A CDROM drive partially open with a disc inside.

On October 18, 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released for the first time in the United States. By October 25 of that year, every person who owned one had experienced the frustration of a game that just wouldn’t run properly. Each and every person powered down the system, removed the cartridge, blew into it, and then blew into their system. In a world before the Internet, how did we know this action would result in superior game play? Just more proof that humans are more connected on a psychic level than everyone thinks.

We’ve come a long way since blowing into cartridges. Cartridges gave way to more cartridges and then ultimately to CD-ROMs. When that happened, blowing into systems to clean them out went the way of the dodo . . . or did it?

Cleaning a CD-ROM Drive (Without Taking it Apart)

  1. laptop screenHow do I know when my CD-ROM drive needs cleaning? Let us discuss some of the symptoms of a CD-ROM drive that needs cleaning. One symptom is that it’s not working. This is a symptom for other things as well, but cleaning your CD-ROM drive might do the trick. Another symptom is the drive is having a hard time reading a disc. A third symptom is a profusion of weird noise while the drive attempts to read a disc or even just when you close your empty drive. A fourth is if your disc skips quite a bit (though that might be the disc, in which case check out How to Clean a CD. These are just a few of the more common symptoms that might necessitate cleaning your CD-ROM drive. The bottom line is this: If your CD-ROM drive isn’t working right, clean it first. If that doesn’t work, clean it again. If THAT doesn’t work, there’s a good chance there is some other issue than a dirty CD-ROM lens, and you may need to call your local Geek Squad.
  2. can of compressed airWhat do I need to clean my CD-ROM drive? Okay, in spite of my alluring and engaging question in the introduction, DO NOT blow into the CD-ROM drive. Your breath contains moisture that can cause MORE issues than what you have right now—like rendering your CD-ROM drive unsusable ever again. Not what you want. But your idea is close, and the answer is very simple: compressed air. You can buy cans of compressed air at most places that sell electronics and computers, as compressed air is used to clean keyboards and computer towers (and to annoy coworkers and cats).
  3. open cd trayHow do I prep my CD-ROM drive for cleaning? Turn on your computer and open the drive. Then turn your computer off again, leaving the CD tray open. (I should note here that it’s better for your computer to let it cycle all the way through its opening process before shutting it down again. But do as you like.) Remove any disc you may have in the drive before proceeding.
  4. canned air in the driveHow do I clean my CD-ROM drive? Put the red straw-like attachment into the nozzle of the compressed air can. If you have a laptop, place it on the edge of a table with the CD-ROM drive hanging off the edge (indicated in the top half of the picture). Holding the air can perpendicular to the floor (meaning upright—note the bottom half of the picture. It’s unwise to tip or tilt the air can while using it as the gasses that allow for compression can shoot out and this can damage your drive). Insert the end of the red straw-like attachment into the slot and pull the trigger while moving the straw from one end of the slot to the other. Do this two or three times to your satisfaction and then turn on your computer and test the drive.
  5. geek squad logoWhat do I do if that didn’t work? Some videos and “helpful” sites would advocate that you take your CD-ROM drive apart. DON’T DO IT. In many cases, performing this action can invalidate your warranty and even if that isn’t the case for you, you run the risk of permanently damaging your CD-ROM drive. So what can you do instead? You can call the store or contact the website where you purchased your computer and ask for advice. If your computer is still under warranty there is usually a phone number included in the warranty paperwork that you can call in the event of something like this. Best Buy’s Geek Squad is a helpful resource as well. You can check out their website or call their hotline at 1-800-GEEKSQUAD (1-800-433-5778). Whatever you choose, explain that you tried to clean your CD-ROM drive and it still isn’t working. They should be able to offer you ideas on the next course of action.
  6. Some Advice On Cleaning a CD-ROM
  7. A CD-ROM is a fairly delicate piece of machinery, so take good care of it. Cleaning it before any symptoms develop is not a bad idea. Use the compressed air wisely and well—it’s a good product for what it does but it has some properties that can be harmful to you and your computer. Don’t throw it in the trash once it’s empty. Many compressed air cans contain toxic and hazardous chemicals and therefore you should take the empty can to a hazardous waste disposal facility. Do a Google search or check out www.Earth911.com to find a facility near you.

Cleaning CD-ROM Drive Alternatives

OptiDisc Laser Lens CleanerMemorex CD/DVD OptiDisc Laser Lens Cleaner.This is a laser lens cleaner I picked up from Target for ten bucks. I called a few computer manufacturers and retail outlets that sell computers, as well as the Geek Squad. They all said that if compressed air didn’t do the trick then a standard laser lens cleaner would. I then used it on my CD-ROM drive in my tower (I’d used the compressed air method on my laptop) and it worked beautifully. Just follow the directions included in the packaging and you should be golden. You can order the Memorex Lens Cleaner from Amazon.

About the Author

Adam Gottfried