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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The credit card wrapped with

The credit card wrapped with paper towel moistened with rubbing alcohol worked for me too - my Macbook Pro is no longer ejecting every disc. Thank you for the suggestion!

Perfect!!!

i just inserted the apple screen cleaning cloth that we got with it around a credit card and it worked!! not alcohol or anything else needed Smile , thank you Smile i swiped about 4 or 5 times up and down!!!

imac 27"

Thank you so much

My Mac Mini A1176 with a Matshita UJ-85J superdrive has not been able to play DVDs for about a year. I thought the drive was defective, but noticed that it would still read CDs. Some Googling seemed to suggest that this problem was related to the updating of my OS to Leopard, but I could only find people reporting problems, not solutions.

I then stumbled across this page and figured it couldn't hurt, so I opened it up and cleaned the lens with some lens cleaning fluid for my camera. My drive now works perfectly, and you have restored my faith in Apple products! Thank you for this great piece of advice!

Re: Thank you so much

You're welcome. Smile Cleaning the lens is not only for your notebook, I do it with my hi-fi too.

Thx!

I appreciate you taking the time to post this and update it. My MacBook had all the same symptoms. First it got picky with blank media then failed to burn CD's every time, now it won't mount any disc. Tried the credit card thing but didn't work. I took it apart and cleaned the lens but it still didn't fix the problem. Silver lining is now I know how to swap out the old failed combo drive for a superdrive. Thx!

Re: Thx!

I'm sorry it didn't work out for you. I guess you're in the unlucky minority who's drive does not work because it actually broke. Sad

Directly cleaning lens worked!

Thanks so much for your directions on how to open up the Superdrive and clean the lens with a q-tip. I tried the credit card + lens cloth trick and it didn't work. So I then opened up the MacBook Pro (for the first time ever!) and immediately noticed a bunch of dust around the superdrive. I removed the drive, opened the cover following your directions, cleaned the lens (gingerly, as I noticed that the lens assembly would move when I rubbed it, as if it was mounted on springs) with a q-tip and isopropyl alcohol. After reassembling, I tried to burn a DVD, and it worked immediately.

When I opened up the cover of the Superdrive, I did not notice any dust inside the Superdrive, which makes me doubt that blowing compressed air will do the trick.

MAC's CD reader cleaning

Thank you all!
The credit card cleaning method it really works.
Just a couple of gentle swaps using a small piece of cotton cloth embedded with isopropyl alcohol made my CD reader to come back to life.
Because I live in Patagonia Argentina, quite far from any Apple Service Centre, I was preparing myself to cope the troubles of getting an spare unit. It was by then when I read about your experiences.
Thank you again.

Cleaning

I tried the credit card and paper towel method times using eyeglass cleaner and it did not work. I figured I had nothing to lose so I put some of the eyeglass cleaned on the bottom of a DVD (enough that it ran across the DVD and it was all somewhat wet). I inserted the DVD and it soon ejected. I did this 3 or 4 more times in succession without rewetting the DVD. Finally the DVD did not self eject and it started playing.
Works fine and no damage to the DVD.
Thanks to all.

Re: Cleaning

Thanks for the feedback. I think this is a new approach ... at least I don't remember any of the previous commenters mentioning this method. Smile

credit card with paper towel worked!

thank you so much. My MacBook Pro's drive was reading only DVD's and when i would insert a CD it ould be stuck for a min and then eject it. This happened with all CD's no matter if they were blank burned or original music. I read this and took a creditcard and paper towel damp from windeow cleaner went back and forth with it inserted half way in the slot and now the drive reads my CD's!!
Thanks!!!!

This worked for me

I have tried the card and rag method and a disc cleaner. I was about to take it all apart when I found this link. http://support.apple.com/kb/TS2839
and this is the direct link to the video all 13 seconds of it. http://km.support.apple.com/library/APPLE/APPLECARE_ALLGEOS/TS2839/TS2839-2.mov

And hey presto, my drive works again. I hope this helps some of you.

