How to Clean Your NES and Games

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One of the ways I made money in college was buying “broken” Nintendo systems, cleaning them up to get them working again, and selling them at a teeny tiny profit. Then I sold the following instructions for a bit. Here’s how I did the cleaning, written up somewhere around 1998-99. It doesn’t take any knowhow of consumer electronics. It just takes getting rid of all the dust.

Remember when the infamous “blue screen of death” was from your Nintendo Entertainment System and not from Windows? One of the ways I made money for college was buying “broken” Nintendo systems, cleaning them up, and selling them at a small profit. When that proved too time consuming (and pathetic on a per-hour wage basis), I started selling these instructions about how to fix them up. And now I just give the instructions away, because that wasn’t so profitable either.

It doesn’t take any knowhow of consumer electronics. It just takes getting rid of all the dust. Here’s how to get your Nintendo Entertainment System and game cartridges working again. Please excuse dated references and, more importantly, please note that I no longer keep around any Nintendo products, so I probably won’t be updating these cleaning instructions again.


If you’re still using a Nintendo Entertainment
System, then no doubt you’ve made friends with the
all-too-familiar blinking television screen when you insert
a game cartridge and press POWER. Sometimes you can
temporarily fix this problem by jiggling the cartridge in
the system, blowing into the open end of the cartridge,
or beating the tar out of your machine with a baseball
bat. But often these solutions don’t work and you’re
stuck with that blinking screen, scrambled game
graphics, discoloration, itchy, flaky scalp, flashing
POWER lights, or, perhaps worst of all, games that
freeze up while you’re playing.

Over a span of about five years, I used three Nintendo
Entertainment Systems and over forty game cartridges
which have given me these problems (often due to
problems in both the system AND the cartridge in use),
but I have never once come across one that I couldn’t
repair, and keep repaired with simple cleanings.
That’s right. I have fixed and maintained every broken
nonworking Nintendo system and cartridge I have seen
(and lately I’ve been seeking them out) simply by
cleaning it. In this text, I will show you how
to clean both your system and cartridges and, nine
times out of ten, fix the most common problems with
your Nintendo Entertainment System. But, even if you
don’t have problems with your system, a cleaning every
once in awhile can prevent future problems.

As a disclaimer, I should tell you that you use
this cleaning method exclusively at your own risk. I
cannot be held responsible (financially or otherwise) for
problems or damages to yourself, your system, or your
cartridges. Also I cannot guarantee that a cleaning will
fix every problem associated with your system or
personal life. I attest only that this has worked for me
and my systems and cartridges. It is possible that your
system or cartridge is not working due to broken parts,
physical abuse, or emotional damage due to treating it
like a slaving machine rather than as a respected friend.

Remember: Nintendo games are people too.

By cleaning your system or cartridge using
this system, you agree that you have read the above
and that you do not and will not hold this text or the
author or distributor of this text responsible for any
damages that may incur. I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking, “How can I possibly sue somebody for
breaking something that already doesn’t work?” Well,
I’ve seen People’s Court. With our justice system,
anything’s possible.


Although the Nintendo Entertainment System was
“revolutionary” in many ways, it was not built to last.
Just imagine that the only thing that’s keeping you
from saving Zelda is dust. Lots of dust. So how do
you get it out? On the back of just about every
cartridge, they tell you three things.


You know you want to. Even if you have room in
your icebox, don’t do it. Resist the temptation.


There are two major enemies of consumer
electronics: water and dust. Either can seriously mess
up a system. You’ve already got dust in your system.
Do not add water.


So what exactly are “other such solvents” and what
should you clean your Nintendo stuff with? The
manufacturers of video games were not very helpful
in the eighties. Perhaps they just wanted to get you
to buy their own cleaning kits for ridiculously high
prices. If, today, you see an NES cleaning kit in some
obscure black market, and if, today, you can get it
working, I encourage you to use it rather than this
method. But for the rest of us, here’s what you need
(and you probably already have it all already).
For cleaning a cartridge, you’ll need:

  • A bottle of Windex or equivalent generic glass
    cleaner (I suggest a cheap Wal-Mart version to get
    the job done; that’s what I’ve used).

  • A big box of Q-Tips or equivalent generic cotton

  • A cup or bowl (Have you ever tried to dip a Q-Tip
    in a bottle of Windex?).

