I’ve been doing a lot of retro video game cartridge collecting lately. The easiest way to find cheap carts is to look for the ones that are discounted due to poor appearance. I’m going to share the tricks I’ve learned for restoring the carts.
Types of Cleaning
Contact Pins – At least, you always want to clean the pins and opening area of the cartridge. A dirty cart is going to dirty up your system’s cartridge port.
Removing dirt – I’ve found that even the cleanest looking carts benefit from a wipe down and look that much better.
Permanent marker – Billy wrote his name on the cart…
Stickers – Many will have stickers from rental stores (remember those?) or previous sellers.
Gamebit or Screwdriver – The Gamebit comes in two sizes, 3.8 & 4.5. I’ve seen 3.8 Gamebits, Phillips, and flathead screws on NES carts. Genesis carts use 4.5 Gamebit. SNES, and N64 carts use 3.8 Gamebit.
Isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs – To clean the pins and hard to reach places like screw holes.
Rubber eraser – The best tool for cleaning dirty pins. Look for a high quality eraser. The types found in art stores are best. Cheaper erasers will have lots of wax mixed in and will smear onto the pins.
Goo Gone – Best chemical for dealing with stubborn stickers.
Magic Eraser – Original will do; the Heavy Duty variety are worth it IMO as they last longer and the edges hold up longer for getting into cracks.
Break it Down
The NES, SNES, N64, & Genesis carts all follow the same basic teardown method:
1. Remove the screws
2. Separate the front and back shell. Some are ‘hinged’ at the top, so open the bottom first.
3. Except for N64, you can lift the circuit board out. N64 carts have an additional metal shield: remove the 2 Phillips screws then remove the front half of the shield. The N64 cart also has an additional dust shield that slides up over the pins. This shield is slightly longer on one side, so it only goes back in one way. It is easy to mistake which side goes where, so if you find it overly difficult to re-insert, try flipping the shield.
Clean the Parts
Contact Pins- The pins could just be cleaned with a cotton swab and isopropyl, but hitting them with the eraser first really makes them shine. Lay the circuit board on a flat surface and simply move the eraser back and forth with decent pressure taking care to get the pins at the ends too. Brush away the dirty eraser bits and have a look. Repeat if necessary. When finished and having cleaned away any eraser bits, rub a cotton swab with isopropyl on both sides of the pins.
Outer Case – The outer case can always benefit from a good wipe down with the Magic Eraser.
Note – Keep the Magic Eraser wet! Don’t rub too hard directly on the label with a dry Magic Eraser!
You’ll find all kinds of stuff in the cracks and crevices as you look closely. I’ll switch to cotton swabs with Isopropyl to get into grimy screw holes. The Magic Eraser covers the rest normally. Be sure to get inside the cartridge port area to keep your system clean!
Permanent marker – I use a combination of dry erase marker and the Magic Eraser. First, the application of the dry erase marker over the permanent marker. Wipe it off and repeat. After the second wipe you should be seeing great results. If you’re not satisfied, you can try to go hard with the Magic Eraser.
Note – Going too hard with the Magic Eraser can actually smooth away the texture on the cartridge. You should be able to remove almost all traces of the permanent marker this way.
Stickers – Some stickers are more difficult than others. This particular cart that I photographed had one of the worst: a sticker with heavy glue directly on the front label. For most stickers, I always start by trying to get underneath a corner and peeling it off nicely (works about 10% of the time). Usually the sticker will start to tear and separate which is when I get my thumbnail involved; scraping carefully to avoid denting or damaging any labels beneath. After removing as much as I can, it is time for the Goo Gone.
Note – Keep the Goo Gone away from the edges of the labels! A safe way to apply the Goo Gone is to spray it onto a paper towel in a small area and then dab the towel onto the sticky area. If you do get some Goo Gone by the edge of a label, quickly wipe it away with a clean paper towel.
After letting the Goo Gone sit for a few minutes, I’ll wipe it away. If the sticky stuff was thick, you might need to repeat the process a few times.