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Video game repair: how to clean game cartridges

Those great classic NES, SNES, and Atari games that we all love are getting pretty old. Most are over twenty years old and many were not well cared for by their original owners. Cartridge sets work with metal connectors, and over time those connectors will rust and become unusable. The good news is that most cartridge games will work with a few simple cleaning techniques.

Method #1 Q-Tips and alcohol. For this technique you will need cotton swabs and alcohol. Dilute alcohol with water, use a half and half mixture of water and alcohol. Some people say that you should use distilled or purified water. I have not found this to make a real difference to the cleanliness of the cartridge. Take the swab and dip it into the alcohol, then move it up and down across the metal contacts inside the cartridge. Then take a dry Q-tip and blot the alcohol following the same pattern. If the swab looks dirty, repeat the process until it is relatively clean.

Method #2 WD-40 or Audio/Video Cleaner. Some cartridges have rusted to the point where the older technique will not work. So we have to try something a little harder. Instead of alcohol we’re going to find a can of audio/video head cleaner or WD-40. Spray a small amount into the cartridge, let it sit for a few minutes for the chemicals to take effect. Then take the q-tips and dry the contacts again by going up and down each metal contact.

Method #3 Draft. I have never had to use this technique as most games will work using the above two techniques. However, some swear this works and I don’t see it doing any harm so I’ll include it. For this technique you will need a small Security Bit screwdriver (you can find them on eBay) and an eraser. First you will have to open the cartridge with the screwdriver and take out the circuit board inside. Now move the eraser up and down over each metal contact. Clean up any remaining eraser residue. The idea here is for the eraser to act as an abrasive agent and remove some of the oxidation from the contacts without damaging the actual metal.

If that doesn’t work, some people suggest using metal cleaners like those used to clean old coins and the like. I don’t suggest this because they are too harsh and could leave you with a game you can never play again.

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