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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cleaning a mac mini slot drive lens

I just used a piece of laminated plastic card ( my local sports club membership card - nice and thin and flexible) wrapped in my glasses cleaning cloth .......just push it in and move it back and forward a few times...

One completely non-functional mac mini dvd slot drive fixed - in about thirty seconds - you should have seen how much dust came out in the cloth !

no solvents, no dismantling, no problems
Smile this is an all time best slot drive hint! thanks !

You're a god.

Mr. Clean can go to hell. That's all I can say. Marvelous technique and 100% results. Thank YOU.

iPhone cloth worked perfectly

I ran into this problem trying to install OS 10.6 today. I'm pointing to this site on the Apple Support discussions as there wasn't such good simple advice there. I used the iPod Touch cloth method with the instruction card with the software. Indeed came out dusty and even a dog hair :{ The result? My disk is waiting for me to click install. THANKS!

Credit card and a cleaning cloth

Thanks for this tip. I just tried using a cleaning cloth that came with my sunglasses, wrapped it around my credit card and carefully stuck it into the superdrive slot a few times. AND IT WORKED!

Wow, this is GREAT!

I was so eager that, even though I didn't have any alcohol or solvent, I grabbed a thin card out of my wallet, wrapped some thin cloth around it, gave it three wipes and bam! It WORKS! Such a simple thing but it took finding out where the lens was to make it happen! So happy to have my DVD's running again. CD's worked fine. Strange though, I'd read that there were two separate lenses, one for CDs and for DVDs. Maybe they share a lens yet have separate hardware immediately after. That or maybe reading DVD's is harder to do.

Whatever the case, Thanks!!

Re: Wow, this is GREAT!

DVD-RW drives have only a single lens. I'm not sure about the old CD-RW + DVD-reader combo drives ... they might have had seperate lenses for the two types of discs.

Credit card and cleaning cloth

Wow!
I just bought a can of compressed air, having read how people successfully fixed their MBP DVD burners. I googled again just to be sure and found this thread with the credit card + cloth solution. Thought I'd try that first before I started blowing things around. I used the kind of cloth you clean glasses with. It worked immediately! Ha! Beautiful. I'll try to return the air can now... Hope it works.
I do think the compressed air would have worked, blowing the dust further into the slot probably wouldn't have done any damage. But this was easier.
Many thanx!

Wow

thanks so much for the help on this forum guys... reading dvds again!

Business card-cleaning cloth worked

Thanks for the tip. I wrapped a camera cleaning cloth around a thick business card and cleaned with it. It worked for me too.
Before this I could read DVD but not CD. It would either get spit out or show as a blank CD.

re: Combined free solution...

thank you so much, this worked for me.
glad i didn't have to get the drive replaced or even buy a cleaning kit for that matter.
thanks!

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