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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Re: The method described in this post is the one


Alex wrote:
The method described in this post is the one I used

You mean my original post, right? So you did take the drive apart to have a clean shot at the lens?

In fact I worked better but not perfect.

What do you mean by that?

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?

I'm not sure what you mean by the "original" problem. You mentioned in your previous comment that your "optical drive could only read copied and home made cds dvd-r, dvd+r, but not originals". Was this before you tried the compressed air or after it.

Please, tell me the whole story so I get a clear picture of what happened.
Right now my best bet is that your lens got dirtier than it was before your cleaning attempt.
Since you can still read CDs and only DVDs fail, I think you didn't break anything on the drive.

Ok... this is the whole story:

The optical drive had been working awesome since I got it replaced at the apple support (Its been a year and a half since this happened), like a month ago I was watching the lord of the rings (Original DVD), the next day, sunday, I got curious cleaning the home-family pc with compressed air, and tried the fan on my macbook, -but when you have such thing as the power of compressed air in your hands, nothing can stop you- and after the fan I used the air on the optical drive slot... then when got back the home pc to its place I took my laptop to my desk to finish the lord of the rings.

My surprise when it didn't accept the dvd, it made some sounds, then ejected it... (this is why a year and a half, when it was over waranty, the optical drive got replaced)... I tried a lot of cds and dvds, in that moment it accepted and reproduced:
  • copied music cds
  • copied video dvds
  • data dvds
  • data cds
at this moment the optical drive could only write CD. I couldn't write dvds and no dvd DL neither

Then a week or two later I found this post and followed along with the ifixit guide... (yes de original post), then again tried all the cds and dvds I could and It could read:
  • copied music cds
  • copied video dvds
  • original music cds
  • some video dvds (like music video dvds, like green day's bullet in a bible, and taylor swift's fearless platinum edition), but not movie dvds
  • data dvds (like the mac osx disc)
  • data cds
and It could write CD and DVD, but yet It couldn't write DVD DL (It had the capability before all this)
This is what made me think that if it works better after cleaning it, got to be something alike...
Thank you Smile

Re: Ok... this is the whole story

Ok. So if I understand you right:
1.) You bought the MacBook at a store some time in the past and all was well with the optical drive.
2.) Years later (when the warranty was already expired) it started to reject playing some discs. You took the MB to Apple support and drive was replaced and all was well again.
3.) 1.5 year later (something like a month ago) you blew compressed air in the optical drive through the slot and it started to be "picky" about accepting and playing discs.
4.) Two or three weeks ago you've found my post, took apart the MacBook and cleaned the lens properly, but after putting the MB together it was still not willing to write double layer DVDs (but everything else was fine).

I see two possibilities here:

1.) Your drive is OK, but your disc is not. What type of DL disc did you try? DVD+R DL or DVD-R DL? I'm not familiar with the model of your drive ... it's possible that it supports only one type of double layer discs and you tested with the other type. The two types of DL discs require different methods for burning thus it is quite possible that a drive supports only one of them. Eg. my MacBook Pro reports (ie. the System Profiler utility in the Disc Burning section) that it can write the following types of discs ...
CD-Write: -R, -RW
DVD-Write: -R, -RW, +R, +R DL, +RW
Thus it does not support burning of DVD-R DL discs.

2.) You might be out of luck. Using compressed air like that on the optical drive was a bad idea IMHO. Of course it depends on the can of compressed air applied, but I think that such a strong blow of air could have damaged the lens moving mechanism. Of course it's still a riddle why this affects only DL discs and not others. Theoretically the burning of DL discs does not require anything special in the mechanics of the drive ... thus there should be no difference between burning a CD or a DL DVD (regarding mechanical movements inside the drive).

I'm sorry that I was not much of a help. Sad

I followed these instructions ---

the burner on my imac G5 did not work. i followed the apple instructions for removing the optical drive & followed these instructions for opening the optical drive to remove the alcohol pad that i lost when i tried to clean the laser with a credit card & alcohol prep pad! it worked like a charm & i even got to clean the lens & i just burned a cd!!! thanks so much!!

