How do I make a disc readable again?

Quick Answer

There are several methods you can try to make an unreadable disc readable again:

  • Clean the disc – Use a soft cloth to gently wipe dust or fingerprints off the surface of the disc.
  • Repair scratches – Lightly polish the disc with toothpaste or a disc repair kit to fix minor scratches.
  • Try it in another drive – The issue may be with your disc drive rather than the disc itself.
  • Copy the data – Use disc cloning software to extract data from the damaged disc and copy it to a new one.
  • Use data recovery software – Specialized software can help retrieve data from scratched or corrupted discs.

What Causes Discs to Become Unreadable?

There are a few common reasons why a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc may become unreadable by your computer or disc player:

Dust and Fingerprints

Dust, dirt, or oil from fingerprints on the surface of the disc can interfere with the laser beam used to read data. This can prevent your device from properly reading certain parts of the disc.


Light scratches are common on discs from normal wear and tear. Deep scratches or lots of small scratches can prevent parts of the disc from being read.

Damage to the Data Layer

CDs and DVDs have a thin layer of plastic that stores all the data. If this layer gets damaged from high heat, deep scratches, or cracks, then the data will be unreadable.

Disc Rot

CD and DVD discs can degrade naturally over time. This is called disc rot and it is caused by chemicals in the disc reacting with oxygen and moisture in the air. It can make the reflective data layer turn opaque.

Drive Issues

The problem may not be with the disc itself, but with the optical disc drive. Things like a dirty laser lens, worn-out parts, or alignment issues could prevent your drive from reading discs properly.

How to Clean Discs

If you see dirt, smudges, or fingerprints on the bottom surface of the disc, the first step is to clean it. Follow these steps:

Inspect the Disc

Look at the bottom of the disc and see if there is any visible dust, dirt, or fingerprints. Tilt the disc under a bright light to make smudges more apparent.

Use a Microfiber Cloth

Gently wipe the surface of the disc from the center outwards using a soft microfiber cloth. Do not use paper towels or tissues, which can scratch the disc.

Try a Disc Cleaner

You can use a liquid disc cleaning solution for more stubborn dirt. Apply a few drops to the microfiber cloth, not directly on the disc. Gently wipe off any haze or streaks left by the cleaner.

Never Rub in a Circular Motion

Only wipe discs radially from the center outwards. Rubbing in a circular motion can cause fine scratches.

Rinse With Water (CDs Only)

You can rinse CDs under running water if there is sticky residue or dirt that won’t come off with just a cloth. Pat dry with a microfiber towel immediately. Do not rinse DVDs or Blu-rays – just use a damp cloth.

How to Repair Light Scratches

Light scratches are common on the playing surface of discs. You can reduce the appearance of fine scratches and make discs readable using these DIY repair methods:

Try Toothpaste

Apply a small amount of regular toothpaste to a soft cotton ball or microfiber cloth. Gently rub the toothpaste onto the scratched area using radial motions. Rinse off any remaining paste with water. Toothpaste is mildly abrasive so it can polish out fine scratches.

Use a Disc Repair Kit

You can find disc repair kits at electronics stores or online that are designed to polish the plastic surface of CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays. They contain special abrasive pads and polishing compounds that can remove fine scratches and scuffs. Follow the included directions carefully.

Try Petroleum Jelly

Oddly enough, a dab of petroleum jelly can work to fill in and smooth over light scratches on discs. Use your finger to rub a tiny amount onto the scratched area using radial motions. Then wipe off the excess.

Do Not Try Sandpaper or Steel Wool

While this may seem like a quick fix for scratches, it will permanently ruin discs. Sandpaper and steel wool are much too abrasive and will damage the reflective data layer.

How to Fix an Unreadable Disc With Software

If cleaning or repair methods don’t work, your disc may have deeper damage. You can try using software to recover data from the unreadable sections or even create a new usable copy:

Copy Data Using Disc Cloning Software

Disc cloning tools can ignore read errors and extract all the readable data off the disc to create an ISO image file or copy that data onto a blank disc. Popular tools include IsoBuster, CloneCD, and CloneDVD. This lets you access the parts of the disc that aren’t too badly damaged.

