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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CC Trick

I wish I would've read this two days ago– I've been trying to install Windows 7 a bunch of convoluted ways cause the DVD drive was acting up and this did the trick. And to think I was just about to swap drives with another MBP. Silliness.

gooood

very good idea ok for me too , tkx a lot (the frenchy marseille)

Cleaning DVD

I was so desperate I took some toilet paper and placed around a business card and gently wiped a few times. It worked !!! Thank you !

craziness - worked for me too

i love you however you are. i spent 3 days trying to figure this out

worked for my old mac mini

this credit card cleaning method worked for my mac mini!!

thx!

The credit card cleaning

The credit card cleaning method works great!!

Credit card cleaning method for superdrive lens

Problems for burning dvds at the beginning, that became worse with time...
At the end, could only read manufactured audioCD ! even audioCD burning didn't work anymore...

I took a ordinary plastic card (without magnetic tape or electronic part on it), wrapped it with a cloth to clean glasses lenses, inserted the card on the left side of the slot and my sister in law wedding photo CD that could not be read works perfect now !!!

I imagine that taking apart the superdrive can be useful for severe dirt coating of the lens ( when the computer is used in a polluted atmosphere with greasy dust (smoke from gas-oil, cigarette ... )

Thanks a lot for this thread .

MacBook Pro 15" 2,4GHz intelcore2duo

Cleaning DVD MacBook Pro

I was really frustrated this week. I only wanted to make a print of my fotoalbum created with iPhoto on my MacBook
1) i needed a newer version of iPhoto
2) then I had to buy not only iPhoto version 11 but a whole package with iMovie etc (iLife)
3) and an upgrade of Leopard to Snow Leopard to get it installed
4) then I went to the store to hurry things (I always trie to impress my girlfriend with my MacBookPro) and lined up in a queue
5) could not buy the software here - (only online); and cycled home again (with my laptop in my backpack)
6) bought it online - UPS came; stayed home - but the internal video system appeared not to work so I missed him
7) on the second day the courrier made a phone call before delivery ; finally I had my software
8) I put the CD inside - and my Mac gave it back, it even wont read my favourite BradPitt film anymore
9) called Apple tech center ; the P-R-reset did not work ; I was adviced to go to the Apple store I began with earlier this week
10) while my stocks are falling - I tried the internet as last escape and there it was, more Apple users with the same problem
11) I tip helped me out : use a credit card, wrap your spectacles tissue cleaner around it, damped with alcohol
12) totaly frustrated I put the credit card and the tissue in the CD opening, twice - without alcohol. I put in the snow leopard cd and

it is working again !!

Thank you for this excellent tip. Michael, The Netherlands

Worked on MacBook too

I won't raise false hopes, but it worked on my MacBook 13'' (2006) too.
I was lately having issues with reading low quality CD (the ones you usually can find at 20 eurocents), but oddly I could still read all DVDs and some CDs.

Thus, since my machine is functional but ancient, I tried wrapping the cloth I use for cleaning my glasses (and if I didn't get then scratched...) around an old credit card I keep around for issues like those, lightly spraying the cloth with alcohol (of course I washed and rinsed it after using it back on my glasses) and "swabbing" it five-six times in the slot.

Currently I can read even the low-quality CD the Matsushita Superdrive stopped reading.

Can't believe how simple this was

I'd been trying for weeks to get an optical drive cleaner that didn't warn about using on slot drives.
A few seconds with a strip of paper towel over a credit card, sprayed with window cleaner and my drive is reading disks again! (once I figured out to put it in wet side down Smile )

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