Money on the credit

Money on the credit card/cloth trick. My drive stopped reading/writing blank CD-Rs (DVD-Rs worked fine) for a while now. I was about to take apart my laptop and try to do something myself before ordering a replacement drive when I gave this a shot and it worked on the first try. Thanks!!

Chamois Tip swap

These are perfect for the job. Useful for other things also.
Won't scratch the lens.

http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/20-1145&scode=GS201&CAWELAID=220225175

credit card

i tried it with a bandana wrapped around a credit card. i did not put alcohol on it or anything, just did it dry and it worked like a charm. came out with some dust on it. Smile

macbook pro matshita dvd-r uj-857e

My macbook pro matshita dvd-r uj-857e didn't work quite right any more, could not read any dvd's, i took a thick business card, paper towel and some window cleaner, did as described, and - beyond belief - seconds after that i put a dvd inside and it worked....THANX a lot! Again, thank you!

Perfect!

Both of my MBP's stopped reading anything. I inserted a credit card [wrapped in "Oakley" bag] into the left side of the slot about an inch and gently moved it around. In one minute both MBP's were reading discs again.

THANKS

One more...

Worked on my mini 2010 just before replacing the drive!
Thanks a lot!

i at first tried the credit

i at first tried the credit card with cloth method, the drive started burning but wasnt that good, it could not finish writing any cd, it would fail at 98%. so after losing a couple of cds i decided to open the laptop and clean the lens with some clear surgical spirit and a cotton swab...worked like a charm.

Simply Genius

I used a student id (credit without the embossed numbers) with a thin lint free cloth, wet with rubbing alcohol (allowed to partially dry before use)....and voila! Gently "swipped" my card three times about two inches in the drive. Fixed two MBP in less than 10 minutes. Burned DVD 15 minutes later....Its a friday too! Talk about making my day. The Genius Bar wanted me to drop off my MBP for 3-5 days.

Credit card method of cleaning lens

Rather than using a conventional credit card (with magnetic strip), I used a thin piece of plastic (which slides in and out of luggage tags which my company uses), wrapped some paper toweling around it, sprayed it with a glass cleaner (used in a print shop), inserted it to the left of the slot of my MPC (2009 vintage with the Matshita UJ857 (which has a bad reputation for reliability) went back and forth a few times and then inserted a disc which the burner had previously read as a blank disc and -- lo and behold -- a readable disc.

I had just ordered a portable Samsung burner on Amazon because my MBP disc burner was barely usable. I will keep it, when it arrives, because it's a handy item to have as a backup.

But the problem was solved. I will try the same thing with a MacMini drive which has been getting a bit temperamental as well.

Thanks again for this great tip. Worked like a charm.

Wow!!! Software bugs and

Wow!!! Software bugs and issues are so common these days that we often forget that problems do exist with the hardware. I tried this tutorial after the optical drive on my 2007 MacBook Pro would spin a DVD for a few seconds and kick it back out. I simply wrapped a lens cleaning cloth around a credit card and inserted it through the left side of my optical drive a few times... DRIVE RESTORED!!! Thank you so much for this article!

Just used a dry lens cloth

Just used a dry lens cloth with a thinner plastic credit type card and now my DVD drive on my 4 year old MacBook Pro is reading a disc that it wouldn't earlier today. I have had progresses problems burning disk and now reading disks. I'll attempt to burn something later but for now my drive is reading well again. Thank you!!! Smile

Credit card with paper towel and glass cleaner

Here's one more vote for this solution. Worked on my 15" MacBookPro.

I add another one. Worked

I add another one. Worked great for my Dell XPS M1330!

Credit card and cloth cleaning success!

THANK YOU! Another successful DVD restoration to full working condition in my 2007 Macbook Pro. I have had problems over the past year burning DVDs and occasional errors in playing DVDs so was looking to replace the drive. After deciding to pull the Macbook apart and try cleaning the laser lens first, I looked for instructions from "those who had gone before" and found your webpage. I was ready to start dismantling when I saw the reader comments about trying a credit card wrapped in a cleaning cloth, and thought I had nothing to loose, so went ahead with a lens cleaning cloth dampened in isopropyl alcohol wrapped around a credit card, and voila! DVD burning at full speed again - WONDERFUL!

another success story with an older macbook

I wasn’t able to insert a disc into the slot drive of my MacBook. I used an eyeglass cleaning tissue wrapped in a credit card. The first time, I put a little alcohol on the cloth but it didn’t resolve the issue. As others suggested, I tried it again with a dry cloth. I then opened System Preferences, clicked on CDs & DVDs, and heard the drive reset. The drive is now working perfectly! Thank you so much!

