It’s been a hard day. You want to sit down and immerse yourself in some visual narrative. You want to help yourself to a healthy dose of cinematic entertainment. In other words, you want to watch a movie!
You slide in the disc, thumb the remote and….nothing – your player can’t read it. Or, worse, you get halfway through the film and the DVD freezes. Chances are that your viewing pleasure has be sabotaged by something as innocuous as a scratch.
Before you give up and turn to the bottle as an alternative pathway to oblivion, though, read the tips below – they might just salvage your evening.
A DVD is basically a layer of reflective foil on which the information your DVD player reads is encoded. This is sandwiched between two layers of plastic, one of which is clear. As the disc spins in your player, a laser shines through the transparent layer of plastic, bounces off the reflective foil into a sensor and is then decoded into the signal which is sent to your TV.
When DVDs won’t play properly it is almost always the protective transparent layer that is at fault. Scratches here deflect the laser beam and prevent it from reading the information contained on the reflective foil.
If the source information (the reflective foil) is indeed undamaged, then removing the scratch from the transparent layer should allow your DVD to play again.
Types of Scratches
A note on scratches: a DVD player reads a disc by travelling along a spiral, starting at the centre of the disc and moving out towards its edge. Scratches that ray out from the centre of the disc towards the edge therefore cut across only a small portion of the spiral during each revolution. Scratches that follow the direction of the spiral will cover a far greater portion of the spiral per revolution.
If the scratches on your disc are of the latter kind, they will cause a much greater interruption to the flow of information between disc and player and my prove impossible to fix. If your scratches ray out from the centre, though, the following methods may be able to reduce them to the point where the DVD will play again.
The Bathroom Cabinet Method
Place a small dab of toothpaste on the scratch and rub gently with a soft cloth. The toothpaste needs to be of the white, opaque sort, not the clear gel type. The abrasive material in this toothpaste will remove minute amounts of the transparent plastic layer and so reduce the depth of the scratch. Rinse with cold water and dry, again with a soft cloth. Don’t be tempted to use paper towels as these can cause more scratches than they remove.
As toothpaste is a very mild polishing agent, this method is only useful for very light scratches.
For deeper scratches, a stronger abrading agent is required. Brass polish is a good choice. Apply with a soft cloth as above. With most DVD polishing methods, it is best to stroke straight out from the centre of the disc towards its edge, rather than moving as you would when cleaning an old vinyl LP. This will avoid creating surface spiralling which could mislead the laser.
Rinse with cold water and dry.
The Automotive Approach
For a really heavy duty method of attack you can try 3000 grit sandpaper. This super-fine sandpaper is commonly used for buffing scratches out of car paintwork, but you can use it on DVDs too, if you’re careful.
Place the disc on a flat surface and hold it stable. Applying only very light pressure, use the sandpaper to polish out the scratch. With this method you can use a circular polishing motion. Work slowly, checking your progress regularly – you don’t want to wear away too much of the plastic.
You’ll notice that the surface of the DVD becomes dull and hazed. Don’t worry, the next step should fix this.
Place several drops of automotive polishing compound (the same stuff you’d polish your car with before waxing) on the disc and using a soft, preferably micro-fibre, cloth buff the surface until it is clear and shiny again.
Rinse or wipe clean with a damp cloth.
The methods above aren’t foolproof – some scratches just can’t be fixed – but with care, a gentle approach and a bit of perseverance you’ll be able to save at least some of your DVD collection.
Check out this video for more DVD scratch removal tips.