Game Cleaning Secrets Compared: Get Those Old Video Game Cartridges Working!
Perhaps you’re a retro video game hunter and collector. You find super rare game and get home only to find that game contains 20 years of dirt and corrosion on the contacts. Or maybe you’ve just realized that blowing in your NES carts doesn’t help but only makes you feel better…
While treasure hunting at one of my favorite pawn shops, I was talking with the owner who explained to me that for the past twenty years he’s been trading kids their dirty games for his cleaned ones. This guide covers some of the wisdom he shared with me and some other game cleaning tricks I’ve learned along the way. As always, proceed at your own risk and do your research and safe testing before trying to clean your rarer games.
First off, it’s handy to be able to open the games. This generally isn’t 100% necessary, but it’s insanely helpful for those stubborn games. Additionally, it’s quite useful if you ever want to change your video game’s battery in order to regain saved game functionality. There are two main bits that you’ll want to pick up if you’re a collector. Both of these bits fit into your standard screwdriver handle. Additionally, both game opening security bits can be purchased at our eBay store.
3.8mm Game Security Bit allows you to open your Original 8-bit NES, SNES, and N64 video game cartridges. If’ you’re an old school Nintendo game collector like me, this is a must have.
4.5mm Game Security Bit allows you to open your Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and Game Cube consoles. Additionally, it’ll allow you to open your Sega console and Sega Genesis & Mega Drive game cartridges.
WET CLEANING METHODS
Whether or not you decide to open your games, you’re going to have two best friends. The first is a good brand of Q-tips. I personally will only use name brand Q-tips, because every cheap brand I’ve tried have too weak of necks. With any of these cleaners, I lightly moisten a Q-tip and, being careful to make sure the cleaner doesn’t run onto the circuit board, I give the game’s contacts a good scrubbing. Using the dry end of the Q-tip, I dry the contacts and repeat this process a couple times until I’m happy with the cleanliness of the contacts.
I’ve ranked mine cleaning solutions based on personal preference. (Remember to read the safety precautions on any cleaner before using it.)
My 1st Favorite: WD-40 Let’s face it, what can’t WD-40 do?! I love this stuff. I spray a little into the cap of the WD-40 can, lightly moisten a Q-tip, rub the contacts, and magic happens. Using this method, I’ve been able to clean all but a few of the most stubborn video game cartridges.
My 2nd Favorite: Electrical Contact Cleaner You’ve probably walked past it a hundred times without noticing it at your local Radio Shack or other electronic store. It turns out this is some pretty good stuff. Like WD-40 it’s quite effective at cleaning contacts. Unfortunately, I found the brand I bought to have stronger fumes, so my preference is for the WD-40.
My 3rd Favorite: Rubbing Alcohol If you didn’t know already, Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol is magic for taking marker off the plastic of video game cartridges. Be careful though, because it’ll take the ink off your label just as effectively. Just like the previous two cleaners, I’ve commonly used rubbing alcohol to clean the contacts of video games. I haven’t found it to be quite as effective as WD-40, but it does a pretty good job. Plus it’s cheap and probably already in your medicine cabinet.
My 4th Favorite: Copper/Brass Cleaner Now and then you’ll see people on eBay advertise their games as “polished.” Often, they say they have a “secret” method. Chances are it’s simply their favorite brand of brass or copper polish. The stuff does a fantastic job cleaning game contacts, but generally you’ll have to open the game to use this method. Thus, it’s quite a bit more labor intensive than other methods.
My 5th Favorite: Windex Some would argue that the Ammonia in Windex or other Window cleaners can damage your video games, so I’d stick with the other cleaners first. However, I believe Windex is magic for cleaning the outside of video games. Again, be careful around the label as it can remove ink. It seems to do an ok job of cleaning contacts.
DRY CLEANING METHODS
Naturally, using a dry cleaning method is a bit safer. Overall, I find it less effective though, unless I’m opening a game to manually scrape corrosion off of the game’s contacts.
Eraser: Another fellow retro gamer suggested using a Staedtler Mars Plastic Erasers. He’s had great success cleaning games with these, and they post a fairly low risk of harming your games. Great suggestion Rudy!
Metal on Metal Scraping: After opening the game, (This is where that 3.8 mm or 4.5 mm bit comes in.) I gently scrape stubborn corrosion off of the game’s contacts. My favorite way to do this is with the edge of my 3.8mm bit itself as it’s already in my hand. Otherwise, I’ve used the edge of a key, a paperclip, etc. Just be careful not to damage the contact itself.
Dry Q-tip: Simply rubbing a dry Q-tip over the game’s contacts is a quick and easy want to get off a lot of the grit and grime. Often this can be done without even opening the game.
Fiberglass Pen: A fellow collector friend of mine swears by fiberglass pens. He opens the game and cleans it without ever needing to use a solvent. He swears by it since many people use them to clean circuit boards, but it’s a bit too time intensive for my taste.
I hope this guide will give you some ideas for cleaning your cartridge based video game collection. If you have any cleaning tips or suggestions for this guide, just send me a message or post a comment below, and I’ll be happy to add them.
As with any guide, experiment and find out what works for you. Feel free to check out the Video Game Museum eBay store for rare vintage games and cartridge opening bits. Most of all, happy collecting and have fun!