How to: Clean cartridge contacts

As an oldschool gamer, I have a great many games in original cartridge format. From the 2600 to the GBA, all cartridges can become dirty and require cleaning every now and then.

 

I’ve tried various methods of removing dirt, grime or just plain corrosion from cartridges, but what I’ve found to work the best is simply using a clean large pink school eraser. Use a standalone eraser, not one at the end of a pencil. If you have a large collection of cartridges, you’ll need a big eraser.

 

Tools required

  • Dirty cartridges
  • Large pink eraser (can be found at any stationary store)
  • Paper Towel and Tissue Paper
  • Tool to open your cartridges: Most require security screws that can be found on ebay for a few bucks. Invest in a set that includes all the screwheads you’ll need
  • Screwdriver with changeable screwhead

 

1. Set up a clear area on the surface of a table or other flat surface. Lay out at least two sheets of paper towel as a “bed” to work on.

2. For the sake of this tutorial, I’ll focus on how to clean NES games, but the process is more or less the same for any other cartridge games. Use your security screw to open your game cartridge. Do this by flipping the cartridge over and unscrewing the three screws that hold it in place. For early run NES games, you will see five screws that can simply be unscrewed using a flat-head screwdriver.

3. Remove the backing of the shell and place the screws in a bowl so you don’t lose them.

4. Make sure to ground yourself to avoid any potential damage to your games. Once done, remove the game PCB from the front shell and place it on the paper towel bed.

5. Be mindful of the sharpness of the pins that sick out from the soldered chips. Without hurting yourself, hold down the PCB firmly with one hand and vigorously rub the pink eraser back and forth across the grime and corrosion on the pins. After only a few seconds, you will notice a dramatic difference. Flip the PCB over and repeat the process on the other side.

6. Using a tissue paper, remove the eraser bits mixed witht he loosened grime onto a corner of the paper towel bed you will not be directly working over.

7. Replace the game PCB inside the shell. Remember that all NES games are placed chip side facing towards the front of the shell. Reassemble the game.

8. Repeat the process for each game you have.

Follow these steps and all your cartridges should work first time you try them, no matter how old they are!

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2 Responses to “How to: Clean cartridge contacts”

  1. StarDust4Ever Says:

    I use Q-tips and 91% Isopropanol. It sure beats unscrewing the carts. You could probably use those wedge-shaped erasers that fit over the ends of pencils, without the need to open the carts. I’ll need to try that sometime. I also use a compressed air can to remove dust from the cartridge slots on the actual consoles themselves. You could also use an air can to remove the eraser bits.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      That’s what I have to do with Famicom games, but you can’t really get proper leverage and clean the hard baked on dust/dirt/whatever else unless you take the screws out. Do whatever works best for you, but I think gaining access to the boards and cleaning the entire contacts that way is the best solution.

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