Got a bunch of cartridge games that are being stupid-heads and not working? I’ve found the secret to fixing them once and for all. Follow my step-by-step guide and you’ll be able to take pretty much any shit-condition video game and make it work like new.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Someone in the comments mentioned that brass polish may actually damage your carts. I’m personally skeptical, since a game-store-owning buddy of mine uses it on all his trade-ins, but I would refrain from using it until you can empirically disprove the claim. He suggests using a white eraser instead, and if that does the same job, great! I will have to try it myself.]
[AUTHOR’S NOTE 2: I can’t find any information online about brass polish damaging games, so it’s probably a BS claim, but I HAVE learned that an eraser will do the same job - just make sure not to press hard, just gently slide it along the pins. Honestly, the eraser seems to be the better and cheaper solution, so I definitely recommend it over the brass polish!]
I’m going to go into a step-by step guide on how to clean up your recent used game acquisitions, but first I want to rave about this brass polish brand in particular. I have tried using another brand (Brasso) in the past, but did not find it did a particularly good job of clearing up corrosion. I have one game in particular (Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth for N64) that almost never works, and believe me, I’ve tried almost everything. Brasso didn’t do shit. I read about this Weiman brand in an Ars Technica article (which I won’t link because it gives some really bad advice) that suggested this brand specifically over Brasso, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Got a fairly large bottle at Canadian Tire for $5. And it works great! Not only did it noticeably clear up the corrosion, but it got a ton of crud off my games that rubbing alcohol and Brasso did nothing for.
Seriously, just look at the results. Those Q-Tips used to be white:
That black stuff is a giant middle finger to people who still play cartridge-based vidya. Purge it!
Anyway. Assuming you have a large collection across a number of systems, these are your essential tools for cleaning your games:
From left to right:
- 99% isopropyl alcohol (you will need at least 70%; the higher the concentration, the better).
- Weiman brass polish <3
- Alcohol pads (these are typically found in first aid, normally used for cleaning skin for injections)
- “Ice Cream” brand emulsion cream (12% hydrogen peroxide - you’ll need at least 9%; this is easily found with hair dye in any pharmacy or grocery store)
- Goo Gone (though WD-40 also works, but it much more messy and smelly)
- Q-Tips (irregulars are cheaper and work just as well)
- Microfibre cloth with no abrasive fibres (I keep it in a plastic bag to keep dust and dirt off)
- Kleenex or paper towel (just for cleaning up spills or drying off liquids)
You should be able to get everything pictured here for under $30 CDN. The emulsion cream is around $10, but everything else is $5 or less.
Pro Tip: Avoid using Magic Eraser and similar products. They can remove permanent marker and such, but they also scuff up plastic really badly.
The first thing you’ll want to do is remove stickers. To do this, take a handful of Q-Tips and the bottle of Goo Gone. If you want to protect cover art, remove it from the case and place it somewhere safe.
- Dip a Q-Tip in the Goo-Gone, and apply generously to the infected area or the case or cartridge.
- Allow it to sit for about a minute, so that the chemical seeps through the paper sticker.
- Remove the sticker. It should peel right off. For more stubborn cases, just keep repeating the above steps until the bulk of the sticker is gone.
- Some stickers use a really thick, gooey adhesive. To get rid of this, just keep rubbing it with a Goo Gone Q-Tip until it’s listed off the surface. Then, just wipe it off with a Kleenex.
- Additionally, those security stickers are a nightmare to remove, but not impossible. First, apply Goo Gone as normal, and remove the paper surface. Then, pull off any metal strips left over. Apply Goo Gone again. You should be able to wipe the rest of the adhesive/plastic off.
(Pro tip - sometimes old sticker residue gets caked in with dirt. To get rid of this, try using Windex or other cleaning products to get some of the dirt out. I haven’t found a reliable method of dealing with this, so I normally just pilfer the case off a game I’m going to trade anyway.)
Next, you’ll want to clean grime off the surface. You can’t see it, but games are typically covered in filth, especially when they come from high-traffic stores like EB Games where hundreds of customers will lay their hands on your new (used) game before you take it off the shelf.
- This is easy enough. Just tear open an alcohol pad and run it over the surface of the case or cartridge. Let it dry, then feel the case. If it still feels grimy, just keep rubbing it down until the crud is gone.
- For cartridge games, controllers, or consoles with grooves that can easily get caked-in dirt trapped inside, use the toothbrush. Simply dip it in your bottle of rubbing alcohol, then scrub the Cheetos ooze out of your copy of Star Fox. Works surprisingly well!
