How to clean a NES cartridge

NES Zelda cart

When the cartridges for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) becomes dirty, you will experience problems getting the console to recognize them, which results in a flashing white screen, and similar issues. The simple solution is to clean them! In this post I will show you an excellent way to get your games clean again. You will need:

  • A Gamebit screwdriver.
  • A white eraser.
  • Isopropanol alcohol.
  • A rag.
  • (if heavy corrosion: vinegar + a flat headed screwdriver)

Step 1: Open the cartridge

You open the NES cartridge by using a special “Gamebit” screwdriver to remove the three (or five) screws shown in the image below. As you see, I am using the Legend of Zelda game in this example, and my cart is in so-so cosmetic condition. When the cartridge is open, you can remove the game itself, which is a green pcb board. Now you can use some alcohol on a rag and clean the inside of the plastic cartridge.

NES cart screws
NES inside cart

Step 2: Clean the game

Cleaning the game involves two steps. First: Use a white eraser to clean the contacts of the game. This works like magic! Second: Use alcohol and a rag to remove all eraser residue, and give the cart a final cleanup. Easy as that! When it comes to the Zelda cart, you should also consider replacing the battery used for saving games, but I will go through that step in another guide. Now, you can assemble the cartridge again, and enjoy your game!

NES cartridge cleaner eraser
NES cart isopropanol
It's dangerous to go alone! take this.

My NES game is still not working!?

If you still experience problems with your game, such as pixelated image or that the game simply wont start, you may go through with another step as a final resort. If your game cartridge suffers from heavy corrosion (rust), you may need to remove it to get the game working again. To do so, I first use a Q-tip to add vinegar on the cartridge connector. This will help to dissolve the rust. After a while, I use a small flat-headed screw driver to carefully grind away the rust. This is a final resort that involves some physical wear on your cartridge. Finish with wiping your game’s connector with a rag. I have also had success in getting an “impossible” game to start by using some steel-wool, but once again, this is a last resort which will grind the surface of the game connector.

To prevent this from happening, store your games in a dry place.

Clean NES game

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