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Taking Care of CDs

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 by | Filed Under: File & Disk Management

Carl from OH writes:

I’m starting to have problems with CD-Rs. Especially near the end of the CD, the music gets scratchy and fluttery. They played Perfectly when I first burned them. They are stored in a jewel case. So, do CDs deteriorate or get cloudy with Age? Can they be polished up to get the music data off of them?

Great question, Carl. Many people rely on writeable CDs (CD-Rs) or rewriteable CDs (CD-RWs) to back up important information, send files to other individuals and to make music CDs to listen to in CD players. What many people do not realize is that optical media, which includes CD-Rs and CD-RWs, don’t last forever. The lifespan of a CD depends on a variety of factors, including whether the CD is of the writeable/rewriteable variety or if the data or music was etched into the disc by the manufacturer as well as how the CD is cared for and stored.

Types of CDs

Factory manufactured CDs, sometimes referred to as pressed CDs, last much longer than CD-R and CD-RW discs because of the way the data is recorded. Data on pressed CDs is actually pressed into the disc, creating a series of pits and lands. Because the data is literally etched into the disc, these discs last quite a long time and are usually only affected by physical damage. Writeable CDs, on the other hand, are covered with a layer of dye. During the writing process, a laser burns the dye on the disc turning it black. Over time the dye breaks down rendering all or part of the disc unreadable. While it’s more important to properly care for recordable CDs because of the dye, all CDs should be properly stored and cared for to extend their life.

The lifespan of recordable CDs depends on a variety of factors, such as which dye the manufacturer used and how the CD is cared for and stored. There are several dyes commonly used by CD manufacturers. Some of these dyes break down faster than others and some are more sensitive to light and temperature than others. Improperly storing a CD can also contribute to the degradation of the dye, which could render the disc useless.

Proper Storage

How you store your CDs can directly affect their lifespan and could lead to poor music quality or data that will not load. It’s best to store CDs in protective cases, such as the plastic jewel cases that CDs are often packaged in. While thin plastic or paper sleeves will provide some protection for your CDs, heavy objects placed on top of the sleeves could still lead to damage. CD jewel cases stored vertically are less prone to damage than CD jewel cases that are stacked, so keep your CDs stored vertically in a cool, dry location.

Avoid stacking CDs on top of each other or setting an unprotected CD on any surface as dust or dirt particles on the surface could scratch the surface of the disc. If you must place a CD on a surface unprotected, set it down so that the side with the information is facing up. Return the CD to its storage case as soon as possible so that it is not damaged.

The dye coating recordable CDs can be degraded by a number of things, including the light emitted by the laser inside your CD player or computer and ambient light. Because of this, it’s best to store CDs away from light sources, such as lamps or the sun. When storing music CDs in your car, use jewel cases or protective cases and store the cases in a glove box, under a seat or elsewhere in the car where they will not be exposed to direct sunlight. This will help prolong the life of your recordable CDs.

Hope that helps! Remember to keep your CDs clean and safe, but also remember to create a backup… because no matter how many precautions you take, they won’t last forever!

~Chad Stetson

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6 Responses to “Taking Care of CDs”

  1. K.Vee.Shanker. says:

    Hi Chad,

    Great answer to great question! Thanks to both of you.

    I have also believed till now that CDs will last for ever until physically damaged. Now, I know that its content can be damaged/lost in due course, due to sunlight, heat, quality of dye,and so on.So, depending on the value of data, I’ve to take care, right from CD quality to storage.

    I can understand that individuals may not afford the costly storage.But, how about businesses, institutions and legal authorities who need to store data practically at any cost do? They should be employing many backup methods.Does blue-ray disks last longer? Can you please enlighten us about that too?

    • Peter says:

      Sensitive or significant media is usually stored on archival grade gold discs which will store data without deterioration for around 90 – 100 years. Gold is much more inert (sorry for the bad English there, it’s early in Australia) and resistant to other factors that cause disc degradation such as oxidization.

      I used to work in a camera store that did VHS, MiniDV, Beta etc transfers to DVD, and we would burn the digital copy to gold archival grade discs. But the discs usually come in at $5-$10 each, which is the main reason as to why you don’t really see them marketed in computer stores and the like.

  2. Steve says:

    When placing the cd on a unprotected surface, it should be layed on the side which is plain, not the top side(or label) as stated in the article. The top contains a thin layer, which if scratched, the cd is ruined. The bottom can be buffed out if not to badley scratched. A cd is just like a mirror, if you scratch the side you look at, it might be polished out. If you scratch the back, the reflective layer is gone, no polish will help.

  3. Daniel Hulseapple says:

    I am in the habit of taking my new music CD’s and immediately making a copy which is what I then use in my pc, cd player, or car. I store the original where it is least likely to get damaged. When the copy begins to go bad, I just take out eh original and make another copy for use. Since the master is used only to make a single copy at a time, it should last longer than one that is constantly used.

  4. Denise Roche says:

    I always write two copies of any CD or DVD I burn. I do not use CD-RW or DVD-RW. I keep them stored, but I get the data off of them and reburn them to new media every few years. I do not burn music CDs, though, and many people do. I would still make two copies of a music CD, but I would replace the copies as soon as one was showing signs of wear.

    One time I burned one copy of a backup. Sure enough, the copy was not readable. I was fortunate to find a program that could lift the data off of the CD later, but I have been very strict about making two copies ever since.

    I also have plenty of hard drive space on my computer. I keep disk images on a partition set aside for that purpose. I concentrate on any disks I may need on short notice, such as personal data that I do not keep on my computer.

  5. Bill Kempka says:

    So what IS the best way to store files. I have thousands of pictures that I need to protect and I have been backing them up on DVDs.

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