For cleaning your system, you’ll need all of the
above, but you’ll also need:

  • A long Phillips-head screwdriver.

  • An old, ratty toothbrush (you can use a nice new
    one, but oral hygiene is a little more important than
    bashing bricks with Mario’s head; wouldn’t you agree?
    Don’t answer that. Use your roommate’s toothbrush if
    you must, but don’t answer that).

Now take a look at a game cartridge, clean or
dirty. Look into the end that you insert into your game
system. You will see part of the “Inner Cartridge”
sticking out. It looks green and/or white with metal
plates on either side. These metal plates are called
contacts. They call them contacts because that’s
what they do. They touch similar-looking metal plates
within your game system. If the contacts of your
system can’t touch the contacts of the cartridge, it’s
like not connecting one end of a battery; nothing
happens. So it’s vital to keep these contacts clean so
that dust doesn’t block the signal from your cartridge to
your system.


Pour some of your Windex into the bowl or cup and dip
one end of your swab in the liquid. Then use the
Windex-drenched cotton swab to scrub the cartridge’s
contacts. Make sure you get both sides. The swab will
no doubt become black or otherwise dirty within a few
seconds. When that happens, repeat with another swab
(dip and scrub). Be firm. Get all the dirt out. Even using
both ends of the cotton swabs, you’ll still need two to
ten (depending on how dirty it is) swabs to finish one
cartridge. Keep scrubbing every contact until you can
scrub with a Windex-ed swab and no dust or dirt comes
off on it. This means your cartridge is clean. Now take a
dry swab and get rid of all the excess Windex.
Let sit for at least a few minutes and then you can try it
out. If it doesn’t work, remove and reinsert the
cartridge. If it still doesn’t work, you will have to clean
your system. You should do this anyway, but
sometimes Mario just needs to save the Princess right
now. Don’t put off a thorough cleaning of your system
too long though. Any dirt that was in your system
might need to be cleaned off your cartridge and that
just means you’ll have to clean everything over again.


Turn your system upside down and you’ll see six deep
holes in the bottom of your NES. These holes contain
screws which you’ll need to remove before you open
up your system. Make sure your NES is UNPLUGGED.
Remove the screws with your Phillips-head screwdriver
and turn your system right-side up. Now lift off the
plastic top.

Just about everything under the top will be
covered by a metal piece. Remove the seven screws
(also Phillips-head) and then remove the metal piece.

From here, you should be able to identify the system’s
contacts. If you’re not sure, then insert a cartridge
(exactly the way you would when the cover was on)
and note where the cartridge’s contacts insert
themselves into the system. This little mouth holds
the contacts for your NES. This might be a little
difficult to clean using cotton swabs, so try using a
toothbrush dipped in Windex in the same manner as
you did with cotton swabs for the cartridge. It’s all
right to scrub with a little more pressure than you did
for the cartridge. The important thing is to get the
dust and grime out. Use a variety of brushing strokes
(up and down, side to side, and vibrating) to get it all
out. When you think the contacts are pretty much
clean, wipe off your toothbrush with a paper towel
(so I didn’t list napkins in your “what you need”
section. Sorry.) and scrub it again to get out some of
the excess cleaner off the contacts.

Let your Nintendo sit for a few minutes,
insert a (preferably clean) cartridge, plug it in, and
press power. It will work and it is safe to do to this
with the cover off. Just don’t stand in water or lick
the motherboard or anything and you’ll be fine. If it
works, great. Replace the metal plate and cover, but
don’t use all of the screws. Use two or three for the
metal part and one or two for the cover. That should
be more than enough to keep it in place. (Actually, I
don’t use any screws for replacing the lid. I use duct
tape to keep that baby on.) The reason for this is that
the extra screws aren’t necessary and you’ll just be
unscrewing them again the next time you want to
clean your system.

If it doesn’t work, try re-cleaning the system
and/or re-cleaning the cartridge. Try a different
cartridge. If no clean cartridge works on your system,
then you may have other problems. Maybe its time to
upgrade to a Playstation. Or, better yet, an Atari 2600.
That’s still my favorite game machine.

The older the system, the more often you’ll
want to clean it. Good luck and have fun.
Nintendo, NES, Atari, Windex, People’s
Court, and all other trademarks are the property of
their respected and respective owners.

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