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Published: Saturday, 1/4/2003

Cleaning CD, DVD can work wonders

The computer tries to read data from a CD-ROM or DVD, but balks or flashes an error message.

Your favorite music CD goes haywire after playing for a few minutes, repeating words or notes like an old-fashioned record stuck in a groove.

The movie in that DVD won't play beyond the fourth chapter.

Don't pitch that shiny plastic disc before trying some simple first-aid measures.

In many cases, dirt is the culprit that keeps compact discs or digital versatile discs from playing properly. Cleaning may quickly put the disc back in working order. Small and easily repairable scratches cause many other problems.

Dust, fingerprints, smudges, and scratches on the bottom of a CD can interfere with playing just like their counterparts on eyeglass lenses interfere with seeing.

The drive mechanism in a computer or stand-alone player shines a laser beam through the clear, protective bottom coating on a CD or DVD. The beam is either reflected or not reflected off microscopic areas inside that digitally encode data.

A speck of dust, a scratch, or fingerprint can interfere with the reflection, confuse the laser, and make the playback misbehave. The problem spot may be visible. Just hold the disc at an angle in the light and eyeball the surface for smudges or scratches.

First a word of caution:

If the CD or DVD contains irreplaceable data, or data that would be very costly to replace, think twice before trying the home remedies below. It may be wiser to use a professional disc repair service. Check local computer stores or search “CD repair service” on the Internet.

Dust can be blown off a disc. Smudges require cleaning. Inexpensive cleaning kits, available in office supply and computer stores, are the best bet.

Another common method involves using a soft cloth dampened with warm water and mild detergent. Wipe gently with straight strokes from the center of the disc outward. Never wipe with a circular motion around the disc. Wipe dry with another soft cloth and the same center-to-edge motion.

Inexpensive scratch-repair kits also are available in stores.

Some people use the “toothpaste” cure for smoothing scratches. Put a small amount of toothpaste on a cloth or cotton-tipped applicator. Gently rub the scratch with straight strokes. Rinse with water to remove all the toothpaste. Then dry the disc.

Many people don't realize that the top surface of a disc also is vulnerable to damage. Scratches on the top often can't be repaired.

Prevention is the best solution.

Always handle CDs and DVDs with care. Pick them up by the edges, or with one finger on the edge and one in the center hole. Make sure your hands are clean. Place the disc carefully into the drive compartment, without sliding across the mechanism. Never bend the disc. Store in the original case.

When “burning” important CDs on your computer, always make an extra copy in case the original gets damaged.

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