How to clean the lens of a slot-loading optical drive (a MacBook Pro's SuperDrive)

The first sign of malfunction was that the MBP started to be picky about what sort of blank CDs/DVDs it would accept for writing. This was not a big deal since it still accepted 9 out of 10 CDs without any problems.

Some time later I had a failed burning. The burn process started OK, but near the end (or maybe during writing the lead out?) it failed with some mysterious error message. This was quite strange, but I was still not very suspicious (this is my first Mac and having grown up using PCs with Windows I got used to failures).

However lately I started to have problems even reading my CDs and DVDs. Shock This was the last drop of water in the glass. Every sign pointed to either a broken optical drive or malfunction due to dusty lens. I already had issue with dust on the lens of various CD/DVD drives in the household (eg. the Hi-Fi system and my old PC had problems reading CDs too and a manual cleaning of the lens helped - I tried a lens cleaning kit too, but it was worth nothing).

So I was up and ready for cleaning the lens of the MacBook Pro's SuperDrive, however I was a bit unsure about whether there's any gotcha in taking the SuperDrive apart. I had no difficulties with my old PC's 5.25" Plextor DVD-writer (you just had to remove the screws from the drive's case and take off the upper part and the lens was right there), but I've never taken apart a slot-loading drive. Notebook optical drives are a lot smaller and I wanted to see some proof-of-concept photos to get reassurance. After having spent some time with Google, I've stumbled on a discussion thread on Apple's forums that contained a few pics of a slot-loading SuperDrive's internals. It didn't seem risky to take apart so I started the process.

Update: some people had success using a plastic card (eg. a credit card or a drivers license) and some fine cloth (the ones that you used to clean your glasses with). Some applied alcohol to improve the cleaning effect (but I personally only use benzine). The plastic card method might spare you taking apart the MBP, so it's worth to check out the comments and read through the experiences of others before you start to dismantle yours. You should also know that a few people reported broken drives after the cleaning. However my best guess is that it had nothing to do with the cleaning itself (I've already completed this process on a number of PCs, my MBP, a number of desktop DVD players and Hi-Fi systems and never had any problems).

The first step is to take apart the MacBook Pro. iFixit has a very detailed guide on how to do this, so I'll skip over that. After you got the optical drive out from the MBP, you place it on your workpad like this:

As you can see, I've kept the tape on the ribbon cable. I didn't see any reason to remove it. If you've followed the iFixit guide til the end, you've already removed the mounting brackets from the drive. You should memorize which bracket goes to which side and which screw goes into which hole. Otherwise the reassembly will be a little bit tricky for you. Wink
I've taken some pictures of the brackets, it seemed to be the fastest way to take a snapshot of the original mounting of the brackets.

After you've removed the brackets, you've to take off the four screws that keep the lower and the upper half of the unit's case together. Here's a pic with all the brackets and these 4 additional screws taken off:

Now you can remove the upper part of the case. It's really easy to do, just do it slowly, no need to hurry. You'll get to see something like this:

Here I've drawn a small red circle around the lens:

For cleaning the lens I use benzine (the one used for medical disinfection ... we used to have a bottle of this at home): it's great dissolvent (eg. to remove glue that remained on a newly bought product after having removed the price sticker) and it evaporates practically without a trace. It's perfect for this kind of a job (however I've read that some people prefer to use some kind of alcohol).

To apply the benzine to the lens surface I use q-tips (that should not be hard to get either Smile ):

After the cleaning the lens is as good as new:

Reassembling the unit should be a piece of cake. Put it back into the MBP, put the MBP together and test the optical drive's CD/DVD reading and writing capabilities to see if the cleaning had any positive effect. For me it was worth the trouble. I can now read every CD/DVD of mine again and writing works perfectly too. Smile

Update (2010.04.04): it happened today for the first time -since I wrote this article- that I could not read a CD with my MBP's superdrive. The time period was almost 20 months. And since I bought my MBP during Christmas in 2006 (27th of December to be precise), it was 20 months between the date of purchase and the first cleaning. So it's now quite certain that my drive needs cleaning every 20 months. I live close to a road with a pretty high traffic and not too rich vegetation, so a lot of dust is coming into the flat. Probably people living in the suburbs are better off regarding the required cleaning frequency of their optical drives.

