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)!

Comments

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Re: Follow up on q-tip cleaning

Thanks for the tip! Brave ones might go for this shortcut, but I like the disassembling method more. The head of a q-tip consists of a lot of small fibres and while squeezing it through the slot of the optical drive, some of these fibres might get caught inside (without you noticing). With time (as you use the drive) the fibre might get on to the lens and the drive would suddenly start failing again. Of course I must admit that cleaning without disassemly is a _lot_ faster (10 seconds compared to 10 - 30 minutes ... depending on how good you are at MBP disassembly Smile ).

thanks

works like a charm! thanks Smile))
best
Kurt

Nitrogen?

does anybody have any comments on using liquid nitrogen to flush out electronics? I heard once that he can even be used on hot items because the cooling right is rapid and yet "soft". Please don't act on my question, I really have no idea, I am just wondering if what I heard has any basis in fact.

Re: Nitrogen?

I only know that liquid nitrogen was already used to cool CPUs while overclocking to the extremes. However I'd stronly discourage pouring it on hot metal. The shattering of the T-1000 towards the end of "Terminator 2" (or the shattering of the T-800 in "Terminator Salvation") is not without any basis. Smile

this guide has been very

this guide has been very helpful, my superdrive now working flawlessly. thank you!

easier temporary solution - Could just blow it with a straw

I read your blog, it gave me great inspiration and let me understand the problem. thank you so much
I do not have the patience + time to open the macbook, so I just read online to blow the lens of the superdrive with a lens.
works fine until now, thank you so much...
ps. apple support (?)

i tried this.. took me an

i tried this.. took me an hour
but i still not reading cds

Superdrive solution -- maybe

I bought a used G4PB with a superdrive that either wouldn't accept a disk or would spit it out. On one of my persistent attempts, a disk came back out with a piece of very sticky velvety stuff attached --- more than an inch long! Since then I have dismantled that drive and another and discovered that it was a piece of gasket material near the slot entrance. There's a piece on each side. After I got rid of the rest of the messed up piece, the drive accepted disks and read and wrote to them. I don't know that all the problems are solved -- it sometimes makes a very unhappy noise, but the sticky velvet thing might offer some others with problems a suggestion.

Re: Superdrive solution -- maybe

Thanks for sharing your experience.

credit card with fine cloth works !

Was just about to get my gear together to disassemble the drive...... am I glad that I tried the credit card with Pledge Grab-it house hold cleaning cloth. I think I saved myself a few hours.

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