Your CDs Are Rotting Away

We were all told that CDs were well-nigh indestructible when they were introduced in the mid '80s. Companies used that in part to justify the higher price of CDs as well. I found out last year that the CDs you burn (rewriteable) do NOT last very long. It seems commercial ore-recorded CDs are not nearly as susceptible to this process, but don't count on the CDs you burn as lasting any longer than a few DAYS.

The rotting can be due to poor manufacturing. The aluminum layer that reflects the light of the player's laser is separated from the CD label by a thin layer of lacquer. If the manufacturer applied the lacquer improperly, air can penetrate to oxidize the aluminum, eating it up much like iron rusts in air. But it's more common that discs are rendered unreadable by poor handling by the owner. If you treat these discs rather harshly, or stack them, or allow them to rub against each other, this very fragile protective layer can be disturbed, allowing the atmosphere to interact with that aluminum.

Part of the problem is that most people believe that it's the clear underside of the CD that is fragile, when in fact it's the side with the label. Scratches on the underside have to be fairly deep to cause skipping, while scratches on the top can easily penetrate to the aluminum layer. Even the pressure of a pen on the label side can dent the aluminum, rendering the CD unreadable.

The bottom line:

  • Rewriteable CDs and DVDs, as opposed to write-once discs, should not be used for long-term storage because they contain a heat-sensitive layer that decays much faster than the metal layers of other discs.
  • For maximum longevity, discs should be stored vertically and only be handled by the edges. Don't stick labels on them, and in the case of write-once CDs, don't write on them with anything but soft water-based or alcohol-based markers.
  • Also, like wine, discs should be stored in a cool, dry place

USA Today May 5, 2004

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