquid is usually carbon dioxide and is cold enough to cause instant frostbite.  It can also cause electronic parts to malfunction or crack if their temperature goes from warm to freezing in an instant.  

I find that this method works very well most of the time.  How well it works for you will depend on how dirty the lens has  become.  Sometimes there’s just too much dirt to blow it all away.  After using this method try playing a CD or DVD to see if the problem has been fixed.

If the blower method does not work, you can try the cleaner-disk method.  A cleaner disk looks like a regular disk except it has little microfiber brushes on it that stick straight up off the surface of the disk.  They look like a bunch of tiny little eyelashes.

Memorex CD/DVD-Player Laser-Lens Cleaner


(For more information, or to purchase this item, click on the image).

As the disk turns in the drive, these little brushes hit the lens surface and clean the dust off.  Kind of like when you use a feather duster to dust the stuff in your house.  Cleaner disks sometimes come with a little tube of cleaner that helps remove the dust and also neutralizes static so dust does not stick so easily.

To use the disk, simply insert it into the drive and follow the instructions on the screen.  Even if your drive won’t read a disk, the brushes will begin to clean the lens as soon as the drive begins to spin.  It may take a few minutes, but eventually the instructions should come up on the screen. 

There will usually be several different cleaning cycles to choose from.  In addition to instructions, it may also have music for you to enjoy while the disk is doing it’s job.  The computer will tell you when the cleaning is done.  Just remove the disk and hopefully your drive will be good as new.

In all the years I’ve been working on computers, I have rarely seen these two methods fail. Disk drives do wear out occasionally but not very often.  It’s usually the ones inside hard-core gaming machines that fail on a regular basis.  Regular business and home machines are more likely to fail from dust buildup because of disuse than from wearing out.

I have had many drives that I’ve moved from machine to machine as I’ve rebuilt them every couple of years.  Usually if they are retired it’s because more advanced technology becomes available.  Not because they break.

If these two methods don’t work, try checking the cables inside the computer.  One of them may be loose.

Another thing to try before assuming the drive is dead is rebooting the computer.

Lastly, it’s possible that the disk you’re trying to use might be damaged.  Try several different disks before giving up and replacing the drive. 

If you do find that one of your disks is scratched, check this article that I wrote on removing scratches for an inexpensive and very easy way to repair it.  This repair will only work for scratches though.  If the disk is cracked, warped, or otherwise seriously damaged, it will need to be replaced.


There is one other thing I should mention here.  There are other high precision parts inside a CD/DVD drive beside the lens.  Another place that dust and dirt can cause a problem is in the tracking mechanism which moves the lens across the disk.  This tracking mechanism is more robust than the lens so it can take more dirt and abuse before it fails.

The two things that will cause it to fail are a very large buildup of dust, or extreme physical abuse.  If too much dust is allowed to build up, it can get packed into various places inside the drive.  This can prevent the reading mechanism from being able to move to either the extreme beginning or ending point on the disk.

In cases like this, even though there is nothing really wrong with the drive, it is not usually financially practical to fix.  It involves removing the drive, disassembling it, and removing the obstructing dust buildup.  If you have a professional do this for you it will probably cost more than a new drive.

If you are a do-it-yourself type though you might want to give it a try.  All you have to lose is an already dead drive.  It’s also a great learning experience so you can see what’s involved for yourself.  Besides, you might actually fix it and not need to spend the money for a new one after all.

The moral of the story is to maintain your equipment.  It’s a good idea to get a can of air and a cleaner disk and use them once a week or so.  By keeping the dust cleaned out on a regular basis, your drives should last many years and possibly longer than the computer. 

If you have enjoyed this article please click the “like” button.  Also consider joining me on Facebook by clicking the “like” button in the “Find us on Facebook” box in the left sidebar.

Now it’s your turn.  If you have something to add or know of other good tips for keeping drives in top condition, I’d love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment so everyone can benefit.

Thanks for visiting!


Robert Seth is a CPA in the Clark County, Washington area who has been serving individual and small business clients for the last 25 years.  His business includes a growing number of remotely serviced customers throughout the United States. He’s also a writer and technology expert.  He has a passion for improving the lives of others by helping them simplify the complicated stuff in their lives. 


