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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Brilliant

After reading a lot of posts and trying a few tricks I still did not have a running CDROM. The thought of ripping it out and breaking it apart to clean it was a bit daunting so I tried your credit card and shirt fabric trick - 3 minutes later my CDROM is running again. Great thinking! Thanks.

me too

I tried this and wamo worked great thanks for the tip

The credit card trick worked!

I recently bought a 2009 Macbook Pro from a friend of mine, but the cd/dvd drive would not read discs. I tried the credit card trick (I folded a glass cleaning rag with some rubbing alcohol on it over a credit card and swiped it in and out of the left side of the drive 4 or 5 times - it came out with some visible dirt on it) and now my drive seems to be working fine. I'm stoked! Thank you!

Mighty fine voodoo you have there!

I was two short steps from madness. I've had my 'used' Macbook pro,( early 2008 version- non unibody) for about a year and the superdrive had never worked which has caused more than a little consternation. I figured more expenditure on a new Superdrive which didn't sit well with my wife who had helped finance it. 'Why!', she said. 'If Mac's are some damned good,( and so pricey!) then why do they go wrong as much as this one. A lame duck crossed my field of vision as I contemplated her words. A motherboard issue shortly after purchase had helped to prime her negatively I must admit so I didn't want to lose this one. So, cutting to the chase- I did a Google and came across these threads. The result? restored faith! One Gym membership card wrapped in a single use lens cleaner tissue and bingo!, two swipes later the drive purred into life. Magic. I love stuff like this. Simple, a real game changer and,( if a dirty lens is the issue) then a big saver in time, frustration and cost. A huge thanks to all the commentary's on this forum. Hey, the wife may even let me back into the bedroom again,(I sleep at the foot of the bed!). Wink Wink Wink

Re: Mighty fine voodoo you have there!

Yet another marriage saved, mission accomplished. Wink

Brilliant!

Chris, absolutely brilliant. You saved me a trip to the Apple Store!

Thanks much!

Combined free solution...

My macbook pro became picky about the media as well...after a good research I knew it needed a cleaning. I was asked for 80 bucks for diagnostics and probably cleaning but I knew I can do it myself. After careful reading of many threads I came to the following conclusions and eventually a solution:

1) Don't use compressed air since it will just make things worse: it's going to blast all the dust inside...
2) Don't try to squeeze cotton swabs through the optical drive since it's too big and will leave some stuff...
3) Cleaning CDs may work but cheap ones may damage the lens by scratching it.
4) Quick free solution: I used a thin plastic (came with the packaging of an SD card, but you can get any plastic used for packaging goods - usually the ones for electronics are tiny enough and strong enough for the job) + iPhone cleaning cloth (other similar cleaning cloth that's thin and doesn't leave marks for example for cleaning glasses). I wrapped the cloth around the plastic (like U shape around the front of the plastic), then while holding the ends of the the cloth I inserted few centimeters from the front of the plastic covered with the cloth in the optical drive, pushed and pulled a bit and it was all cleaned. The drive works perfectly. Just a few tips: I placed the cloth a bit to the left since LT pointed the lens should be at the left hand side. Don't use too bulky plastic or cloth since you may damage something or get it stuck inside. Hold the loth so it doesn't get inside the slot. You don't need to insert it so much since the lens is not so deep inside. It's just few cm in. All took me exactly 10sec to do. NB> turn off your laptop while doing it Smile

Hope this helps Smile

Re: Combined free solution...

Thanks for the feedback. Sounds simple and easily doable. Smile

iPhone cloth + business card

Thanks!! I just tried using my iPhone cloth wrapped around a "thick" business card and indeed it came out all dusty.
This was by far the simplest and harmless solution given. My MBP superdrive is now reading and burning cd/dvd!

plastic card + iphone

plastic card + iphone cleaning cloth = IT'S ALIVE!

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