Introduction: How to Recover Compact Discs and Other Related Media After a Major Flood.

Picture of How to Recover Compact Discs and Other Related Media After a Major Flood.

Do you have water damaged digital media?
Have you ever found your DVDs in an icy cold bath?
Has your city or town been recently devastated by a major flood?

If you answered "YES" to one or more of the above questions, you may have already won!

Read on for details.

Step 1: Step the First

Picture of Step the First

First you must have water damaged and/or dirty discs to begin with, or else this whole thing just won't work.

Ok, assuming you have the discs, carefully remove them from their cases. If they are stuck to the paper inserts, remove the whole thing, do not try to remove the paper at this point.

Step 2: Step the Second

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Place discs into a container filled with clean water. USE NO SOLVENTS, as this will destroy your discs, only use clean water.

Let the discs soak in the water for some time, at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 16 hours, as this will lead to further water damage, and may make the discs completely unrecoverable.

During this soaking time any paper stuck to the discs will fall away, hopefully.

Step 3: Step the Third

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After they have soaked for some time, gently rub them over with a soft wet cloth, one at a time, whilst they are STILL IMMERSED. Do not rub them over out of the water, as when they are in the water there is sufficiant lubrication from the water to allow the particulate matter on the discs to move away without scratching the disc. If you rub it over out of the water the cloth and the disc will dry and the particulate matter I mentioned before will stand a much higher chance of scratching the disc than if it were in the water.

After you rub them over, then take them from the container from whence they were and dunk them a couple of time, to rinse off anything left over, then place them into another container, again filled with clean water. USE NO SOLVENTS, only use clean water.

Then let then soak again, for between 30 minutes and 16 hours.

Step 4: Step the Forth

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After they have soaked for some time, again you must rub them over with a soft cloth whilst they are STILL IMMERSED. Then dunk and rinse them and place them onto soft absorbent cloth to dry, label side up, for around 30 - 90 minutes. DO NOT PUT THEM IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT as this will warp and destroy your discs that you have worked so hard to clean.

After 30 - 90 minutes turn the discs over and let them dry for another 30 - 90 minutes on the other side.

Step 5: Step the Fifth

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Once they are dry, take each disc in turn and dry with a MICROFIBRE or a CHAMOIS cloth to remove any traces of water and ro remove smears and whatnot from the face of the information. Do not use any other type of cloth, or you will scratch up your discs something chronic.

A microfibre cloth is similar to a chamois, you can get lens cleaning cloths or glasses cleaning cloths or things like that. Do not use woven microfibre or a chamois intended for cleaning a car.

Once they are dry and clean stack them neatly to prepare for the next step.

Addendum : as has been noted by mdog93, stacking CDs is one of the best ways to scratch them. As you don't want to scratch your discs, hence why you are cleaning them in this instructable, you could perhaps lay a sheet of paper or something soft and possible absorbent betwixt they.  Word.

Step 6: Step the Sixth

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Now you have your clean and dry discs, but no cases. You could always clean the cases, but that is not covered in this in structable. Instead I will show you something just as labourious but not as dirty. 

We are to make sleeves for Compact Discs from A4 sheets of paper.

First you will need sheets of A4 paper, the discs we cleaned in the prior steps, a pen, something to lean on and a whole heap of spare time.

Step 7: Step the Seventh

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To make the sleeves, first take your A4 paper, and fold in in half along it's shortest edge, as shown. Then, BEFORE YOU PUT THE DISC IN, write the name of the film, game or whatnot on to the middle of the half sheet you just made by folding the sheet in half.

Now, once you have written the title upon the page, turn the paper over, then place the CD between the layers of paper, roughly in the middle, fold the sides in about 2.5cm (an inch) then fold the corners up, as shown, and turn the whole thing over again, and you will see that you have made a CD sleeve that looks just like the one that I made, that you can see here.

Step 8: Step the Eighth

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Repeat step seven until all discs have been consumed.

A winner is you.


1tri2god (author)2012-11-10

Thank you for putting this together! I'm in the thick of things here in Brooklyn, and while its easy to stabilize people's bodies, their biggest heartbreak and retardant towards recovery is the loss of their memories. Now, if only there were a way to get this and other tips to folks without electricity.

irisclara (author)2011-05-29

I made an origami cd sleeve several years ago that would work great for this. I print them out with 1/4" margins and put the text in the box. The little triangles at the top fold in to make the flap taper. Fold the long sides in first, then the bottom, then tuck in the top.

mdog93 (author)2011-05-20

You take all these precautions to NOT scratch the discs... but then you stack them up. That is one of the main ways CDs get scratched :s

CybergothiChe (author)mdog932011-05-25

pobody's nerfect

mdog93 (author)CybergothiChe2011-05-26

I never said they were, but just seemed like a bit of a fundamental error. Just thought i would point it out- perhaps stack them with cloths or soft tissue in between them.

