Can you really clean an old XBOX disc using just window cleaner?

There was only one way to find out.
A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying a brief sojourn on the far north coast of New South Wales, idling around a country market. You know the type; a few farm goods, a few interesting bits of arts and crafts and a surprising quantity of mass-produced cheap Chinese toys that you’d undeniably find cheaper in a $2 store anyways.
That was when a pair of Xbox logos grabbed my attention, because I guess I spot that kind of thing. Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter and Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2, specifically, both sitting in a pile of audio CDs for some reason. My curiosity piqued, I enquired how much they wanted for them, because my own recent retro buying experiences have tended towards folks wanting, frankly, ridiculous sums for just about any retro game.
“Oh those? Umm.. 50c each. Yeah. Yours for a buck.”
I’m a sucker for a deal, so I picked them up, handed over the requisite dollar and then realised I was several hundred kilometres away from my actual Xbox, and I hadn’t actually bothered to check the condition of the discs within.
This past weekend, I realised I still hadn’t checked them, so I grabbed both, powered up the trusty old Xbox (which these days is mostly just a Battlefront II machine, if I’m honest), and set to playing.
The good news? Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter worked.
The bad news? It still pretty much sucks, even though this was the first time I’d played it. While I can’t claim prior knowledge, it’s one of those Xbox games where the 3D visuals have aged poorly, combined with some ultimately uninspired shooting action.
And I say that as someone who still thinks Halo is more than a little overrated, too.
Yeah, I said it.
But still, Mace Griffin is worse.
The even worse news than that?
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2 didn’t work at all, throwing up an error any time I tried to play it. Flipping the disc over revealed the problem, as this disc was downright dirty.

Even worse than this, in fact.

There was gunk on the disc, some pretty obvious scratches and what even appeared to be the start of mould. What do people do with their game discs that leads to this? Is there some kind of competition to create the most unreadable optical media ever? Or do people just not care at all?
Anyway, it wouldn’t play, and while I do own better Xbox racers (Burnout 3, for example), it annoyed me, so I started pondering what could be done about it.

At this point, my Xbox had about as much luck playing it as my table did.
At this point, my Xbox had about as much luck playing it as my table did.

One option could have been taking it to EB Games for their disc resurfacing machine to have a go at.
But.. nah.
Both because it would cost me far more than I’d paid in the first place, and also because I suspect I’d have to wait in an endless queue there, only to face a bewildered (and possibly condescending) staff member for bringing in such antiquities.
So it was off to the Internet to see what’s suggested. It turns out that the Internet will suggest everything from water to car wax to peanut butter (!) for cleaning old game discs.
I’m allergic to nuts and don’t really wax my car. I’d tried a clean damp cloth to no effect, when I noticed the suggestion to use window cleaner. As fate would have it, I’d bought a very cheap bottle of window cleaner just recently.
Still, I hesitated. The chemicals in window cleaner were designed for polishing glass, not for the plastics of a disc, after all. Then again, all I was risking at most was 50c. So I carefully applied some to a clean, lint-free cloth, and gave the disc a decent cleaning.
It certainly looked a lot better once I was done, although predictably it did nothing for the existing scratches on the disc itself. I allowed it to dry in the open air carefully, because again I’m not warranting that this approach wouldn’t do something… interesting to the optics of an Xbox or other disc-based console.
This is still a condition I can only describe as “shameful”. But critically, it’s WAY cleaner than it was. You can actually make out the disc, for a start.

Once it had dried, I popped it in the Xbox, expecting the mockery of the failure screen, only to find that it now worked very happily.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 hasn’t aged all that gracefully, and plenty of other Xbox racers outpace it in my view, but it’s nice to have it working at what was effectively no additional cost.
I’m not exactly going to rush to use this on something treasured, but I’ll keep it in mind for any discs I come across that I’m willing to run a small risk on.
That being said, I’m curious. What methods, if any, have you used to bring your precious discs back from the brink of disaster?
Retro recollections are just random musings on retro subjects, usually whatever I’m playing at the moment.

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