Update (2010.12.30): three days ago I took apart my mom's Mac Mini to replace the hard drive (she outgrew the original 120 GB one). Once at it, I couldn't resist to open and clean the DVD-RW drive too. Smile

Here's a pic showing the lens in the Mac Mini's SuperDrive (it's a Pioneer DVD-RW DVR-K06, firmware version Q614):

While opening the case, a small, white, plastic component accidentally popped out. It was not too difficult to put it back in place, but to make life easier, here's a pic showing the part that you should be careful with:

Update (2012.07.01): I wrote a post about how cleaning the fan exhaust port can help you fix performance problems (lagging, slowness) of your notebook/laptop/workstation/etc. Check it out since if you already consider going "inside" your notebook, you might as well clean it out properly. Smile

Update (2013.04.14): I guess it's now my turn to thank for all the comments. Smile Today was the first time that I actually tried the suggested (and many times confirmed) method of using a credit card wrapped in some cloth to clean the lens. I have an old CD that Mac OS X reported as being blank. I didn't want to take apart the Macbook just to read this one CD, so I took a credit card, wrapped it in a wet cloth (a microfiber one used for cleaning glasses) and pushed it through the CD slot. The credit card + cloth pair turned out to be far too thick, so I looked for a slimmer substitute and my tax ID card (in Hungary we get one of these ... has your tax payer ID number on it) turned out to be just the perfect fit. Smile It's a lot slimmer than a regular credit card, so I wrapped the same cloth around it and pushed it through the hole. I've repeated this a couple of times, then tried to read the CD again and it worked. Smile So thanks Chris (who was the first to suggest the credit card method on 15th April 2009)!

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Woww, it worked!!

I can't believe it was so easy, it works (iPhone cloth+license)...
I´ve been trying to fix this for a month...

WOrked for me

I just used my drivers license and some cloth from cleaning my sun glasses and just kinda moved it around for a bit and it totally worked. Thanks!

Fix for iDVD not completing burn

Indeed -- I had tried multiple DVD+-R manufacturers and had same issue - iDVD burn from iMovie would not complete the burn and then when I went to play the DVD it would hang with an error. I used the iPhone cloth cleaner mentioned here, set the DVD burn speed at 1X and it worked fine with a Sony DVD+R.

DVD R DL

Hi
Do you think that the dust can harm my superdrive to be not able to write any brand type of DVD Double Layer 8.5 GB but able to burn the single layer 4.7 GB or what ?

Re: DVD R DL

Sure. It doesn't actually "harm" your superdrive. It just (partially) blocks the ray that is coming from the LED.
Eg. when my lens got dirty, my superdrive didn't want to recognize some of my blank CDs (I inserted the disc, the drive tried to analyse the medium for some time, then it ejected the disc -if I remember well-).
Think of it like this: put a glass under the tap in your bathroom. Open the tap and the water pours right into the glass. Now place your fist right under the tap. A lot of water will be spilled all over the floor and only a part of the water will make it into the glass.

DVD R DL

I will try it
Thans a lot

OMG... thanks alot man...

OMG... thanks alot man... this worked perfectly for me.... i used a credit card with the cleaning cloth that came with my MBP..... now its reading discs perfectly... thank you so much!!

Worked! Combined Free Solution

Awesome... so many complicated fixes, and then a basic wipe down does the job. For the sake of irony, I used my Apple ProCare card, matte black, no credit card embossing, and expired, wrapped in a classic red bandanna. Really gave it a thorough wiping down, elbow grease and eveyrthing. Voila! Now burning a CD, wouldn't mount the CD-R before. Simple Rules.

Thank you

Whoa! I tried compressed air, no way. But this worked! I used a credit card and a sotf cloth for cleaning glasses. Thanks a lot!!!

It worked!

Thanks for the advice. I used a credit card and a glass-cleaning cloth. It did the trick!!!!! Smile

OMG

that totally worked. I've been messing around with the problem for a week! One single swipe and everything burns at max speeds. thank you very very much.

Great tip

Just tried the tip with the credit card and the cloth. Have to say I was sceptic but "Oh wonder" it works fine. Thanks.

Hilarious but it worked!

I cannot believe this worked, but it actually did. I'm currently burning a CD! something I couldn't do just 10 minutes ago! genius! Credit card + lens cleaning cloth worked beautifully!

Worked for me!

worked great...!

Thank you! Thin glass

Thank you! Thin glass cleaning cloth wrapped around a credit card did the trick (on the second try). I am very happy. Smile

credit card + link free cloth

Wow! thanks for the suggestion - this worked perfectly! I thought my DVDs are dirty and started cleaning them, but then since CDs could be read - I understood it was the lens. This method worked pretty well for me!

Great images

Hello,

Thank you for including so detailed images of the internals of the MBP superdrive !
I was not looking for the information on how to clean the lens, however - these images helped me a lot on puting some parts that I've accidently dropped back into place Smile

Re: Great images

You're welcome. Smile Actually I made the photos for the very same reason: to be able to put it back together, even if I forget the exact place of one or two components (eg. screws) during the process. Smile

Thanks

It worked for me too. My case was even more mischievous: my MacBook Pro read some DVDs, and some not. For quite a long time I thought a had a problem with a specific ISO image that I kept recording on different DVD+Rs and DVD-Rs. Now my Mac is reading all DVDs! Thanks a lot!

