There are times when one is so desperate to get the data off a CD or DVD that you’re willing to try anything no matter how stupid it may be. This is exactly what happened to me last Sunday night.
For years I’ve heard that toothpaste will make a scratched optical disc readable again. I never believed it.
I’ve had in my possession a CD I burned 6 years ago that would fail on every attempt to have an optical drive read it, but kept it anyway in the hopes someday I could find a way to get it readable again. The disc was scratched slightly and I’ve definitely seen ones in much worse condition. In fact one time I was able to get a CD read that was cracked – although I wouldn’t recommend that because it can break apart in the drive and spread itty bits all over the place, ruining the the inside of the optical bay completely. That didn’t happen to me, but it could have.
As a last-ditch effort, I tried the toothpaste method because darn it, I want the f**king data off this disc, and if not it’s getting tossed. Six years is long enough to wait for anything. I smeared the paste so it completely covered the data side of the disc, let it dry for a few minutes, then washed it off thoroughly and dried with paper towels.
I expected this to do nothing but make the disc really clean and nothing else, thinking, "This will make a good article for PCMech because it will totally prove without a shadow of a doubt that this never works."
After the disc was completely dried, I popped it in the bay and waited a few seconds.
But the read pattern was slightly different compared to before (I could tell by the sound,) and the activity light was flickering rapidly.
Okay then.. I’ll just let it sit in the drive for a minute or two, then give up because I know this is going to fail again.
About 90 seconds later, Windows pops up a prompt asking me if I want to see the contents of the disc. What? This disc is now readable? No way!
I was surprised, elated, shocked and whatever other descriptive feeling you want to throw in there.
Not only did the disc read, but I was able to copy every single file off of it, at a numbingly slow speed, but it did work. No corrupted files, either!
I’m still not convinced it was the toothpaste that saved the disc. For all I know this could have been sheer dumb luck that the disc read this time and not all those other times.
Articles, some of which go back years like this one, claim toothpaste works on optical discs as a mild polish. What supposedly occurs is that when you polish enough, this will remove a tiny layer of plastic, fill in the areas caused by the scratches and make scratched optical discs readable again.
But I still don’t know if I buy that either.
What do you think? Was I just lucky or did the toothpaste actually work?
The PCMech.com weekly newsletter has been running strong for over 8 years. Sign up to get tech news, updates and exclusive content - right in your inbox. Also get (several) free gifts.