You got used to burn errors

You got used to burn errors in Windows? That's odd. Because that never happens in Windows. You must be a naturally retarded person who likes touching his genitals in libraries....behind the stacks of books. That's why Mac OS has that thing called 'stacks'.

Re: You got used to burn errors

That's an interesting opinion ... you must know me quite well. Smile

it worked!!!

great tutorial!!!!

my superdrive started to fail at recording cds and dvds and then started to fail reading burned media.

I tried with the plastic card & cloth but it didn't worked.
so I opened the MBP and the drive, & I cleaned it with isopropilic alcohol.
now it read everything and record DVDs !!!

THANKS! !!!

Oh well

I tried both the credit card with lens cloth wrapped round it and the method you prescribed (using the lens cloth dipped in surgical spirit instead of cotton bud though) and neither worked for me... maybe my superdrive is actually wearing out, oh well I don't use it that much, but it sounds like no ubuntu for me...

Re: Oh well

Unfortunately optical drives can wear out. I never had to experience this kind of hw failure myself (probably I just got lucky), but eg. one of my colleagues recently complained about his CD drive not working (in a quite old, small notebook). And it indeed does not work (it's not just the lens being dirty). His drive does not even show up most of the time in the BIOS upon boot.

Well

The thing is mine is my macbook pro superdrive... and it's only 18months old... starting to rue not getting apple care

Re: Well

Most unfortunate. Sad You might be better off with buying an external DVD-RW since Apple's replacement parts cost a fortune.

Re: Well

The only problem is that I wish to install Ubuntu, meaning I have to boot from CD, and Macs won't boot via usb which and external would be... off to the apple store it is then

Re: Well

Still no need to go to Apple store. Smile A bit of googling revealed that you can easily boot off from a Firewire attached external DVD drive. Even older Macs. And I've found a few posts from people who could boot off from an external USB DVD drive with their Macbook Pro. Eg. mac-forums.com and oreillynet.com (I must admit: the latter one is about a Powerbook). Just remember to use Startup Manager (start the Mac and keep the Option key pressed) to boot from the DVD drive. The "C" key method fails in a lot of cases, where the "Option" key method still works.
If you're unlucky and booting off from an external USB DVD does not work, you can still try an USB flash drive which documented on Apple support.

my slot drive came back from

my slot drive came back from the mac store with a LOT of dust in it. used the credit card + iphone cloth trick in here and it works again Smile thank you guys.

Thank you!

Thanks to all the posters in this thread, my cd drive is working again thanks to the credit card + ipod cloth trick!

thankyou

i have searched for hours and hours on a fix for this. for about a year i havent been able to read dvds. apple quoted around 700 NZ dollars for a fix. and now the brilliance of these posts have saved me!
you are all legends, thakyou.

Tried the cloth with credit

Tried the cloth with credit card did not work. I took out the drive and cleaned the lense as described, worked like a charm!

Perfect - iPhone cleaning

Perfect - iPhone cleaning cloth and business card worked perfectly

Unable to burn DVD's

Cleaning with iKlear Travel Single over credit card worked for me as well. Whole process took about 5 minutes. Problem of being unable to write to DVD (could still to CD) started 18 months after purchase so cleaning of lens seems to be needed occasionally. Thanks for the advice - this is what I love about Mac products (and the web!) - there always seem to be an ordinary guy out there with advice on how to fix an issue.

worth the trouble...!

I just tried to pop up the optical drive carefully for the first time and like u said it was worth the trouble..thanks for giving us the tip and keep up the great work!

No need to take the drive

No need to take the drive out. Just wrap a lens cleaning cloth around a credit card, insert carefully about 1 in and slide back-n-forth a few times. Don't rush it. Works like a charm.

IT WORKED!!

Thanks for the advice. My drive wasn't reading DVD's anymore. I used my debit card to slide the cloth (from my glasses) and it came out full of dust. My drive seems clean now and DVD's are working normally...

Thank you, it took me 4 minutes and it was free!!

Amazing!

Thanks so much. I disassembled, swabbed, and now I can read/write CDs again.