Red Circle

What did you use to draw the red circle around the lens? I tried a red biro but it didn't work.

Re: Red Circle

I guess you took the hard way. Wink Retouching a photo is a lot easier.

Credit card didn't work, but dismantling did!

Just wanted to add to the pile of comments a huge thanks for posting this tutorial. The credit card trick didn't work for my optical drive (I have a mid-2009 MacBook Pro 15" Unibody), and the drive had completely stopped reading CDs and was picky about DVDs. I ended up dismantling my optical drive, swabbing the lens with a Q-tip and 70% isopropyl alcohol (from my first-aid kit), drying with some compressed air, and it's now working like it's new! I noticed the rip speed for CDs was faster than I've ever seen it before, too...

Thank you -- you saved me $150 (labor and parts) for replacing an out-of-warranty drive, when all it needed was a little spit and shine!

Re: Credit card didn't work, but dismantling did!

"One is glad to be of service." (Andrew Martin - Bicentennial Man)
Smile

Thank you!

I had gone through everything in the book, including diskutil, drutil, changes to system prefs etc. This worked brilliantly.
As others said, it takes 10 seconds.
To clarify some small points that the earlier comments I read didn't make crystal clear:
I sprayed a little iKlear screen cleaner on an iphone cleaning cloth (cloth is square and slightly longer than the screen of an iphone 5).
I folded the cloth in half, then slid a plastic library card inside so the long edge of the card was enfolded by the cloth. The edges of the cloth stuck out a bit from the short edges of the card, but this doesn't matter.
I held the loose edges of cloth tightly onto the OTHER long edge of the card so the cloth was smooth and would not slip off the card.
Then I inserted the long edge of the card about 3-4 cm into the DVD slot, with the left short edge of the card on the left side of the slot (because the laser lens is on that side)
I pushed it in, pulled out, in and out three or four times total.
BINGO!

Credit card + cloth doesn't fix the problem :((((

I'm so desperate. I've tried the method described by others, using the plastic card and the cloth, and it just doesn't seem to work. I've tried it for 10 times already but the drive just won't read any CD/DVD. I can only hear a little click a couple of times and then the disk is ejected. What should I do?? Seriously, I'm trying to avoid contacting Apple, the repair costs are super expensive in Singapore and besides, it's an old Mac so... Any other suggestions on how to fix this problem?? All ideas are much appreciated. Thanks

Re: Credit card + cloth doesn't fix the problem :((((

I see two options:
  1. try to open up the Mac and the optical drive to give it a thorough cleaning from the inside
  2. buy an external (USB) optical drive

Cleaning cloth for glasses and bank card

Fine cloth for cleaning glasses wrapped around bank card, pushed inside almost all in. Left, middle, right: cleaned all corners. Worked Smile

Cleaning opening drive

+ Surley NOT benzine but isopropyl alcohol (laboritory grade 99% C3H8O) benzine is C6H6 and too harsh for cleaning electronic components it is also harmful to inhale; both are extremely flamable and need to be used with care.

+ The drive illustrated is the type used in iMacs, delicate but not nearly so much as the Macbbok pro superdrive. The latter can also be opened with care but is better cleaned by careful insertion of a cleaning disc or the business card + optical cleaning cloth.

Re: Cleaning opening drive

The drive illustrated has been taken out by myself from a Macbook Pro that I bought in December 2006. I don't know whether the same type of drive was used in iMacs as well, but it was definitely the drive that my late MBP came with.

I've cleaned several CD/DVD drives (including a couple of Hi-Fi music players) with benzine and no harm came to the drives. But I'm no chemist, neither very well informed in the potential effects of benzine. I just might have gotten lucky.

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