Lifetime of a CDROM disk

Category: Hardware

I need to archive some files on CDROM disks. I hear a lot about the differences in quality of CDs. How do I determine what is a high quality CD that will last at least several years?

How Long Will a CDROM Last?

As with any backup medium (floppy disk, tape, CDROM, etc.) the lifetime of the data is an important consideration. Kodak has done extensive accelerated aging tests which indicate that their Infoguard CD-R should last 200 years. TDK say that their discs will last "about 100 years". Others tell horror stories that no-name CDs which they have burned are no longer readable after a few months.

CDROM manufacturers advise that storing your backup disks in a cool, dry environment will help to prolong data life, while direct sunlight and fingerprints may cause damage to a CDROM. A good rule of thumb (no pun intended) seems to be to buy a brand-name disk, treat it as per the guidelines above, and don't expect it to last more than five years.

But even if your CDROM data remains intact for 20 years, will we still have CDROM readers commonly available then? Technology changes rapidly. When was the last time you saw a computer with a 5.25 inch floppy drive? Even the 3.5 inch floppy is an endangered species, now that most computers are sold without them. In a few decades, the CDROM may be outmoded.

I suggest you revisit your backup strategy every few years, and re-copy all critical data to new media on the same basis. Now that portable USB flash drives are getting cheaper, you might consider using them instead of CDROMs.

Repairing a Damaged CDROM

Even if you're careful, CDs can get scratched and become unreliable or unreadable. A few years ago, I read about the Toothpaste Cure. It sounds a bit hokey, but I can tell you it has brought some CDROM disks back to life when I thought they were goners. Here's how it works:

First clean the disk with warm water and mild soap to remove any oils from fingerprints or other sources. Dry it with a clean, lint-free towel and see if the disk will work now. If not, bring on the Crest!

Rub the disk gently with toothpaste (the pasty kind, not a gel) in a RADIAL (not circular) motion from the center of the disk to the outside edge. Wash and dry it again and see if it's readable.

Some people report success when using car polish, silver polish, or Rain-X instead of toothpaste. The idea is that small scratches are buffed out, and some of the polishing agent remains on the disk to fill in any irregularities on the optical surface. Due to the chance that the filler may fall out over time and gum up your CDROM drive, you should make a copy of the repaired disk and discard the original.

It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try when the only alternative is to throw away the disk. Some commercial products that may be useful are Wipe Out! and Discwasher.

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Most recent comments on "Lifetime of a CDROM disk"

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

I think you should clearly specify to NOT directly put water on a cd-rom, if the external coating is not perfect (and very often it is not on the edges) humidity can get on the recording layer with the most unpredictable result (or with very predictable result). At least this was what I came to know when looking for infos on how to have a perfect storage copy of my stuff. I rather use just a slightly moisted SOFT cloth. I think it is much better if you really care to keep the aging of the media under control using a software like (actually the web site of the creator is no longer available, but you could find the tool around with google).

Posted by:

Robert Dvoracek
18 Nov 2005

Hello. If you decide to go the car wax route, I highly recommend Kit™ Scratch Out that comes in the bright yellow bottle. I suspect that it has an abrasive that is even finer than that found in tooth paste. To get the deeper scratches, you may have to use a buffing wheel. And if you hold the disc up to the light and can see dots or scratches where it is coming through, that means the metal substrate which has the information on it has been scratched. You may not get some of your files back in that case.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

The old Crest toothpaste and tiny swirling circles trick.... my how this brings back memories of how to get scratches out of glass and more importantly motorcycle helmet visors! Yup, it worked well.

Posted by:

Chef John
18 Nov 2005

I know this sounds like a D'uh but perhaps you should remind readers that the surface they should be "attacking" is the side opposite the label! I can see it now someone will abraid the label surface off of the CD then will complain that they can't read the CD (Who knows they may even get a Lawyer to take on the case). Many moons ago I scratched the label of a music disk - rendering certain tracks unplayable. However through the judicious use of an opaque material (white out) I was able to copy the disk for my continued enjoyment (Legal disclaimer goes in here).

THe advice about reviewing storeage media is "right on the money" How many still have DAT readers? How about Colorado Tracker units? All of which at one time or another touted as the ideal back up media. And even showing my "experience" the introduction of the great method of distributing data and applications the Curzon Strip reader.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

In the case of a storebought Elton John music CD that had been used as a coaster, I used cotton balls and no abrasive to polish out the gouges in a radial motion. A dremel with a cotton buffer wheel would've worked, but the idea here is to melt and reflow the plastic and a dremel works very quickly. If you have a light exacting touch the dremel would work. The CD was copied once it could be read again. Note there is a big difference between commercial CDs, burnable CDs, and re-writable CDs. And there is a big difference between CDs and DVDs, as concern longevity of stored data, apparently.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

Yup, toothpaste has worked for me too. So has Turtle Wax and Meguire's Mirror Glaze (Liquid car wax). BUT, the main comment I have is that not only are CDs sometimes not reliable, their days may be numbered.