I have by mistake cleaned the

I have by mistake cleaned the lens of my computer DVD ROM with alcohol and it has stopped functioning all together after that. Can the lens be salvaged, have I damaged it in some way? I used a q tip soaked in alcohol which I also used to clean some of the wiring around the lens. No DVDS would be recognised after that. I then soaked another q tip in clean tap water and wiped over the lens again and also again on the wiring and let it dry. Now the DVD drive only recognises some disks and not others. Please help!

Re: I have by mistake cleaned the

If you asked me earlier whether using alcohol to clean the lens of an optical drive could damage it, I would have said no. I'm still a bit reluctant to believe that the drive stopped working because of the cleaning of the lens. I usually use benzine for the job, but I don't see how alcohol could have any different effect. Shock Is it not possible that your drive has some problem (maybe with contacts) that emerged during the process of taking it out from your PC and putting it back into it's place? If you read through the comments, some people wrote that they've used alcohol for cleaning the lens and it caused no problem for them. Apart from telling you my opinion (that the alcohol most probably did not harm your drive), I cannot give you any further advice on how to fix it.

Worked :-)

...with a card and a thin clothe! Thanks.

praise the lord because my drive is working !!

I read the deal on cloth and card - dugout my own cloth and boy .. my baby is reading discs again. Thanks man.

Thanks!

This worked great! Thanks!

Never opened up my mbp before, but I figured it out thanks to your post!
Saved me a new Superdrive station Laughing out loud

I still can't believe it worked, awesome +1
grtz

Card an cloth works.

The credit card sized plastic card and cotton cloth also did the job for me. Now writing a DVD+R.

Thanks a lot.

card with cloth

I tried the more simplified method of cleaning my superdrive with a thin plastic card and thin lens cloth. This did not improve the performance of my superdrive (won't read any cd's or dvd's). It would act like it was trying to load the disc and then spit it back out. I was almost certain I was going to have to replace my drive but decided to try the destructo method break down my computer to the lens. I wiped it with Pledge multi surface Everyday Cleaner and cotton swab. This clean is anti-static and good for electronics...so I took a gamble. I got it re-assembled and booted it up. Placed a dvd in and I was off and running. So grateful for this tutorial!!! Thanks so much. Definitely saved me about $70 to install a new one.

I *was* a skeptic!

I really didn't expect this to work, BUT IT DID! I sat around for 5 minutes asking myself, should I really try this....it seems too easy.....how can it possibly work! I used my driver's license and a large alcohol wipe....inserted a disk and nothing happened. So I did it once more and, voila, the DVD started to play! Thank you for your help!

Saved a trip to the electronics store!

How simple a technique! I've been having a very frustrating time wanting to back-up some recent holiday photos when iPhoto wasn't playing nice! 5 times I tried burning with the DVD burner in my Mac Mini just to have it rejected. It was also time to back-up recent purchases on itunes - all to no avail. Blogged these comments and tried the credit card and iPhone cleaning cloth trick and hey presto .... saved myself a trip to the mac store!! Thanks to all!! (so glad I didn't have to pull apart the computer - now that would have been frustrating!).

Great fix!

Wow, I have now been without a superdrive for about 5 years, thought that it was a lost case and that I would eventually have to buy a new one. Several other forums suggested a bad hardware on the drive, logic board.... but this little and great "clean the lens" trick just did the job. My superdrive is back to "super", thank you so much for sharing this tip.

Cheers!

THANK YOU!!!!!

Wow...you just saved me a ton of money. Although my lens was clean, I saw a piece of fabric that was under the laser unit. I was able to extract it, put it back together and enjoy that sweet hum of a spinning disk again. Couldn't have done it (successfully) without you.

Visa card + underwear:

Visa card + underwear: Success! Best tip ever! (have tried with compressed air and cd-lens cleaner without out result.

THANK YOU!

cloth and card worked like a charm.
Thank you so much for sharing!

