The Easy Guide to Cleaning Games!!!
Cartridges can be really time consuming to clean. Most have decorative lines and grooves on them that like to collect crud and dirt. Dust can build up inside, the label is somewhat fragile, and the pins are almost always dirty. You don't have to take them apart to clean them, but to make sure you get everything, you have to. The problem is most cartridges are sealed with lockout screws. Thanks to the internet, there are now tools to take them apart. Nintendo for the NES, SNES, N64, GB, Virtual Boy and GBC used 3.8mm six head screws to close all the carts. The GBA uses the tri-wing screw. (It has three slots in a triangle pattern.) This was the only cartridge Nintendo used the tri-wing on. (Though they did use it on all the Game Boy systems) Sometimes the board will be screwed into the cartridge itself. It's always philips heads, so don't worry about getting more special tools. Sega on the other hand, used 4.5mm six head lock out screws on the Genesis and 32X, though they did use the 3.8mm ones on the Game Gear. Then there are some carts that used regular philips head for sealing the carts. These include the late 70s and early 80s cartridges, Sega Master System and pretty much all Atari cartridges. Frustratingly, Atari cartridges all hide the screws behind the label. So there's no real way to take them apart without messing up the label. Most early cartridges are this way as well. If you plan on taking them apart, just be very careful when you peel the label back.
The inside of a cartridge is usually short piece of PCB board, with a few chips, resistors, contact pins on it. The chips actually hold the data for the game, so be careful not to damage them. The pins are the part that plugs into the system, and transfers data back and forth, so this is the part you need to pay the most attention to. First, take a q-tip with some rubbing alcohol and rub them down pretty good. Alcohol won't degrade the metal, and it evaporates quickly. The mistake most people make to get rid of dust is to blow on the pins. This is a bad idea. Small particles of saliva can get onto the pins and can slowly degrade them (creating rust or corrosion.) Then there's the matter of dark stains on the pins. This happens when you slide metal against metal enough. Take the Mr. Clean pad and rub the pins pretty hard. (Not too hard though.) After you’re done, wipe up any water immediately. If you don't, it'll leave a chalky film on the pins and board. After that, take another q-tip with rubbing alcohol and go over the pins again, for the final cleaning.
Now that we're done with the hardware part, let's move onto the clamshell. This is the part that takes up the most time. Like I said earlier, there are lots of little grooves that are hard to get crud out of. Q-tips and rubbing alcohol are your friends here. The inside of the clam shell can collect dust and grime too. The area where the pins are exposed can collect the most crud. Be sure to pay close attention to this area. The seams on the sides where the two halves meet collect quite a lot of gunk as well. The holes where the screws go collect a LOT of dust, so take a clean q-tip to clean it out. Trust me; you don't want to use it on anything else after that. An important thing to remember when cleaning all the seams is not let rubbing alcohol run all over the place. You need to apply it fairly thick when you’re cleaning grooves, seams, and corners so the gunk doesn't get stuck in a corner. But you can't let it run over the labels. The front label is the most vulnerable to getting faded or washed out. That's not to say it's extremely fragile, but if you leave it on there long enough, it'll ruin it. Taking a Mr. Clean pad over the label can get rid of any dirt or grime that's accumulated on it, but don't press hard or let the label get saturated, and fade. Stickers are another problem, most of the time they can be easily peeled off. Just peel up a corner and VERY SLOWLY pull them off. If feels like it's going to tear, STOP, take another corner and start again. Over time, old stickers break down and become brittle, making them hard to remove without tearing them or making a mess. Goo Gone is acceptable here, but only enough to saturate he sticker. After that, you should be able to peel it off without too much of a problem. Once it's gone, wipe off the label with the rag so the Goo Gone doesn't sink in. The same goes for the rear label. After that, take a Mr. Clean pad to the rest of the cartridge. Feel free to get aggressive here. Since there's nothing to harm, you can really get rid of dirt and grime! Just remember to take a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol over it again to prevent a film. I would like to note that memory cards are essentially built the same way as a cartridges, so all of the stuff listed above will work to clean those as well.
After that all, put the cartridge back together, and we're onto the next part.
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