Cleaning Cartridges

Cleaning Cartridge Games and Cartridge Input Slots

Since this website is dedicated to getting the best quality out of your systems, an important thing to worry about is keeping those systems running!!!  This page is a great way to clean cartridge-based video games, as well as the cartridge inputs of the game systems themselves.

For the record, at no point does this guide say “blow in your game” 🙂  Also, I’m not responsible if someone reads this guide wrong and damages their game.  Follow this at your own risk.

To start, you’ll need a few things:
– Q-Tips
– Standard, off-the-shelf, rubbing alcohol
– An eraser
– Compressed air / Dust Off (for cartridge inputs, not the games)
– Tools to open your game cartridges.  For more info, see the tools section, or check the links on the right –>
– You’ll occasionally find games that have security-torx screws (my copy of Virtua Racing had these).  I was easily able to open mine using a small flathead, but if you find a game that actually requires a security-torx, then try a local hardware store.


If you’d like to skip to Cleaning Cartridge Input Slots, click here!


Cleaning Cartridge Games
Before I start the guide, I just wanted to sum it up:  Using rubbing alcohol is good enough in most cases.  If you end up needing the “extreme” method, only do it once and never again!  As a side note, I recommend doing this all over a sink, in case something spills.

– First, start by using the special game tool to open the game.  I’m using a Super Game Boy, so I can demonstrate cleaning cartridge slots, as well as games.


– If using a game bit, you may find that some game’s screws are too tight to open by hand.  If that’s the case, a small ¼ inch socket with ratchet will help.  Just make sure to only use the socket to help you unscrew the cartridge and do not use it to tighten them back up when you are done.  It’s way too easy to overtighten and crack your game using a socket!


– Once the game case is open, carefully remove the guts.  Check out how nasty some of the contacts are…and I wouldn’t even consider this one of the worst I’ve seen!


– Put a few drops of rubbing alcohol onto the Q-Tip and start scrubbing the copper contacts. 


MAKE SURE TO STAY ON THE CONTACTS!!!  Try your best not to get any on the green area above (and especially not on the components), only the copper!  Also, after cleaning with alcohol, DO NOT touch the contacts with your fingers.  The oils from your fingers can leave a residue that will dirty the games again.  I’ll say it again: ONCE YOU’VE DONE THE ALCOHOL STEP, DO NOT TOUCH THE CONTACTS WITH YOUR FINGERS!!!


– After both sides are as clean as possible, use a new, dry Q-Tip to wipe off as much excess residue as possible.


– If the contacts still aren’t clean, grab your eraser and “erase” the copper contact pins, as well as the area at the bottom (the actual tip of the cartridge that enters the game system). Do this for as long as necessary until the contacts are clean.  For the record, this is perfectly safe…I’ve actually used this trick in the past when I worked at a computer manufacturing company to clean dirty RAM contacts and it worked every time!  That being said, I recommend an eraser that isn’t attached to a pencil, since you could scratch the contacts with the metal bracket of a pencil’s eraser.


– If you used an eraser, it’s good to repeat the alcohol step again (clean & dry), just to remove any eraser particals left on the contacts.  Once again, DO NOT TOUCH THE CONTACTS WITH YOUR FINGERS AFTER CLEANING WITH ALCOHOL!!!


If your cartridge pins look almost beyond repair, there’s one more thing you can try: metal polish, such as Brasso.  Please be warned that Brasso will literally scrape away a layer of the metal coating on the contacts!!!  This should only be done on games that absolutely require it and should never be done twice on the same cartridge!  After cleaning and storing your games, you should never have to clean them again anway:


– I had many games that even after using alcohol and an eraser, the contacts looked pretty bad and the games would glitch (or not boot at all). That’s when I resorted to using Brasso and it worked perfect!  I just put a few drops of brass cleaner on a Q-Tip and scrubbed the contacts the same way I did with the rubbing alcohol:


– I then tried a second time to use an eraser and the contacts looked perfect!:


– As a final step, I cleaned the contacts one last time with rubbing alcohol on a Q-Tip, then again with a dry Q-Tip to make sure it’s all dry and clean (and to remove any remaining eraser / Brasso particals).  Obviously, once again, don’t touch the contacts after the final cleaning.


