There are plenty of articles and videos out there with steps on cleaning your old video games, and many have contradicting opinions. Well I’m not going to give you a full step by step approach (though there will be some tips at the bottom) but things that I believe you should do and things you should never do and most importantly, reasons why.

What you shouldn’t do

  • Do not use Windex:

It is hard to believe that this idea still exists in the age of the internet. Video game cartridges use conductive contacts made of a softer metal. Windex has ammonia which is very good at cleaning off grime and tarnish but it also has dyes and perfumes which are really bad for those contacts. Even the cheaper basic version has a little perfume in it and it always has dye, ammonia isn’t blue naturally. It also may have a higher concentration of water than most suggested cleaners for electronics which in the end is also bad and can cause more tarnish at a later date. It is generally just a good idea to avoid glass cleaner, even if the cheap brand stuff has less water and perfume. In reality Ammonia may be a little more corrosive than needed anyway.

  • Brasso is also a poor choice

Brasso (and other similar polishes) is not an electronic cleaner it is a brass and copper polish. So yes, it will polish those contacts up really nice and yes it will probably remove some or all of the tarnish. But we do not need shiny contacts to get them to work, we need a clean surface that will conduct an electric signal. Brasso and other polish compounds will leave a film on the contacts to make them shine which can be just as bad when it comes to making a good signal contact as well as be bad for the system contacts as it scrapes off. If you use a polishing compound you’ll just have to end up recleaning the contacts once you have all the tarnish off anyway. For real extreme cases this may be ok but in general you might as well cut out the middle man.

  • Stove cleaner is not for electronic contacts

A recent idea getting passed around is to use stove cleaner. This one boggles my mind a bit; why would you ever think to use stove cleaner? I understand that stove cleaner can be used on glass, ceramic and metal surfaces and will certainly peel off a lot of goop. But it is stove cleaner, it is made to spray on thick amounts of burnt on food and eat it away. There is much more to a game cartridge than the contacts and spraying on a corrosive cleaner is not a good idea. Even if you’ve tried it once and everything seems ok, there are just better and safer methods. Avoid this type of stuff!

  • Do not scrub your contacts, not with anything.

When I mean scrub, I mean heavy force scrubbing with something abrasive. I’ve personally seen the horrors of someone using something like a scrub sponge, steel wool or sand paper on game contacts. Nothing like this is ever needed! You’re just rubbing away a layer of metal and even worse can sever one of the connections to the contacts and ruin the cartridge. If you do this, stop that now.

Things you can do

  • Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol is your friend.

You can find rubbing alcohol just about anywhere and it is one of the easiest and an effective way to clean your contacts. You can buy it in a few different levels of concentration as well and I suggest the higher ones. Look around for 70% and 90%, the first is easier to find  but you may need to go to a drug store to get 90%. All this percentage means is there is less water in the mixture so you’re getting more rubbing alcohol per volume. Less water to sit on your metal contacts the better.

  • Electronic Contact Cleaner is another option.

This product is similar to rubbing alcohol in that most of them contain it. It is different because they sometimes contain other trusted non abrasive chemicals to do an even more detailed job. You can even find them in an aerosol spray that works similarly to compressed air but still has the Isopropyl alcohol (and/or other cleaning agents) that will evaporate after a moment. So you can use this type of cleaner in two ways, use it to give a coat to your game’s contacts and wipe clean or use it to spray out dirt and grime from your game system. The cleaners are safe on plastics so using them as a quick cleaning spray to flush out spots is very useful (always check that they are safe and test first before spraying away).

  • Yes, erasers can be useful.

Those single pink or gray erasers can be useful to remove thicker chunks of bad erosion. But be weary, you don’t want to scrub something from the board away and you don’t want to scuff up your contacts. If you want to experiment with a few different ones lightly on a cheaper cart or two, go for it, packs of them are pretty cheap. What is working here is the heat from the friction and the pull of the eraser, you don’t really need to force anything. I don’t usually do this personally but it is an idea.

Quick Tips and Tricks

There are some methods that work better than others in getting your contacts clean, though I wouldn’t say there is any sure fire way. Do invest in some “game bits”, these little security bits can be helpful when really wanting to do a deep clean on both your games and certain systems since you’ll need them to get the casings off. The special cleaning kits are not required but can be useful since they offer a larger flat surface and a few different types of sponge to work with, so if you can find one cheap enough I suggest grabbing one.

For your periodical maintenance cleaning though all you will need is some q-tips (get decent ones the cheap ones break and fray far too easily) and a little bottle of isopropyl rubbing alcohol. I like to make a little kit to keep in my gaming accessory drawers which includes the q-tips and a little dropper bottle of the rubbing alcohol (and toothpicks for cleaning controllers, but that is another article).

Place a small amount of your rubbing alcohol onthe q-tip. You want the q-tip to be wet but not dripping. You only want to clean the contacts not give the cart a bath. If you have a dropper 3 to 5 drops should be enough.
 Tilt the cartridge and your q-tip in an angle anduse the pressure from the gap in between the board and the casing to your advantage. Rub back and forth with pressure but don’t scrub madly. Let the angle and the tightness of the gap work for you.
Now all you need to do is repeat it for the otherside. Once you are finished with that use the dry side of the q-tip to get any access moisuture and dirt off the contacts.

That is all there is to it! Enjoy your undamaged and clean cartridges!

Addendum: I shouldn’t have to mention this but blowing into cartridges is not the way to go. Sure it may get dust off contacts for a quick possible fix but the moisture (aka your spit) that will always be present to some degree is not good for the contacts.

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