You're right when you ask "When was the last time you saw a computer with a 5.25 inch floppy drive?" I've read that starting in 2007 some car manufacturers will no longer equip their cars with CD players -- they'll have USB ports (in the glove box)! Just how many CDs worth of tunes can you put on a 512M USB stick? I really like the idea of not having to fumble around with CDs. A good MP3 player that can access a USB drive (or an iPod) makes so much more sense!

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

I used a clean cotton cloth scrap with the CD upside down in jewel case to hold without further damage. Will try your tooth paste method next time. Thx!

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

Remember that the marking pens or paper labels can degrade your data. There is a great page on CDs at

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

i tried an informal "advanced acceleration" test of a CD-R recently. i left a TDK CD-R filled with JPEG images out on a window facing the sun for about 6 months. it was not readable by my CD drive, but the surprising thing is the software considered it a blank CD-R. it even passed the testing phase. i'll try and burn something to see if it actually can be re-burned.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2005

For more on makers see:

Also, Amazon has a good page summarizing tests. Can't find the page now, but they place Mitsui first (especially the Gold with blue dye), Maxell, then Fujitsu. The Maxell result contradicts what the above link mentions but I suspect that has more to do with the actual maker. Much like they mention for Verbatim, not all media from the same brand are made by the same factory.

Mitsui are hard to get in Canada so I've been using Maxell with good results. Definitly stay away from cheapos.

Posted by:

19 Nov 2005

Fred Langa had some thoughts on this.He suggested not using stick on labels on burned disks,that they tended to shorten disk readability life greatly.

Posted by:

20 Nov 2005

I have a Skip Doctor and it works like a charm!

Posted by:

Fred Showker
20 Nov 2005

As a service to our user group membership we do keep computers up and running that use 3.5 floppies, CD, Zip, and SCSI removable like SyQuest, etc. Have saved many users from losing valuable files.

Posted by:

23 Nov 2005

I had lost 1/2 a year of digital pictures and was just heart-sick, but thanks to your article, after just cleaning with mild soap and warm water, I was able to read it and copy them to a new disc. Will definitely remember your toothpaste suggestion. Thanks for ALL your worthy tips.

Posted by:

17 Sep 2006

Just an update regarding Flash Drives. There was an article recently that mentioned that flash drives degrade over time at a much faster rate than any media type archive (tape, CDR, DVD, floppies, etc.) Just a word of warning if you are planning to use them for long term storage. Basically, the older the technology, the longer the archive life (i.e. stone tablets lasted longer than parchment/paper which lasted longer than magnetic media which lasted longer than flash media). My advise is to at least get printed copies to archive on acid free paper, especially pictures. Music files and videos are harder to archive, just try & look at your VHS home movies of just 10 years ago & check out the image quality. Even old movie film will degrade noticeably after just a decade.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2007

Well, I have a question about a computer game. It is called The SIMS2, my brother an I used to play it ALL the time, however when we were finished we of course were lazy and forgot to put it back in the case. Now I would really like to play it again, but when I put it in the computer, it won't play. I noticed scratch marks on it, so I went online to see if I could possibly clean it and that would be simple enough to work. However it failed and I am really upset about this. Is there ANY way that I can possibly get this disk to properly work again? If so please give me some advice :)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Did you try all the ideas in the Repairing a Damaged CDROM section of this article?

Posted by:

14 Jan 2010

I purchased a Simplex 500 GB and backed up all my pictures onto this drive. I was told that I should STILL put them on a DVD as these types of drives are unreliable. Is this correct? I have 1000's of pictures on this drive and it takes FOREVER TO BURN THEM TO DVD. What would you recommend?

Posted by:

18 Jan 2012

Why not zip up your music and photo's into archives, and then use the cloud to back them up.

Mediafire offers free accounts, the only limit is the maximum file size is 100MB/file.

So zip your music into 100MB files, use the encryption if you want to keep is secure and then store it on the webserver. No CD's to worry with and your data is backed up for free!

I have already used this to zip up and backup many of my dad's slides that were digitized recently. Now they are backed up in several locations and I am sure they will never be lost.

Incidentally I have DVD backups that are over 7 years old recently and I have read them within the last month.... so they are still OK after 7 years.

Posted by:

27 Dec 2012

from a tip some time ago, I used furniture polish & got mixed results, but it was better than nothing from the comparable info found here like rainX, etc.
thanks again for the opportunity to get this info,

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