Rags to Riches: How to Clean a NES Cart

I have been looking for a copy of Die Hard for the NES for ages. Unlike most movie-based Nintendo games, Die Hard is actually pretty hard to come by and loose usually fetches around $60 when they do show up on Ebay. You can imagine my ecstasy when a loose copy popped up at my local video game store Re-play Games. The one problem? It looked like shit:

The $40 price tag was exactly what I wanted to spend, and since I have been looking for this game for so long I used up some trade credit and took her home.

On  my way home I also picked up the NES black-box classic Golf from the discount bin at another game shop, mainly because it had a nice clean back which I will donate to my fairly thrashed Die Hard cart.

The first and most important step in cleaning any video game cartridge is to properly clean the edge connectors. NEVER use windex or any other such cleaning solution to clean the connectors. They contain a lot of water and over time water can corrode your contacts. I highly recommend only using 99% Isopropnal Rubbing Alcohol. Why 99% Because it contains virtually no water at all, which is what we want. It also dries very quickly due to the high alcohol content, which is nice if you are itching to play a cart but have to clean it first.

Before I clean a cart, I always take them apart. Actually removing the PCB from the game cart affords you access to the contacts in their entirety, and it also gives you easy access to cleaning the cartridge shell around the edge connector, which are often just as filthy, if not filthier, then the contacts themselves. It’s best to do what you can to keep as much grit and dirt as possible out of your consoles.

A game-bit tool is a must for disassembling Nintendo carts. I highly recommend everyone goes on Ebay and picks one of these up. They are a must. Note that they come in two sizes. The smaller size is used for Nintendo brand carts, and the larger size will allow you to disassemble the SNES and N64 consoles, as well as Genesis carts.

With your carts taken apart, it’s time to clean up the contacts. I soak the q-tips in the rubbing alcohol and rub both sides of the contacts vigorously. Once the contacts have been vigorously rubbed down with the alcohol, use a dry q-tip and gently but firmly scrub the contacts. Keep alternating between alcohol-soaked and dry q-tips until they stop turning grey. Re-play games does a really good job of cleaning their games, but even so a second cleaning yielded a few grey q-tips.

After the alcohol, I use a gum eraser and lightly run the contacts down. This completely rids the connectors of any grit or residue that the q-tips miss. Make sure that you use a dry clean toothbrush or compressed air to get all of the eraser bits off of the board once you are done.

Those are some clean contacts! Now we can move on to cleaning up the shell of the cart.

Goo Gone is absolutely essential if you are serious about cleaning your games. Its main purpose is to remove sticker residue and other sticky stains, but I also use it for generally cleaning cart labels, as it’s pretty mild and won’t do any damage to them if you are careful.

In my Die Hard label’s case, I used a q-tip soaked in Goo Gone to gently scrub off some crusty food stains from the label. I also dabbed a bit on a clean soft cotton cloth and went over the entire label. After that, I used a different part of the cloth dabbed in Windex and gave it a good once over. It turned out pretty great;

Next, I tackled that permanent marker. Curse the parents who thought it was a good idea to write their idiot children’s names on video game cartridges. The best way to reverse this heresy is to use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Seriously, they are magic.

Simply get the magic eraser wet with warm water and gently scrub the marker until it disappears. A word of warning; while the magic eraser will get the marker off, it will also slightly smooth out the texture on the NES cart. How smooth it gets depends on how hard and long you scrub the surface for. It is kind of crappy, but I would rather have a slightly smoothed NES cart then one covered in black ink. You’ll also want to avoid scrubbing the label, because this thing will take it clean off if you are not careful.

After the magic erasing, I used a clean toothbrush and some windex and cleaned the rest if the cart making it spic and span. A final rub down with a windex dampened cloth, and it doesn’t even look like the same cart. The end result speaks for it self, and all it took was 45 minutes and a little elbow grease.

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11 thoughts on “Rags to Riches: How to Clean a NES Cart

  1. That sure is a perty lookin cart, even the first once over I did on the contacts was nasty as hell, I think I went through about 2-3 q-tips. Glad to see it went home to the right person.

  2. Magic Eraser… it’s the “disc doctor” of the NES. On the PlayStation, we call it the marks “swirls”. Maybe someday, there will be a common term for the smooth areas left behind by zealous “erasing”. I do not enjoy receiving a cart in the mail and finding that it has smooth spots all over.

  3. I really wish we had Goo Gone in Sweden!!! But I haven’t found anything that is equal to it :( I have so many games where I feel an obsessive need to cleeeean! ^_^

  4. Send me your address (to the email in the info tab at the top of the page) and I will send you over a bottle, as a thank you for reading the site!

  5. Thanks for the guide – it’s really useful. I have a pair of questions:

    Goo Gone doesn’t damage the label? My fiancee won’t let a drop of that (or any equivalent) a label in fear of it causing the colour to run.

    Couldn’t the alco-wipes take care of the black marker? Have to agree with Zing that I don’t like concept of rubbing away the texture of the cart.

  6. The labels have a plastic coating, and unless you use something abrasive it won’t get through the plastic. The proof is in my due hard cart. I soaked the label in goo gone and it’s fine. However’ if the label is ripped on a p spot, the goo gone will probably stained it

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