Check for Errors Using Disc Checking Software

Programs like CDCheck or DVDVerify can scan an unreadable disc for read errors. They can identify areas of the disc that may be too damaged while also verifying files on the readable areas. This prevents copying over corrupted data.

Use Data Recovery Software

Data recovery software is designed to scan scratched or damaged discs and recover media files, documents, and other data. Programs like Disk Drill and OnTrack EasyRecovery include tools to repair the file system structure and rebuild unreadable files. Look for ones with disc image utilities.

Try Enabling Error Correction

CD and DVD drives have built-in error correction abilities to reconstruct data from discs with some errors. Enabling this setting in your media player software can help make an unreadable disc playable. Just be aware that it can slow disc reading speeds.

Best Practices for Disc Care

Here are some tips to help your discs last longer and prevent damage:

Handle Discs by the Outer Edges

Never touch the bottom surface – always hold discs by the outer edges or center hole. This prevents dirt, oil, and scratches to the surface from your fingerprints.

Store Them Vertically in a Case

Keep discs upright in protective cases rather than laying flat. Stacking or tilting discs can cause them to warp under pressure.

Keep Discs Out of Heat and Sunlight

High heat and UV light can accelerate disc rot. Don’t leave them in hot cars or direct sunlight. Extremes of temperature and humidity can also cause discs to warp.

Use Archival Quality Discs For Long-term Storage

For reliable long-term data storage, use high-quality archival grade CD-R, DVD-R, or BD-R discs. They are designed for longevity with a gold reflective layer and protective coatings.

Handle With Care

Be careful not to drop discs or scratch them on hard surfaces. Just a few deep scratches can make a disc permanently unreadable.

Type of Damage Possible Solutions
Dust, dirt, fingerprints Clean with microfiber cloth, disc cleaner fluid
Light scratches Toothpaste, disc repair kit, petroleum jelly
Lots of scratches, deep scratches Disc cloning/recovery software, data recovery software
Disc rot Disc cloning software, data recovery software
Drive issues Try disc in different drive, clean drive lens, replace drive

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my disc say it’s blank or unreadable when there should be data on it?

This usually happens when the disc has become too damaged from scratches, disc rot, or errors in the data structure for your computer to read it properly. The data is likely still there, but accessing it requires repairing damage to the disc through methods like software recovery tools or disc repair kits.

Can major scratches on a disc be repaired at home?

Deep scratches can be tricky to fully repair at home without the right professional equipment. Your best option is trying disc cloning or data recovery software to extract the readable data before attempting any repairs. Light scratches can be improved with toothpaste or disc repair kits. But discs with lots of deep scratches may need professional resurfacing.

How long do burned CDs and DVDs usually last?

Most CD-Rs and DVD-Rs have an estimated lifespan around 10-100 years if stored properly in cool, dry, dark conditions. Rewritable discs may only last around 3-5 years before degrading. Higher quality archival grade discs are designed to last for decades or even centuries under ideal storage conditions.

What’s the best way to clean a disc without damaging it further?

Use a soft microfiber cloth and wipe gently from the center outwards in straight lines. Avoid circular motions. Some moisture can help lift dirt – you can rinse CDs under water or lightly dampen the cloth. But only use water, never cleaning solutions, on DVDs or Blu-rays since they are more prone to damage.

Can you add additional data to a previously burned CD-R or DVD-R disc?

No, CD-R and DVD-R discs can only be burned once. The process permanently alters the recording layer to contain pits and lands that represent your data. Rewritable CD-RW and DVD-RW discs can be erased and reused. But taking care not to scratch or damage the data layer each time is important for preserving your data.


Damaged discs don’t necessarily mean lost data. With some basic cleaning and repairs at home, you may be able to get your disc working again. For discs with more stubborn damage, disc cloning software and professional data recovery tools offer the best chances of recovering your files. Just remember to always handle discs gently by the edges and store them safely. With some TLC, your discs can once again become reliable storage devices.