Proper care and handling of CD, DVD and Blu-ray discs

Proper care and handling of CD and DVD discsTopics included in this document include:

  • Tips for Proper Care
  • Cleaning Instructions
  • Conditions that may affect discs
  • General Do’s and Don’ts
  • Life Expectancy and Compatibility

Tips for proper CD and DVD care include:

Discs kept in a cooler, less-humid environment and not subjected to extreme environmental changes should last longer. Optical discs stored in an optimal environment will outlast discs that are not.

Always keep your discs in their storage containers, until ready for use.

discs used frequently should be stored at a temperature similar to that of the environment in which they are to be used. This minimizes stress from frequent temperature changes.

Always keep your discs out of direct sunlight, as it is believed the sun’s ultraviolet rays have enough energy to produce a photochemical reaction, altering the recording layer of the disc.

Any extended exposure to moisture resulting from a spill, humid air, or immersion allows fluid to become absorbed into the disc, where it may react with any of the layers. Returning the disc to a dry environment will allow the absorbed fluid to dissipate out of the disc over time. However, water or a water-based liquid may leave behind, within the disc, contaminants such as dyes or other dissolved minerals.

Fingerprints, smudges, dirt, or dust on the laser reading side of Cds and DVDs can disrupt disc play even more than a scratch can. Dirt or dust on the disc will block or reduce the ability of the laser to read data. If severe enough, it will cause the disc drive to miss data altogether. Fingerprints, smudges, or dirt cover wide areas of data and will cause the laser beam to go out of focus or lose intensity. They will also cause widespread misreading of data along the data lines or tracks, to an extent that exceeds the error correction capability of the disc drive. Dust can also spin off into the disc drive and collect on the laser head or other internal components. Fingerprints, smudges, and dirt are easier to remove than scratches; it is simply a matter of cleaning them off.

Bending the disc by any means, such as removing it from a jewel case or sitting on it, may harm the disc by causing stresses. The disc should be stored in its case and placed vertically, like a book, on a shelf. Long-term horizontal storage, particularly in a heated environment, can cause the disc to become permanently bowed. While the data may still be intact, the disc may not operate properly in the drive or permit the laser to follow the track.

Use a non-solvent-based felt-tip permanent marker to mark the label side of the disc. Never mark the play side of your disc.

Cleaning Instructions

It is best to ONLY clean discs when it is absolutely necessary, specifically:

  • When surface contamination is visible.
  • Before playing, to prevent surface contamination from being spun-off while the disc is spinning in your TV set-top player or computer.
  • When readability (playability) is impaired.

Avoid using organic solvents, including acetone and benzene-based chemicals. They will dissolve the polycarbonate layer and damage the disc beyond repair. Mild solvents including isopropyl rubbing alcohol, methanol, water-based lens cleaners or water-based detergents (with mild soap) formulated for cleaning CDs or DVDs, however, may be used. These mild solvents evaporate quickly and will not dissolve the polycarbonate. Use commercially available water-based detergent formulated for cleaning the surface of optical discs.

The polycarbonate substrate is a relatively soft and transparent type of plastic. Each time a disc is wiped, rubbed, treated with some solution, or otherwise manipulated for cleaning, that substrate, and thus the disc itself, is at risk of scratching or contamination.

If the disc needs cleaning, remember these tips:

  • Use an air puffer to blow off dust.
  • Only use a soft 100% cotton cloth or chamois to wipe the disc. Other fabrics contain tiny fibers that will cause scratches and possibly prevent your disc from playing. Avoid using any paper products, including lens paper, to wipe the disc.
  • Try cleaning with a dry cloth first, before using any liquid or cleaning solutions.
  • Do not wipe in a direction going around the disc. Instead, wipe from the center of the disc straight toward the outer edge.
  • Avoid using anything abrasive on the surface of the disc.
  • Use isopropyl alcohol or methanol, as an alternate to water-based detergents, to clean the disc surface.

There are various conditions that may affect discs

CDs and DVDs can be reliable for many decades, using proper care and handling techniques. As with all media, degradation is inevitable over time. Steps can be taken to prevent it from happening prematurely.

Conditions to consider

  • Environmental conditions
  • Temperature and relative humidity
  • Light exposure
  • Moisture
  • Organic solvents
  • Magnetism, X-rays, microwaves, and radiation
  • Individual disc storage
  • Surface-handling effects
  • Scratches on the laser-reading side of CDs and DVDs
  • Scratches on the Label side of CDs
  • Scratches on the label side of single-sided DVDs
  • Fingerprints, smudges, dirt, and dust
  • Marking
  • Flexing or bending
  • Disc surface printing
  • Wear from disc play

CD/DVD general Dos and Don’ts


  • Handle discs by the outer edge or the center hole.
  • Use a non-solvent-based felt-tip permanent marker to mark the label side of the disc.
  • Keep dirt or other foreign matter from the disc.
  • Store discs upright (book style) in plastic cases specified for CDs and DVDs.
  • Return discs to storage cases immediately after use.
  • Leave discs in their packaging to minimize the effects of environmental changes.
  • Open a recordable disc package only when you are ready to record data on that disc.
  • Store discs in a cool, dry, dark environment in which the air is clean.
  • Remove dirt, foreign material, fingerprints, smudges, and liquids by wiping with a clean cotton fabric in a straight line from the center of the disc toward the outer edge.
  • Use CD/DVD-cleaning detergent, isopropyl alcohol, or methanol to remove stubborn dirt or material.
  • Check the disc surface before recording.

Do Not:

  • Touch the surface of the disc.
  • Bend the disc.
  • Use adhesive labels.
  • Store discs horizontally for a long time (years).
  • Open a recordable optical disc package if you are not ready to record.
  • Expose discs to extreme heat or high humidity.
  • Expose discs to extremely rapid temperature or humidity changes.
  • Expose recordable discs to prolonged sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet light.
  • Clean by wiping in a direction going around the disc.

For CDs especially do not:

  • Scratch the label side of the disc.
  • Use a pen, pencil, or fine-tip marker to write on the disc.
  • Write on the disc with markers that contain solvents.
  • Try to peel off or reposition a label.

Life Expectancy and Compatibility

According to industry experts, the life expectancy of a DVD is 100+ years. However, that assumes that you take proper care of your DVDs, using our tips above.

By René Carson

René is a designer, journalist, coder, photographer and filmmaker based outside of New York.

He is the founder of Hit Pictures and Hit Handouts.