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How to repair and recover data from damaged CDs and DVDs

Optical discs are very fragile; a few scratches on a CD or DVD can easily turn it into a coaster. Let’s take a look at some ways to repair damaged CDs and DVDs and recover data from those scratched discs. These tips can be applied to game discs, karaoke discs, etc.

Structure of an optical disc

Before we get into how to fix a damaged CD or DVD, we should have a quick look at how optical discs work. You probably already know that little lasers read data from CDs (that’s why they’re called optical discs), but how are optical discs made?

Structure of an optical disc

In general, an optical disc is likened to a sandwich. Although the design differs depending on the type of CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc, the principle is the same. Between two layers of polycarbonate plastic lies a layer of aluminum (or a comparable substance).

The plastic helps protect the data and helps focus the laser so it can read the data from the aluminum layer. Scratches on the plastic are often the cause of CD and DVD damage.

Two types of scratches on CDs and DVDs

There are usually two types of scratches on optical discs: scratches at right angles and scratches running along the grooves.

  • Perpendicular scratches are scratches that run from the center to the edges of the disc but are by no means the worst.
  • Round scratches are the more damaging ones, running along the spiral.

Perpendicular scratches are usually not too bad because the laser can “jump” over them and continue reading. However, concentric scratches are more destructive, causing large jumps or even the inability to read the disc.

If your CD or DVD has a lot of round scratches, the chances of data recovery are slim. Fortunately, there are several do-it-yourself options that can help you fix the disc.

5 Ways to Repair a CD or DVD

There are a number of ways that can fix scratched DVDs and CDs, but they are not 100% guaranteed to work but are well worth a try.

  • Wipe the disc with a soft, lint-free cloth and a little damp, mild detergent. This is the most reliable measure because it is the most common. The slime from the hands and food residues are also removed with this method.
  • Apply toothpaste to the scratch. Certain substances in toothpaste can fill in the gaps caused by scratches, and when polished, the laser can read data from the disc.
  • Soften scratches with heat from a 60W bulb. Leaving the disc under heat can soften the plastic a bit, helping to read the data.
  • Fill scratches with a wax product. Lip balm, shoe polish, and other wax-based products can fill in scratches the same way toothpaste does.
  • Cover the holes in the data layer with a pen and masking tape. Not all damaged discs are caused by scratches. Holes in the data layer are also the cause of damaged CDs and DVDs. In this case, cover the hole with duct tape and a dark colored pen so that the tag can read the disc.

Tips to recover data from damaged CDs and DVDs

Try one of the following tips to recover data from a damaged disk:

  • Use a CD or DVD writer instead of a reader.
  • If possible, restore on the same drive used to create the disc. Chances of success are higher if you use the same drive, or at least the same manufacturer.
  • Unable to read data with the operating system? Try recovery tools.

How to recover data from damaged CDs and DVDs

In some cases, you need to use an optical disc recovery tool to back up the disc contents.

Many available software utilities can do this, but most are outdated, rarely updated, and often don’t work. The reason is that fewer and fewer people use CDs and DVDs. The games may ship on DVD and Blu-ray, but digital versions are also available. Very few people use optical discs for storage.

So what are your options? Your choice depends on the operating system used.

Recover damaged CDs and DVDs on Windows

Recovering data from a damaged CD or DVD on Windows is not easy. A good choice is IsoBuster, which can make a copy of each byte of disk content.

  • Download IsoBuster for Windows

Alternatively, you can also use Roadkil’s Unstoppable Copier utility.

  • Download Unstoppable Copier for Windows

Read and backup scratched DVDs on macOS

The simplest option on macOS is to use the Disk Utility tool to clone a fixed optical disc, that is, store it as a disk image on the computer.

Open Disk Utility, select the disk in the left pane, then choose File > New Image. Follow the steps to name the DVD file, choose where to save it, then click Save to start the backup.

When done, you can mount the disk image without a physical disk.

Recover data from scratched disks on Linux

Like Windows, you can use Unstoppable Copier for Linux.


Alternatively, you can also try ddrescue, which is a command-line tool that provides a variety of options for recovering all types of storage media.


Repair and recover data from damaged DVDs

Whether by a method like toothpaste or other ways to make the disc readable, you’ll be pleased that it works. But for how long does this satisfaction last?

You should see some tips below to ensure a long disk life:

  • Immediately back up the contents and make an ISO copy of the disc upon successful restoration.
  • Always use a high-quality optical disc.
  • Take good care of the CD.

Good luck!

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