Unbelievable!

I have spent the entire day since the morning through to late this evening trying to get windows 7 installed on my macbook pro. The dvd would not work in the built in drive so i have spent the entire day trying to get it to install from external dvd drive / from flash drive / via parallels with no luck. After all that messing around i started to give up hope and was looking into replacing my drive when i stumbled across this page. I've just tried cleaning the lens using the credit card and tissue paper method and I am absolutely beside myself in disbelief! This simple trick has got me back to installing! Thanks for the tip!

Worked!

Just 10 seconds. Thank u Wink

Cleaning the DVD/CD Drive

Q tips can shed and if you insert into the slot and you run the risk of getting fibers caught in the Drive.
I removed mine, opened it up, cleaned and reinstalled. Took about less than an hour. No need to rush.
My problem still exists. So I am replacing/upgrading to a Super DRIVE.

Re: Cleaning the DVD/CD Drive


Q tips can shed and if you insert into the slot and you run the risk of getting fibers caught in the Drive.

You're perfectly right. And I'm sorry that the cleaning did not work out for you. I think that the laser diode has a lifespan not too long and sooner or later it get's too weak to do the job properly. Sad I consider myself lucky since all my drives (til now) could be fixed by cleaning the lens. However I've not used any CD or DVD drive for more than five years so I've no idea how long they should work.

Qtip to clean dvd player

You can use an alcohol swab like you find in First Aid kits, they are flat and they don't shed.

Re: Qtip to clean dvd player

Thanks for the feedback. Could you provide some pics on these "alcohol swabs"? I tried to find some using Google image search, but only came up with pics of regular q-tips. I used keywords like "alcohol swab" and "alcohol swab first aid kit", but without success. In my country (Hungary) first aid kits have nothing that I could identify as an "alcohol swab" (or something that I could imagine using to clean the lens of a DVD player ... ie. without taking the player apart of course).

Alcohol swabs / Medi-swabs

Given how useful this has been, thought I should give something back - these are alcohol swabs: https://www.medshop.com.au/products/smith-nephew-medi-swab-skin-cleansing-swabs.html

In Australia at least, the brand name is medi-swab and they're available in all pharmacists for a few bucks. I keep a box at home and use them for cleanign all sorts of things.

Thanks for your wonderful guide.

worked for me! thanks.

worked for me! thanks.

Thank you it worked for me too

been almost a year since ive been able to read dvds. their are so many threads around where people (mac users) are sharing this problem.

I tried everything, disc cleaner, compressed air, resetting Pram etc and this is the only method that worked. so thanks to you and your awesome website and search engine visibility!!! I now have a perfect running drive Cheers!!

Re: Thank you it worked for me too

I'm glad it worked for you. Smile

Follow up on q-tip cleaning

I read this post after spending most of the day trying all kinds of stuff to fix my superdrive. It had begun to eject every kind of media... I was convinced it was corrupted firmware, looked at dozens of posts, and got hung up on flashing firmware.

I read the post here which is awesome... The advice and the detailed instructions are great.

But being a sucker for a good shortcut, I read the **Q-Tip directly in the loading slot** comment with interest. First I tried standard qtip which didn't really fit-- the diameter of the shaft is too big. So I dug through my cabinet and found a kind of qtip with a hollow plastic shaft, which I crushed with pliers creating a flattened qtip. I was able to slide this into the slot and aimed for the area of the lense about an inch in and an inch from the left. I tried once dry (hmm looks like dirt or dust on the qtip!) next just for good measure with rubbing alcohol. Hmm and VOILA! I'm not sure how long lasting of a solution it is, but I went from a completely crippled drive to reading dvds and CDs looks like burning works too.

THANKS!

Re: Follow up on q-tip cleaning

Thanks for the tip! Brave ones might go for this shortcut, but I like the disassembling method more. The head of a q-tip consists of a lot of small fibres and while squeezing it through the slot of the optical drive, some of these fibres might get caught inside (without you noticing). With time (as you use the drive) the fibre might get on to the lens and the drive would suddenly start failing again. Of course I must admit that cleaning without disassemly is a _lot_ faster (10 seconds compared to 10 - 30 minutes ... depending on how good you are at MBP disassembly Smile ).

thanks

works like a charm! thanks Smile))
best
Kurt

Nitrogen?

does anybody have any comments on using liquid nitrogen to flush out electronics? I heard once that he can even be used on hot items because the cooling right is rapid and yet "soft". Please don't act on my question, I really have no idea, I am just wondering if what I heard has any basis in fact.

Re: Nitrogen?

