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The Degradation of CDs and DVDs

There is an interesting post in The Atlantic on the degradation of CDs and DVDs.

"My once-treasured CD collection--so carefully assembled over the course of about a decade beginning in 1994--isn't just aging; it's dying," laments the author. "And so is yours."

According to preservation experts at the Library of Congress, "all of the modern formats weren't really made to last a long period of time.... We're trying to predict, in terms of collections, which of the types of CDs are the discs most at risk. The problem is, different manufacturers have different formulations so it's quite complex in trying to figure out what exactly is happening."

Testing has revealed that "even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans."

According to the author, "recordable CDs--the kind you can burn or rewrite--tend to have more complicated degradation issues than their professionally-recorded counterparts.... And as far as different kinds of discs go, CDs tend to be more stable than DVDs, mostly just because DVDs hold more data, so there's more to lose."

Here are a few recommendations to slow the deterioration of your CDs and DVDs:

  • The best way to hold a CD is to pinch the hole in the middle
  • The top surface of the CD--the side that faces up when it's playing--is more delicate than the bottom so avoid touching that surface
  • Avoid exposure to extreme temperatures. "If you want to really kill your discs, just leave them in your car over the summer. That's a really great way to destroy them."
  • It's also better not to muck up the top of your CDs with labels--the adhesive creates chemical reactions that quickly eat up data--or even permanent markers.