 

 

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Samy July 10, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Hi Robert, Thanks for all the information provided ,It,s very helpful .
But the problem I have is a bit critical , mistake I made was to clean the lens with a multi LCD screen and lens cleaning cloth , The CD lens drop out ,Try to fix it but player is not reading ( no disc ) What next step to make with this problem . Your kind advice please .

brgs Samy

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Robert Seth July 20, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Hi Samy, Sorry to hear about your problem. I have not tried to put a lens back in once it fell out. They are very precise and my thought is that it won’t work because it would be pretty difficult to get it back exactly where it was. Since the alternative is to dispose of the player, I would suggest cleaning the lens and putting it back in a few more times to make sure it’s not dirty (like with fingerprints). If that doesn’t work you’ll probably need to purchase a new player.

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James April 13, 2014 at 6:22 am

I am having a problem with a home music CD player (Sony, mount under kitchen cabinet type) – when the disk is first put in, it plays just fine, but if the track advance button is pressed, the player sounds like its hunting for the next track but never finds it. Any suggestions? thank you.

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Robert Seth June 5, 2014 at 10:17 am

Hi James, Have you tried letting a CD play all the way to the end? Track advance should do the same thing the player is doing as it plays. If a CD plays through just fine but the track advance doesn’t work, I’d say there’s something wrong with that feature. This is probably not something you can fix at home.

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John V April 5, 2013 at 8:34 am

I have tried cleaning my automobile (OEM- GM-CD/Player but still will not suck in cd’s. there is not a drawer and one day it got stuck inside. After carefully getting it out it will not operate anymore. Do you think something is wrong with the drive mechanism? Please help?

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Robert Seth April 5, 2013 at 9:02 am

Hi John, thanks for your question. First I would try a different CD. Sometimes they have defects that cause them to not work correctly. I would use a blank CD so if it gets stuck you won’t lose anything valuable. Also, try pushing the eject button to make sure there isn’t a CD in there already. If none of this works, I suggest either making a quick trip to the dealer to see if they can do anything for you for free, or just replacing the unit. I don’t know where you live but if you have a Car Toys nearby, you’d be amazed at some of the cool and fun units you can put into your car. I hope this was helpful. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with. Also, if you haven’t signed up for our free video course on how to tune up your computer, I highly recommend it. you can find it here

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Wotty November 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for this information. I will try this.

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rich b October 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Addendum to my first post: I didn’t mention it but the drive is a SATA and there was no physical damage to the mechanical operation, I.E. the tray and motor. It just quit reading my disks so I’m assuming it’s a laser reading problem. Thank you again Robert. You’ve been officially bookmarked.

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Robert Seth December 8, 2012 at 12:31 am

I’m glad the post was helpful. I hope you got your problem resolved. I’d be interested to hear what you eventually decided to do. Thanks for visiting and for your feedback…much appreciated!

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rich b October 19, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Excellent article. My problem is more serious. On Father’s Day my Wife got me a new DVD Burner/Drive and a week later a disk exploded in the drive. Lots and lots of little bits of disk pieces subsequently found a new home. After taking the drive completely apart I now have to clean and hopefully repair it. I am using alcohol as a cleaning agent and canned compressed air. I don’t know how successful this will be but I’m too much of a cheapskate to just toss a week old drive in the trash. Any helpful suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.

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Robert Seth December 8, 2012 at 12:29 am

Disks exploding in the drive can cause a lot of damage that may not be physically visible. things like breaking connections and knocking things out of alignment. The alignment is so crucial in those drives that if it’s messed up, it can render the drive useless.

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Invader X October 18, 2012 at 8:52 am

Thank you for taking your time to help, Robert. The reason I asked about windows and an external drive was because there was a time my hard disk crashed and if that were to happen again, I needed to be sure that an external hard drive would help, but from what you’re saying, I should get an internal one for such a situation because there will be no windows to install drivers. So first I’ll get an internal one and then an external one. Thank you.