After you’re done, just bolt everything together and start playing your game.  This cleaning method has fixed every dirty game I own and I’m happy to recommend it to cartridge gamers everywhere!



Cleaning Cartridge Input Slots:

If you’d like to clean the console’s cartridge input, the instructions are similar, except for a few differences.  Here’s a rundown of what to do:


First (obviously), make sure the console is unplugged.  Even if it’s off, there’s still a small current passing through it and any time liquid meets current, something bad happens.


Next, it’s always best to take the cover off of the game console, as it will make getting to the cartridge slot much easier.  For most systems, this just requires a few screws and not much effort at all.  Maybe take this opportunity to clean the console itself, if it’s dirty!


Look inside the cartridge slot and see if anything’s stuck in there.  If you see anything, just use a needle or dental pick to carefully scrape it out.


Apply a few drops of rubbing alcohol to either a terry cloth or an old t-shirt and wrap it around a credit card.  You’ll want a “snug” fit:  Not lose, but make sure you’re not putting too much pressure on the pins.  Depending on the console, you may need one to three layers of t-shirt.  Also, you may need to repeat this step multiple times with a few different pieces of cloth.  Keep doing it until the cloth comes out mostly clean. 


After cleaning with alcohol, spray a little compressed air into the cartridge slot to remove any excess gunk.  Most cartridge inputs I’ve cleaned have been okay, but some are shockingly dirty:


– You’ll most likely have to skip using an eraser (like woth game cartridges), as it would be hard to find (or cut) one that fits properly.



Once again, in extreme cases, you can try using metal polish on a cloth, but only use a small amount, as its harder to get all the excess residue out of the cartridge ports.  Then spray the cartridge slot with compressed air and clean it once more with rubbing alcohol, just to remove any traces of the cleaner.  I’d also use the compressed air again after the rubbing alcohol, just to be safe.


Overall, cleaning the cartridge slots is trickier then cleaning games, but worth doing once, just to make sure you don’t dirty any of the games you just cleaned.


Unfixable games?

I did stumble upon one game that couldn’t be fully cleaned, a copy of Spy Hunter for NES.  The case looked fine, but on the inside, it looked like someone spilled soda in it.  Not only did it have a sticky funk inside, but it looked like some of the contacts were actually rusted from the soda never being cleaned off:


I scrubbed it with alcohol and an eraser and it made a small difference:


After really going at it with brass cleaner (then again with an eraser and alcohol), I was able to clean off everything except the areas where the rust actually ate away at the metal contacts:

Surprisingly, the game worked fine.  Still, I don’t plan on using it and would never recommend anyone else use a rusted game in their system, unless the game is really rare or valuable.  Even though it’s extremely unlikely, there’s always a chance you can damage your game system’s cartridge input and subsequently, all the games you put in it after.  Since this was a $3 game in the bargain bin, I’ll just throw it out or give it away.  If this happens to you, I’d strongly suggest you do the same.



Re-Cleaning at a later time:

If after cleaning your games using this method, your games end up getting dusty or dirty again, simply using rubbing alcohol and a Q-Tip should be more than enough to get them clean.  Seriously though, if you clean them good now and keep them in dust covers, there’s an excellent chance you’ll never need to clean them again. 




I used these methods to clean my entire game collection, both systems and games.  I made sure to clean them all on the same day, so that I wouldn’t dirty a newly cleaned game system with a cartridge I hadn’t cleaned yet.  Literally every game cartridge and game system got the above treatment and everything works so much better now:  I don’t have to reseat a game a bunch of times before it starts and as I said before, I had a few games that literally wouldn’t work; Now they work like new.

Once again DONOT use the brass cleaner more then once on a cartridge, since you could eventually wear down the contacts.  I’ve actually had a few people tell me not to use this method at all.  They say things like “that’s not good for your game cartridge”, or “doing that will make it easier for your game to get dirty in the future, since you’re scrubbing off a tiny layer of the copper”.  My response to them:

I had a game that didn’t work.  Now it works perfect.  Blow me.


After you’re done cleaning the cartridge input, why not try cleaning the whole console and controllers?