I only know that liquid nitrogen was already used to cool CPUs while overclocking to the extremes. However I'd stronly discourage pouring it on hot metal. The shattering of the T-1000 towards the end of "Terminator 2" (or the shattering of the T-800 in "Terminator Salvation") is not without any basis. Smile

this guide has been very

this guide has been very helpful, my superdrive now working flawlessly. thank you!

easier temporary solution - Could just blow it with a straw

I read your blog, it gave me great inspiration and let me understand the problem. thank you so much
I do not have the patience + time to open the macbook, so I just read online to blow the lens of the superdrive with a lens.
works fine until now, thank you so much...
ps. apple support (?)

i tried this.. took me an

i tried this.. took me an hour
but i still not reading cds

Superdrive solution -- maybe

I bought a used G4PB with a superdrive that either wouldn't accept a disk or would spit it out. On one of my persistent attempts, a disk came back out with a piece of very sticky velvety stuff attached --- more than an inch long! Since then I have dismantled that drive and another and discovered that it was a piece of gasket material near the slot entrance. There's a piece on each side. After I got rid of the rest of the messed up piece, the drive accepted disks and read and wrote to them. I don't know that all the problems are solved -- it sometimes makes a very unhappy noise, but the sticky velvet thing might offer some others with problems a suggestion.

Re: Superdrive solution -- maybe

Thanks for sharing your experience.

credit card with fine cloth works !

Was just about to get my gear together to disassemble the drive...... am I glad that I tried the credit card with Pledge Grab-it house hold cleaning cloth. I think I saved myself a few hours.

All you people are

All you people are geniuses...thanks!

thanks

I am having the same problem with an unibody mbp after writing on a very dusty dvd (ok, keeping empty dvd on the shelf for 2 yrs then trying to write on it is not the best idea). I will try your method, caz its ejecting every cd since then.
Then I checked the photo of the liquid you use... KÜLSŐLEG? jahogy ez magyar blog Laughing out loud
köszi!

Benzine? Really? That stuff

Benzine? Really? That stuff is a carcinogen.

Re: Benzine? Really? That stuff

You don't have to drink it. Smile Don't even have to touch it. Using a q-tip makes sure you won't get into contact with the benzine.

The iFixit guide is now free

Good to know: all iFixit guides (including the one that I linked to in the post) are now freely downloadable as PDF. Previously you had to make your own version by converting every page of the guide to PDF and assembling the one-page PDFs into a single file. Now you can just click the "PDF version of this guide" link. Nice. Smile

is it safe to rub against the lens?

I can't believe how you guys can just blindly stick a Q-Tip or credit card in the drive slot in the hopes of reaching the lens to clean it! Shouldn't we be concerned with the possible damage we may cause to the delicate lens and lens circuitry? I've opened up a CD drive before to clean it (not this one) and the lens and circuitry behind it looked very fragile. I used a Q-Tip too and could tell that the lens machinery was delicate. It was flexible but seemed fragile. Opening up the drive seems to be the safest since you can see what you're doing, but I'd prefer not to. But I'm not sure if I'm ready to do the Q-Tip in the slot or credit card thing yet.

Can anyone tell me how fragile the lens and internal mechanisms in a CD drive are? How much poking and prodding can they take before they are damaged?

Re: is it safe to rub against the lens?

Since inserting a CD/DVD doesn't damage the drive, I bet that inserting a credit card (which is not thicker than a CD) doesn't do any harm either. However I'd not try to push a regular q-tip through the slot ... there's a good chance that some fibers get caught inside. Q-tips should be used for cleaning only if you take apart the unit. If you take a look at the photos I've posted, you'll see that pushing a plastic card into the slot with some cloth tightly wrapped around it won't cause any problems.

As for rubbing anything against the lens, it's the same as cleaning your glasses: if you rub a dry cloth against your dusty glasses, you'll most probably scratch it (because nowadays the lens of most glasses are made of transparent plastic - it weighs a lot less, but it's also more susceptible to scratches ... and dust particles can scratch very well). However using a wet cloth can clean your glasses without scratching it. So I suggest to use something wet to clean the lenses of the CD/DVD drive ... regardless whether you take it apart or use the plastic card method.

aww... :(

This didn't work for me... well, my optical drive could only read copied and home made cds dvd-r, dvd+r, but not originals (like a dvd movie or a newly opened greenday cd Sad ), after the cleaning it can read origian cds but not dvds...

Re: aww... :(

Sorry to hear that. Which method did you try? It might be worth a shot to dismantle the drive and look around. Maybe something (a fiber?) got stick in the drive during your first approach on cleaning the lens.

The method described in this post is the one

The method described in this post is the one I used, In fact I worked better but not perfect. The problem (originally) started when I used compressed air, so I think that the fiber theory is very possible. And if it was... how could I fix that? any suggestions?
Thanks!

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