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Invader X October 18, 2012 at 4:26 am

Thanks for your reply, Seth. I only mentioned DVDs because I don’t use CDs but I tried one and it can’t read them as well. I have decided to buy a new drive but I have questions: If I buy an external one and I need to reinstall a fresh copy of windows will there be issues? I am assuming that windows has to install the device drivers before it is recognized but if there’s no windows will the laptop still be able to boot from that external drive? And are internal drives brand specific or can any brand work? (Do I have to use a HP drive for a HP laptop?)

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Robert Seth October 18, 2012 at 7:42 am

First of all, any external drive should work. If you need to reinstall Windows, just make sure you do it while the old Windows is still installed. In other words, just pop the disk in while Windows is running and tell it you want to reinstall. The drivers will remain in memory while the hard drive is reformatted (if you choose to reformat). If you can afford it, I would recommend replacing the internal and getting an external. That way you can use the external most of the time, not wear out the internal, and have the internal available when necessary. I hope this helps and thanks for commenting!

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Invader X October 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm

My 1 yr. old laptop drive has been having a hard time reading disks lately e.g when I paused a movie for more than 2 min it wouldn’t be able to resume. My solution was to eject and close the drive and then it would play. Tired of doing that, I took a soft cloth, dipped it in home dry cleaner and wiped the lens. I’ve done this before and it always worked but this time when I put any DVD in the drive, it lights up, starts making sounds for around two seconds like its reading and then suddenly it goes silent. What do you think the problem is here?

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Robert Seth October 17, 2012 at 9:10 pm

It’s hard to say what the problem is without being able to physically look at it. It may not have been a good idea with the dry cleaner as sometimes these lenses have special coatings that help them focus the laser more precisely. It could be that this coating got damaged. It’s also possible that a residue was left behind that is blurring the laser. And, of course, it’s possible that your drive is just worn out. They are being made more and more poorly as time goes on. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

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mike October 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm

The problem I am having is my car cd/dvd player. It plays DVD’s fine but it will only play my CD’s about 20 seconds than they quit, and it doesnt matter what CD I put in, it still only plays about 20 secconds and quits. But I can watch a whole DVD movie with no problems. Any help would be really greatfull on this situation, Mike

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Robert Seth October 17, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Kind of odd that it plays DVD’s but not CD’s. Usually it’s the other way around. I would try cleaning it anyway. Make sure to get either canned air or some source of air that is under a fair amount of pressure and blow it into the drive. This can also dislodge dust that prevents the drive head from moving properly. It is common for laptop drives to wear out pretty fast. So if nothing works, I would recommend either a new internal, or an external that plugs into a usb port. They can be had for very reasonable prices.

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Joyce Grace September 22, 2012 at 7:20 am

I will definitely try this and let you know how it works. Thanks for the article.

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Robert Seth September 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm

An air compressor would work, but you need to be careful not to blow moisture into the drive. Canned air is under considerably lower pressure and contains no water vapor. If your compressor has a water trap then you would probably be okay.

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Jessica September 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Okay, thank you!

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Jessica September 8, 2012 at 5:46 am

Thank you for this tutorial! Our laptop’s cd/dvd drive doesn’t work and I’m wondering if this isn’t the problem :) Would using an air compressor work for blowing out the dust? or is it better to buy the canned air?

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Jandi Theis July 7, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Thank you for this info… great to know!!!

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Lori July 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Great info Robert and I love the new pic!

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Margaret Sullivan July 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

This is so helpful. My neighbor’s DVD player just bit the dust the other night. I’d love to save another piece of equipment from the landfill, so I’ll give these suggestions a try this week. THANKS!

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Tami Gomez July 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I LOVE these tips! Thank you Robert! :D

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Jody Calkins July 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Thanks for the post, Robert! It’s amazing the things we can fix on our own if we just search the Internet and find sites like yours!

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Olga Hermans July 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Robert, you give such a great advice and you are so detailed. I am thinking I don’t know anybody like you….just very good! Thank you very much!

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Paul Crowson July 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Awesome information Robert…thanks, I never knew how simple it was to clean, I thought it was broken because it was too complicated! I like your picture too!!!

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Pat July 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Wow. That post has a lot of great information in it. I will get out the air can and clean up the CD player in my car. Lately some discs not working as smoothly as they should.

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