CybergothiChe (author)mdog932011-05-26

that is, in fact a good idea, perhaps I shall update my instructable to include such a step once I can discuss it with my ROBOT FLOOR CLEANER. awesome. but yes, that is a good suggestion. thankyou.

mojo-chan (author)2011-05-08

Isn't this what home contents insurance is for?

CVBruce (author)mojo-chan2011-05-08

Not really. Home contents insurance generally covers an aggregate value of the contents of your home. So you will get a check for your loss, but that check will probably not cover the entire cost of you going out and finding a replacement for everything you lost.

If you have something you particularly value, then you need to catalog it, have it valued by a professional, and then purchase additional "all risk" insurance to cover it.

mojo-chan (author)CVBruce2011-05-08

You need some better home insurance I think. When our ceiling collapsed they paid out for each book on the shelf that was ruined. This is not an unusual policy.

Most companies set a limit above which you need to declare items, but they exclude things like TVs and appliances that everyone has. Laptops and bikes, things that are at risk of being stolen away from the home, are often mentioned explicitly in the policy document. Anyway, obviously things like jewellery should be valued but for other items a receipt is fine or they will just take the market value. "New for old" is standard these days so for e.g. a laptop they will get you one of equivalent spec.

This is way OT now but CDs should just be replaced. They paid out for the CDs in my car when the CD changer was stolen.

CybergothiChe (author)mojo-chan2011-05-25

when the world is destroyed and you are looking for remanants of information from the former world, this will assist you where home insurance will not. also, here in QLD, many insurers were sayin' that because the flood was man-made (ie, water released from the dam) rather than natural, it is not really a flood and so they don't have to pay. So even if you did have the insurance, it don't mean nothing unless they are willing to pay.

thankyou for your question, but you must realize that there is far more in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, horatio.


Treknology (author)mojo-chan2011-05-09

In principle, yes, but what about limited editions, autographed materials and other collectables?

I have CDs and DVDs that will never be re-issued. What insurance company can or will replace them?

What about 3000 video tapes many of which contain material that will never hit the air waves again? What about extremely rare vinyl that has/will never be transferred to CD?

I, for one, am thankful that someone has given valuable data on recovering discs.

Green Silver (author)mojo-chan2011-05-08

Insurance won't replace personal photos or video you have saved to disc, thia is a great ible that I hope people don't have to use. 10/10.

mojo-chan (author)Green Silver2011-05-08

Isn't that what backups are for? I could do you an Instructable on how to backup personal photos online for free. Google Picasaweb and Microsoft Skydrive both allow you to store them without making them public, or you can upload encrypted archives if you are that paranoid.

silentbones (author)mojo-chan2011-05-08

really? this is a really great instructable and you're questioning its validity by implying people who have this problem are idiots or something? yeah, make backups online, and websites can crash. make hard copy backups and store them in a storage unit in another town in case your town experiences a natural disaster. make backups of backups of backups and send them into space so they can survive the apocalypse. this person is just trying to help folks out. maybe folks who made the horrible and gruesome mistake of forgetting to back everything up.

mojo-chan (author)silentbones2011-05-10

Er, okay, keep your hair on... I was only pointing out that for anything that is covered by insurance you should use it and for things like personal photos it isn't a good idea to rely on CDRs alone.

Treknowlogy makes a good point later on about limited editions and other non-replaceable discs.

Green Silver (author)silentbones2011-05-10

I totally agree with you, this ible is well put together, informative etc. User mojo-chan seems to think household insurance is the answer and wants to make a point of being right with several "come back" comments. I would like to see him get his Mojo working and create an Ible about online back-ups as I'm sure many people aren't aware that isp/ Internet companies provide that service. Any luck we may find one that offers more than 5 gig's for free.

