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Cartridge cleaning is something that I need to do more of, now that I’m selling off most of my video game collection, one piece at a time.

I welcome your feedback, but here’s how I’m currently doing it for standard NES cartridges. The materials you need for cleaning should only set you back $20 (or less).

Open the cartridge

First, open the cartridge. The type of screws used in standard Nintendo cartridges are a little out of the ordinary. You will need a special "security bit". I have found that not all cartridges use this same screw, but most do. I got a new ratcheting screwdriver set as a gift, and one of the bits that came with it works perfectly. Here’s the screwdriver and bits that I've used for various screw types.

Ratcheting screwdriver with small flathead bit

Your NES cartridge may have 3 or 5 screws. Be careful not to drop them after you unscrew them, as they are very tiny and easy to lose.

Carefully separate the two halves of the cartridge and bear in mind that there are two small latches at the top that clasp together.

Inside the cartridge you should see a small circuit board and a lot of empty space. In this example, I used Wizards and Warriors.

Wizards and Warriors internal

Note that the inside may vary. If you’re doing cartridge cleaning on older NES titles, it may just be a Famicom board with an adapter inside. You may see some cartridges that contain batteries. Make sure to be very careful when handling the board. You may want to ground yourself to avoid any static discharge.

Cartridge cleaning

The most important things to clean are the contacts that stick out the bottom.

Contacts

These are the gold/copper color strips that are the most exposed and actually plug into the console. To clean these, use isopropyl alcohol (I’m using 99%) and a lint-free cloth.

Note: most cartridges have a warning "DO NOT CLEAN WITH BENZENE, THINNER, ALCOHOL OR OTHER SUCH SOLVENTS." on the back. I suspect this warning is to a) get people to buy official Nintendo cleaning kits, and/or b) indemnify Nintendo if something goes wrong. Alcohol, especially alcohol that’s not very diluted, is perfectly fine for cleaning electrical contacts. You don’t have to take my word for it, check out here, here, and here for more information. I’ve also heard that certain types of erasers are good for cleaning these contacts. The key is make sure it’s absolutely dry before you plug in the cartridge.

First, put a very small amount of the alcohol on the contacts (you might want to use a dropper, a Q-tip, or just dip the cloth into the alcohol), and rub them with a cloth (make sure to get both sides).

Alcohol and cloth for cartridge cleaning

You don’t need very much alcohol.

Plastic case

Next, while this is drying, you may want to perform cartridge cleaning on the rest of the exposed portion of the cartridge with soap and water. Use a toothbrush or other gentle cleaning brush to get all the corners. This part of the cartridge is usually fine if stored correctly. However, since it’s exposed, who knows what might have gotten in there over the years. Dust, spilled drinks, spit from people blowing into them, and so on.

Soap and water on cartridge opening

Finally, you may want to clean up the outside of the cartridge for aesthetic reasons. The line of ridges can often build up dust and grime, so you can also use soap and water on that. Be careful not to get anything on the label.

Soap exterior ridges

Make sure to dry the soap and water with a cloth. I recommend not using a paper towel.

If there are any stickers or other residue on the outside of the cartridge, you can use something like Goof Off to remove it. Again, be very careful not to get this on the label.

Goof Off adhesive remover

Make sure everything is dry before putting it back together. I cannot overstate this. Do not mix moisture and electricity!

The circuit board should only fit one way back in the case.

All done!

The cartridge I used in this example was a fairly standard NES cartridge and was not in bad shape to begin with. If I run into any other interesting examples, I will write separate blog posts.

Cartridge cleaning, because cleanliness is next to…​ uh…​ something.

Matt Bok is back yet again (again!) for an extra long, extra special episode. (Check out episode 16 and episode 26 for his previous episodes). Just in time for the holiday season, we discuss the SNES Classic, NES Classic, Nintendo Switch, Atari Box, and other stuff.

Tons of show notes:

Want to be on the next episode? You can! All you need is the willingness to talk about something technical.

Theme music is "Crosscutting Concerns" by The Dirty Truckers, check out their music on Amazon or iTunes.

Nathan Groves is streaming retro game console to Twitch.

Show Notes:

Nathan Groves is on Twitter

Want to be on the next episode? You can! All you need is the willingness to talk about something technical.

Theme music is "Crosscutting Concerns" by The Dirty Truckers, check out their music on Amazon or iTunes.

Matt Bok is back yet again for an extra long, extra special episode. (Check out episode 16 for our last discussion on retro gaming). Just in time for the holiday season, we discuss the Atari Flashback portable and the NES Classic Edition.

Show notes:

Want to be on the next episode? You can! All you need is the willingness to talk about something technical.

Theme music is "Crosscutting Concerns" by The Dirty Truckers, check out their music on Amazon or iTunes.

Matt Bok is back again, and he discusses retro games and a few tech products that retro gamers might want to check out.

Show notes:

Want to be on the next episode? You can! All you need is the willingness to talk about something technical.

Theme music is "Crosscutting Concerns" by The Dirty Truckers, check out their music on Amazon or iTunes.

Matthew D. Groves

About the Author

Matthew D. Groves lives in Central Ohio. He works remotely, loves to code, and is a Microsoft MVP.

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