A cleaning guide to get your games looking like new

I work part time at a retro video game store. It’s not all glitz and glamour like they make it out to be in the movies, but I do get to learn a lot about video games that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. One of my responsibilities is cleaning the games and systems that we get from trade-ins. While some games are in an acceptable condition, a lot have been stored in a basement or attic for 20 years and have dust, cobwebs and marker that aren’t aesthetically pleasing.

I have put together a couple of tips to get your games in collectible shape.

Disclaimer: I have extensive experience with cleaning games. I have made mistakes along the way that have damaged a game/system beyond normal repair. Use this guide at YOUR OWN RISK! Epicpowergaming takes no responsibility for any damage that may occur.

This cleaning method gets rid of most surface dirt/grime/markers without having to tear down the game/system and risk breaking it. You should always avoid getting the label wet as the glue might dissolve and cause the label to bubble and peal. If necessary, you can use a damp cloth and gently wipe the label to get most dirt off. You should also use caution on newer labels that lack a gloss finish like Gameboy Color, SNES (made in Mexico labels), and Nintendo 64. These labels do not have any protection against moisture and the ink fades very easily. – As you can see from my Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons cart, my sweaty fingers caused the ink to run.

The cart on the right has been played a lot. Unfortunately the label was cheaply made and did not hold up to the abuse

The cart on the right has been played a lot. Unfortunately the label was cheaply made and did not hold up to the abuse


My cleaning kit

My cleaning kit

A typical cleaning kit will run less than 30 dollars, depending on the amount you’ll use, one kit could last you an entire year. Some of this stuff you probably already have around the house.  You’ll need:

Toothpicks  – for getting grime out of controller seams. Wooden toothpicks are best. Anything harder could ruin the plastic.

Simple Green – best non-abrasive cleaning agent there is. Leaves a pleasant smell and doesn’t require the use of gloves

Spray Bottle – for diluting the Simple Green. Any size will do. I have an 8OZ bottle because it’s easy to store.

Goo Gone  – For removing stickers

Cotton Swabs  – for swabbing hard to reach areas

Toothbrush – any toothbrush will do – medium/soft bristles work best. When trying to get hard to reach areas, going slowly back and forth will allow the individual bristles to remove the dirt.

91% or higher Isopropyl Alcohol – will dissolve marker and remove corrosion for cartridge based games. Dries quickly

White Terry Cloth – for wiping down excess Simple Green – I use two towels: 1 for simple green and the other for the Goo-Gone which is very greasy and has the tendency to spread to other areas.


Optional Equipment for experienced cleaners:

Magic Erasers  – Essentially very fine sandpaper – use sparingly to remove permanent marker that hasn’t been removed by the alcohol. Using too much will file down the subtle grooves on NES/SNES carts which will be more obvious than permanent maker.

Heat Gun – Removes old stickers from boxes and labels. Use sparingly. The heat gun will remove the sticker with ease, but if left too long on one spot, it will melt the cartridge. I found mine at a Pawn shop for 10 bucks.

What happens when a hot gun stays on a cart too long

What happens when a hot gun stays on a cart too long


Cleaning process:

Controllers – Most controllers just need some deep clean to remove dirt, Dorito dust and dead skin cells. The most used controllers need the most work.  Some people were just downright nasty with their controllers. Your dirty cloth might make you rethink your faith in humanity. Also taking a damp cloth and gripping the wire will clean it all the way around.  Common missed areas – grooves, under joy sticks, triggers

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Cartridges:  Just basic simple green and scrubbing. You might want to leave some room to avoid getting the label wet for your first couple of cleaning attempts.  When cleaning the contacts, dip a cotton swab in alcohol and rub against the contacts until a swab finally produces no dirt. Depending on the condition of the cart, this process might be used several times. This also solves 95% of most issues regarding getting the game to play. You should never blow into the cartridges – what you’re cleaning with alcohol is most likely someone’s spit that has been left on the contacts over time.  Common missed areas – top of NES cart, grooves of SNES carts and inside where the board sits



Clean pins on the right, dirty on the left.



DVD/CD cases PS2 Cases have stickers on them from Gamestop or some other used game store. These are the biggest issue for these cases. They’re usually placed in the corners. Before cleaning anything, you should take out the insert, manual and disc to avoid getting them wet.  Soaking the sticker in goo gone and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes will make the sticker almost always come off in one piece. It helps to put a piece of cardboard in between the plastic film and the case to avoid permanently warping the plastic-  Common missed areas – sides of cases.

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Systems – most systems are straight forward but I have listed some of the systems that might give you trouble:

NES – the grill on the top right of the console is hard to miss and dirt loves to accumulate there. Also inside the door.

Super NES – the early systems (serial UN1) have a flame retardant mixed in with the plastic. When hit with UV light, a chemical reaction occurs that turns the system yellow. This cannot be cleaned with this kit and requires a solution called Retr0Bright. I have not used it myself, but many have with positive results. If you’re looking for a system without the yellowing, any system with a serial code of UN2 or higher will be less likely to have that issue.

Yellowing vs non

Yellowing vs non

Any system with a CD driveDO NOT TOUCH THE LASER – the laser is very sensitive and any misalignment will cause the system to not play and can be very costly to repair since most of the parts are no longer made.


Once you have the basic cleaning routine down, you’ll be able to tackle any video game cleaning project. Have any questions? Ask them below and I’ll try my best to assist!