Green Silver (author)mojo-chan2011-05-08

We can go round in circles like this all day, the guy has explained how to rescue data from flood damaged CD's. Thats it!!!
Some people can't afford insurance, and after a flood the backup ISP's may be down ect.
If you want to do an instructable on how to back up your data online, I'm sure some people will find it useful.

towe001 (author)mojo-chan2011-05-08

If you ever get a pay-out from your insurance company. The Floods that hit Queensland in January, home owners and most small business owners are at the moment locked in a major battle with the insurance companies who will not pay up.

willrandship (author)2011-05-14

Paper towels dry it fine, just don't rub. gently set it on, pat it down, and it will get a lot of the water off.

RaNDoMLeiGH (author)2011-05-11

I'm in Oklahoma and most people don't carry flood insurance and in a lot of places it's not even available. Homeowner's will cover tornado damage but not flooding, so those of you assuming that everyone is able to make an insurance claim are making very broad conclusions that this is something possible in every area.

As a user of digital disc-form media, I have a lot of foreign movies, home movies, backups, concert footage, bootlegs, and other irreplaceable things. I have a lot of movies I've bought at film fests that were indie press, a lot of music from bands that don't exist any more. For these things, I have made backups on some laptop sized hard drives and put them in my safe deposit box.

For everything else, there's Transmission! 

However, in some cases the disc would be valuable, and if I had time to protect them I would try to get everything in a watertight bin. But in a case like Katrina, where nobody knew they were in for such a problem, there is little choice but to attempt recovery.

Sometimes the ability to save something you might otherwise see as a useless exercise is a way to deal with the concept of losing pretty much everything you own. Whether or not homeowner's would pay for it is not really relevant to the fact that you can get something back, and poke Mother Nature in the eye.

BubbaCoop (author)2011-05-09


CybergothiChe (author)BubbaCoop2011-05-09

that's what The Man wants you to think.

geraldine13 (author)2011-05-09

It's great to see something so useful from a fellow Brisbaneite? Or maybe North Queensland?

I am from Ipswich, the land of the dammed

g199 (author)2011-05-08

Is that ciggarette photoshopped?

CybergothiChe (author)g1992011-05-09

Absolutely not. Thankyou for your question :)

nutsandbolts_64 (author)2011-05-08

Too bad it doesn't cover water damage. By water damage I mean blisters filled with water all over the recording surface. It might be just me or the CD's are really old. That would be irreparable damage. 

mrcurlywhirly (author)2011-05-08

Nice instructable - and i feel your pain living in Brisbane.. btw is that photo West End?

Just a note regarding CD backup. I am an audiophile with an enormous collection of music CDs spanning many years of collecting, and spent some time researching backup solutions.

The process i use involves archiving every CD to hard disk, using a freeware product called EAC - exact audio copy. Extraction process only takes a few minutes per CD, looks up an online database for the title/song list, and also creates a music database on your PC which is easily printable and can be formatted to any requirement. I use the FLAC format, which is a industry standard free lossless compression that shrinks the 6-700meg down to 350-400meg...not a huge issue now that drivespace is so cheap.

The beauty of this is i can dump a copy to my laptop across the home network, create and drop mp3s onto a pen drive for travel or in car entertainment, or just use my NAS as a jukebox (or create playlists) with no need for CD changes.. it is a simple process to dump the FLACs back to CD in standard format if you need to.

My desktop machine runs raid mirrored drives, and i have a secondary machine which works like a NAS (network storage) - so losing everything is practically impossible. I use a similar method with digi photos, ensuring there are archived copies available on the lappy.

The most obvious benefit is, when the floodwaters start rising just grab the laptop and run!

wrksnfx (author)2011-05-08

I'm not going to criticize but when you wipe the disk go from the center out NEVER in a circle this can cause damage to the data on the disk if you find your data is corrupted DON'T throw out that disc just yet try this software to make an image of the disc.

This works great for recovering LOST data by creating an ISO image and burning a replacement disc of the damaged disk from the ISO IMAGE it is LIMITED in its trial version but to buy it is only $29.99 I am not in ANYWAY affiliated w/ this product or the website BUT I DO use the program it has saved my sanity due to possible lost of IRREPLACEABLE photos and data.

iceng (author)wrksnfx2011-05-08


Steve-Abx (author)2011-05-08

Congratulations - very nice use of ironic signage and personal ignition source.

Kasm279 (author)2011-05-08

I see a ton of PSX games there, glad you could save them :)

sawatzky (author)2011-05-08

Don't forget the the shiny side can be repaired by professional CD/DVD polishers, but it's the label side that is important. Just under the surface of the printed label side is the thin metal layer that actually holds the data. If the label side starts flaking, your CD/DVD is in big trouble.

nerys (author)sawatzky2011-05-08

if that side flakes YOUR DONE there is no trouble its hosed.