This step will detail how to clean off disc games. Normally, you don’t need to clean discs to get them working, but if you buy a second-hand game with fingerprints or smudges of unidentifiable origin, you’ll want to clean that shit off.
- This is where the microfibre cloth comes in. Hold the disc such that your thumb is holding the cloth on the data side of the disc. Then, rub gently, in a circular motion, along the length of the disc. Easy as that.
- For really nasty smudges, use a bit of Windex and paper towel, but be very careful not to scratch clean portions of the disc.
- If the disc is scratched, just get it resurfaced if possible. Most independent gaming shops (not the clueless dimwits running EB Games) will have a resurfacing machine, and normally charge a buck or two to use it. The machines are cheap - like $400 - so stores using them use not been hard to find, in my experience.
Cleaning cartridges is a different beast because doing it right requires a bit of insight into how chemicals interact with electronics. First off, NEVER blow into your cartridges or touch the pins with your hands. This will leave oils and enzymes on the contacts that, over time, can permanently destroy the game. For the sake of preservation, please, just never do this. Second, almost any chemical reaction pertaining to normal use of video game equipment can be reversed.
- It’s not necessary, but opening up the carts will make the job much easier, as you’ll be able to very visibly see how badly the pins are corroded and if you’ve cleaned it sufficiently or not. Never open a game if you don’t know what you’re doing. Most games require a special security bit to open, but these are cheap and common online and in most independent game shops.
- First thing you’ll want to do is dip a Q-Tip in the brass polish. Liberally apply this polish to the pins on both sides of the cart (where applicable) with one end of the Q-Tip, let it sit for a few seconds, then wipe it off with the dry end of the Q-Tip. You will likely see a great deal of black crud come off during the dry swipe. This is good.
- If the crud coming off your games is a very dark black colour, keep re-applying and removing polish until you see a lighter shade of grey.
- Next, take another Q-Tip and dip it in the isopropyl alcohol. Run this across the pins both side-to-side, up-and-down and diagonal on the pins. This will remove any excess polish or crud from your game. With lower concentrations of alcohol, you should wipe it dry with the dry end of the Q-Tip, as the water left over can corrode the pins just as bad as saliva.
Optional Step 4!
A lot of older games - especially Nintendo products - turn yellow with age. There is a myth that this is caused by smoking, but it’s actually a result of a chemical reaction with the bromine in the type of plastic favoured by Nintendo in the 80’s and 90’s. This process can be reversed! Do not buy that “Gamerade” stuff that some jackass is selling online for like $50. It’s not worth it. There’s also Retrobrite, but you really don’t need to waste time and money playing chemist.
- First, take apart whatever item you want to fix. Generally, only the back half of SNES games and the top half of SNES consoles will be affected by this, but this solution will work with any plastic undergoing the same yellowing.
- Take the yellowed pieces of plastic and coat them in the “Ice Cream” emulsion cream. If the cream is not thick enough to provide a coat over the full surface of the plastic, you can wrap the plastic in saran wrap to keep the cream in place and prevent it from evaporating.
- Place the plastic under UV light for 5-12 hours; the time varies greatly from sample to sample in my experience. I use direct sunlight, but an artificial UV light will do the same job.
- When the process is done, you should find that the emulsion cream has turned yellow. Simply wipe this cream off, and you should find that your game looks like new!
Here’s a video of a similar product; it’s really quite fascinating stuff!
Hope you enjoyed reading. If you have any questions or curiosities on the topic of cleaning old gaming crap, I probably have the answer, so don’t hesitate to ask!
Also, as a bonus... Check this out!
This was the first time I’d opened up my recently-acquired copy of Xardion for the SNES. Now, I’ve seen rental stickers before, for sure, from all over the place... But INSIDE a game? That’s something new. Did Basement Video in Pembroke, ON have a guy in the back that opened every game just to put two stickers inside it? How many copies of Super Mario World or Chrono Trigger or F-Zero are floating around in the wild, nobody at all aware of the sticker on the inside? It’s cool stuff, man. I have a personal policy of never removing rental stickers (unless they’re just an ugly barcode or are obscuring the label) because it’s a fascinating time capsule of a business that probably no longer exists. If anyone from Nashville, TN is reading this, my copy of X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse once belonged to something called “Short Stop Video”.
Also, my copy of Super Mario All-Stars has all kinds of permanent marker writing on the inside. I didn’t take a picture, but it appears to be from a small game store afraid of... Board swapping or something? The front plastic, back plastic, and both sides of the board have writing on them. Outside, the game’s in mint condition. It’s so bizarre.