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Nintendo NES Cartridge Cleaning Secrets


The Professor

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Nintendo NES cartridges are notorious for needing cleaned. Even when they were new, kids were blowing on them before playing. Here are a few tips that I've gathered from around the internet to help you clean and restore your classic NES cartridges!

 

What are your Nintendo NES Cartridge Cleaning Tips? Share them below!

 

 

HELPFUL ITEMS

 

  • 3.8mm Security Bits
  • 4.5mm Security Bits
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Q-Tips
  • Copper / Brass Cleaner
  • Electrical Contact Cleaner
  • WD40
  • Magic Erasers
  • Gentle Lint-Free Cloth

 

 

 

OPENING GAMES

 

First, you'll want to use your screwdrivers to open up your cartridge. The number of screws will vary from console to console—an NES game has three—but once you remove them the plastic shell should come apart pretty easily to reveal the printed circuit board inside. 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.

 

 

 

 

SECURITY BITS & SCREW DRIVERS

 

Many Atari cartridges (2600, 5200, 7800, 8-Bit Computer) have a single screw under the label holding the cartridge together. These can be opened using a household Phillips Head screw driver. Sega MasterSystem cartridges can be opened with a Phillips Head screw driver as well.

 

Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and most other cartridges all use special screws that you can't turn with a Phillips or Torx screwdriver. These are high-quality tools that will open up all of these carts and more:

 

  • 3.8mm Video Game Security Bits allow 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 Video Game Security Bits allow 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.

 

 

 

ONCE YOU'VE TAKEN YOUR CARTRIDGE APART

 

Once you have access to the PCB, dip a Q-Tip in some brass polish and scrub it across all of the pins on one side. If there's visible tarnish it should all come up pretty quickly if you apply some elbow grease, but even clean-looking cartridges can dirty up a couple of Q-tips without much trouble.

 

After you've given the pins a good scrubbing, dip a Q-tip in your rubbing alcohol and mop up the brass polish, and then use a dry Q-tip to wipe up excess alcohol. You'll pick up a bit more residual grime during this part of the process—continue to alternate alcohol-soaked and dry Q-tips until the cotton stops getting dirty.

 

If your PCB has pins on both sides, flip it over and repeat the process on the other side, making sure to hold the board by its edges since the oils in your skin can corrode the contacts over time. Once you're done and both sides are clean, set the PCB aside (perhaps on your clean, lint-free cloth) and clean the game's plastic shell, paying particular attention to the end that actually connects to your console. Dirt here can come off inside your system, which can then make all of your games dirty again. It's a vicious cycle.

 

Finally, you're ready to put the PCB back into the plastic and close it back up—the cartridges I've cleaned have all had small plastic retention clips or other things to prevent you from putting the board back inside them the wrong way. When screwing the cartridge shut, be gentle. As soon as the screwdriver stops turning easily, don't tighten the screws any further, since you run the risk of cracking the game's plastic shell.

 

 

 

 

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.)

 

  • WD-40:  Here's my favorite, and 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.
     
  • 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.
     
  • Rubbing Alcohol:  The higher the concentration of alcohol the better—you need this liquid to clean up the contacts after you scrub them, but you don't want a lot of water in it because it can rust and corrode the pins. Stay away from anything 50 percent or lower. 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, Rubbing Alcohol is commonly used to clean the contacts of video games.  I haven’t found it to be quite as effective as WD-40, but it does a good job.  It's inexpensive, easy to find, and likely already in your medicine cabinet. SEE: http://youtu.be/IXEzqWT-okc?t=13m26s
     
  • Copper/Brass Cleaner:  This is a must to remove stubborn tarnish from a cartridge's pins, which is otherwise hard to dislodge. I've had good luck so far with Weiman Brass Polish, which I bought after reading negative reviews of the competing Brasso polish. 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, making this approach quite a bit more labor intensive than other methods.
     
  • 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.
     
  • Magic Eraser w/ Water:  For removing muck on the outside of a cartridge. SEE: http://youtu.be/IXEzqWT-okc?t=12m55s

 

 

 

 

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.

 

  • 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.
     
  • Pencil Eraser: Some people swear by rubber pencil erasers, which can theoretically be used to rub away stubborn dirt and corrosion without doing damage to the contacts. After all, pencil erasers are made for erasing carbon. My experience is that they don't take care of anything the brass polish doesn't and that they leave little bits of eraser everywhere besides, but if you want some they're pretty easy to find.
     
  • Fixing a Rattle:  Sometimes bits of plastic become loose inside cartridges, food or other objects get caught inside, or the PCB becomes a little loose. All of these things can make your cartridge rattle. Taking the cartridge apart, cleaning, and reassembling with a screw driver or security bit for a nice tight fit will solve this. SEE: http://youtu.be/IXEzqWT-okc?t=13m57s

 

 

 

The video below demonstrates how to open up and clean an NES game in detail. You may want to watch it if you're nervous about breaking something. Even if you don't regularly open things up to tinker with them, opening and cleaning came cartridges is a fairly simple process.

 

 

 

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Is there an easy way to clean the 72 pin inside an NES "without" opening up the case?

 

Mine are dirty.....carts fit tight but I have to wiggle them a bit while they are seated inside the console. Just trying to figure out how to get the rubbing alcohol onto the 72 pin - q-tips will not be long enough to reach it and I don't want to take it apart.

 

Arenafoot, if you don't want to open up the console or get creative with solutions I would suggest using one of these. It's an officially licensed Nintendo product that will clean the 72-pin connector inside the NES and has always worked very well for me.

 

Incidentally, I remember these cleaning kits being one of the last NES items to leave stores. These were still commonplace in Toys R Us clearance aisles even into the 2000's.

 

 

 

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Cool!!!! I figured there was something like this out there.......now I just need to find one.

Brian Matherne - owner/curator of "The MOST comprehensive list of Atari VCS/2600 homebrews ever compiled." http://tiny.cc/Atari2600Homebrew

author of "The Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion" book series available on Amazon! www.amazon.com/author/brianmatherne

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I did come across this neat invention, but of course, its not long enough to reach the 72 pin in the back of the console. Though its made for cleaning the cartridges.

 

http://www.1upcard.com/products/the-1upcard

Brian Matherne - owner/curator of "The MOST comprehensive list of Atari VCS/2600 homebrews ever compiled." http://tiny.cc/Atari2600Homebrew

author of "The Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion" book series available on Amazon! www.amazon.com/author/brianmatherne

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This is the eraser I use for cleaning my carts:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Staedtler-Latex-Free-Eraser-White-STD52650/dp/B0006IK4BG

 

I picked mine up at a craft store (Michael's).

 

Since I'm technically-challenged (I know, wrong forum), I sent my NES off to a poster on that OTHER Atari forum to have my 72 pin connector cleaned. (I tried it myself, but failed at cleaning it and then couldn't put it back together correctly.)

 

Now that I have a clean unit, I picked up a set of security bits & I make sure every cart gets a good scrubbing before it goes in the machine. So far, so good.

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