DVD's on the other hand are DOUBLE LAYER polycarbonate. so much more protected but density of data is higher so it takes far less "damage" to render them unusable.

zack247 (author)nerys2011-05-08

im not so sure about a disc eing useless ifthe stuff flakes off, i once came across a cd/r disc on the side of the road, it had sme parts of the shiny stuff worn off but it still works like a charm, i got the music off of it and still have it, and it still plays too.

nerys (author)zack2472011-05-08

that stuff that flaked off (CD not DVD) "IS" quite literally your data layer. if it comes off that data is GONE. period.

the only way you could read that disc is if the disc was "NOT" full and the flaked off part was the portion of the disc NOT utilized to store the data you extracted.

a DVD is difference. it has 4 layers. Polycarb - Data - Polycarb - Label

a CD is 2 (3 really) layers. Polycarb - data - Label but the data layer and label layer might as well be the same layer. IE if it flakes off and you can "SEE THROUGH" that portion of the disc the data in that portion of gone.

WanderingAuthor (author)2011-05-08

I'm afraid it isn't that simple. I've done a lot of research for a book about emergency preparedness and disaster recovery and optical media are almost always ruined - in the long term - by exposure to water. This is because the plastic used absorbs water, and that exposure to water causes corrosion on the foil layer that stores the data. Over time, these discs degrade and can no longer be read. How much time depends on many other factors, such as the original condition of the disc, the temperature and conditions it is stored in, etc. Commercially pressed gold foil discs, while very rare, may not have this problem. In theory, they shouldn't, but they are so rare I've never seen this type of data on them.

You can restore some discs well enough that they will temporarily be readable. Discs you've recorded yourself are likely to be much harder to recover - although there's no harm in trying, since that data will otherwise be lost. But as they are "burned" and not pressed, they will be much more difficult to recover - and will fail much more quickly afterwards. These are the discs you want to work on first, and the moment you are able to read that disc, you need to copy it to a new, undamaged disc if the data is important to you.

As for commercially recorded discs, unless you are not insured, I'm not sure they're worth bothering with. Even "out of print" titles can be purchased used, and you're much better off getting new discs than going to all that work only to have the discs you "saved" failing prematurely. Of course, there is no guarantee some of the discs in the used market haven't been exposed to water, either.

nerys (author)WanderingAuthor2011-05-08

just COPY the commercial discs as well this way if it does fail you have the copy.

WanderingAuthor (author)nerys2011-05-08

You can do that. But if you have insurance, it is better to get a new copy. Why? Note what I said above - any disc you record yourself, including a copy of a commercial disc, is burned and not pressed. As such, it is much more likely to fail. It is not impossible that by the time the ruined commercial copy fails, your copy could be unreadable, too.

Of course, you could keep making copy after copy. But in another flood, those copies would be much harder to recover - if you could do so at all - and you'd also be out the cost of all those blank discs. Sure, they're cheap, but even pennies add up...

tvengineer (author)2011-05-08

After the flooding in NEw Orleans in 2005.. I was able to save nearly 100 percent of my CDs and about 1/2 of my DVDs.
Some DVDs were totally destroyed while others were just fine.

richardsan (author)2011-05-08

after salt water flooding from Katrina...i was able to salvage nearly 100% of commercial dvd disks...stuff i archived on media, not so lucky. the paper liners and other packaging didn't survive, but i'm glad that i recovered nearly 200 disks.

recycle, recover, reuse...

NeilJB (author)2011-05-08

Not all CDs/DVDs are replaceable - might be home movies, photos, data, etc etc etc. I agree with Zargon too, there's some satisfaction to be had in retrieving something from a mess like a flood leaves behind.

Zargon (author)2011-05-08

Yes. Of course Insurance might replace the items... those that are still "in Print".
But can insurance give you the "Occupational Therapy" benefit that this method affords. NO!!! Of course it can NOT.

Besides; if you have had your media collection violated by disaster, there is no more satisfying feeling, than being able to recover some of what you value and hold precious from the mouth of the "Demon Destroyer"!!! :D

About This Instructable




Bio: Hello
More by CybergothiChe:Turning an echelon bag into bicycle panniersHow to recover Compact Discs and other related media after a major flood.Resealing Synthetic Dreadfalls
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