Cloth and Credit Card

Microfiber Cloth + Credit Card = a working drive! THANK YOU! I was 5 months out of warranty when it stopped working.

coffee filter credit card and windows cleaner

I rarely use the Superdrive . Needed it today for install. Spits out all CD/DVD :s. Was about to do the full cleaning procedure (openining the drive) but gave the credit card method a try. Put the credit card inside the coffee filter wrapped it over once, sprayed a little windows cleaner the coffee filter. Shut down the Macbook Pro Pushed the card in an inch (2,5 cm) in the drive and moved it sideways from one end to the other. Started the Macbook and inserted the DVD and it worked fine. Just finished the iLife 11 install while typing this.
Thank you for the tip! Next time I might do the opening of the drive if I have the time. Good fix!
Macbook Pro Late 2008

Got mine working

Just wanted to share that giving the drive a good clean using both the credit card trick (thanks!) and a disc cleaner brought it back to life. I can now burn DVDs again! I know the problem is not OS related (I tested it with the same results on a clean Leopard install). It's possible it may be a firmware thing, but I cannot be for sure. It seems the drives have some weaknesses (whether from firmware or manufacture) and it does not take much dust to make them fail. Keep it clean!

Credit card and lens cleaning

Credit card and lens cleaning tissue over it worked great! It wouldn't recognise blank DVD's before.
Thanks for everything!

Best. Trick. Ever. Thank you

Best. Trick. Ever.

Thank you so much for making my day Smile

Worked for me too

Thanks! Saved me a trip to the Apple Store. My MBP was still reading disks...just not burning them.
This seems to have taken care of the problem.

How to clean the lens of a slot-loading optical drive (a MacBook

just used a credit card with an old clean singlet without any solvent at all. First couple of inserts showed dirt and dust. Second time less, then clean. now drive works perfectly after months of problems. Don't disassemble and in my case no solvents. Brilliant quick and simple fix. Good to know that the lens is on the left side and is not very deep in.
Thanks to every one with tips on this method.

What kind of cleaning cloths are people using?

Are we talking about a dry micro-fiber cloth, or a pre-moistened isopropanol lens cleaning cloth?

Re: What kind of cleaning cloths are people using?

Best of both. Smile A micro-fiber cloth dampened with alcohol / window cleaner / etc. (everybody seems to use what they have at hand).
As for me: I'm still all for the difficult approach (take it apart, use a q-tip dampened with benzine to clean the lens).

Open super drive get cash back!!!

My superdrive would not work on my macbook pro, the dvd was going in but it would not read it, I tried the credit card trick still no good! so i found this article and tried to take the superdrive out to clean it, after i managed to opened up the superdrive guess what i found inside it a bloody 5 cent (euro) coin!!!

Re: Open super drive get cash back!!!

Laughing out loud I've only found loose screws and cables in PCs/accessories so far. You're the first -that I know of- to find actual money. Smile Congrats! Smile

Didn't work for me {:>(

After reading all the comments I optimistically tried this but it hasn't worked.
My issue may be a little different. My drive reads the system disc but not my MS Office install disc not my Adobe Master Collection instal disc. It did read the Adobe Acrobat install disc though and a music cd I tested too. Selective? All the discs are in good condition with minimal scratching.

I haven't read other posts describing this problem so any advice will be welcome.

Re: Didn't work for me {:>(

Are those two (Office + Adobe Master Collection) original install discs or home-burned? Did you use those discs in your drive successfully in the past? I'm asking because my MacBook Pro's DVDRW drive is a bit picky about what kind of discs it'd accept. I usually burn on Verbatim CDs and DVDs, but once in a while I'm given a disc by a friend and the MBP's DVD drive would not accept it. I slide in the disc, the drive tries to read it, then spits it out. AFAIK all optical discs (CDs, DVDs) have some sort of type code on them and the drives use this to determine whether they can handle the disc or not. I don't know much about this topic, but I know that my drive won't work with the discs of a few manufacturers. In theory the drive's manufacturer could release a firmware update that might increase the drive's "compatibility" with newer (eg. higher speed) discs, but my drive got it's last firmware update sometime around 2007. Smile So I simply stick with my brand of choice (Verbatim) and all is good.

Worked for me!

I just used the credit card method: with a paper for cleaning the glasses around it! Laughing out loud
On the left side of the drive: up and down a few times.
Didn't need to take apart the drive so it's very easyier Laughing out loud
Thanks.
I new one costs 100$ and a external one 40$. But this method costs nothing Smile

Thank you.

(Sorry for my English)

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