Oh cool! You found your old NES in the garage! Why don't you plug that sucker in for some nostalgic gaming? Hook it up, pop in a game, turn it on, aaaaaaaaand

Blue Screen of Death

Blue screen of death...great. Ok, no biggie, just take out the game, blow on the contacts, pop it back in, aaaaaaaaand

Red Screen of Death

Red screen of death. Well that's different. Wait, I know! Try a different game and switch the NES and TV from ch3 to ch4; that should do it!

Gray Screen of Death

Now before you throw your system out the window, why don't we try to fix it? The NES system can be pretty finicky, but most of the time it's the game that's causing problems.

So let's get to it! Here's how to clean your NES cartridges

Things You Will Need

As it is with most things, there is an easy way and a hard way to do this. The hard way works better, but the easy way is...easier.

Easy Way:

  • Windex
  • A Cup
  • Q-Tips

Hard Way:

  • Scrubber Sponge

  • 3.8mm Gamebit Driver

  • Windex
  • Cotton Balls or Soft Cloth

Step 1

The Easy Way

Pour a little windex into a bowl or cup and dip one end of the q-tip in it. Don't use alcohol, water, thinner, or anything like that, as these substances may damage the game.

Q-tip with Windex

Step 2

Clean both sides of the contacts with the q-tip, and use the other end of it to dry the contacts. I usually do this twice on each side.

Cleaning the game contacts (17361)

OK! Now that that's done, let's pop it in and see if it works!

Pixel cluster**** due to dirty contacts

The hell? Looks like the easy way didn't cut it. : / Fortunately, the spastic sprite dance means that your game is closer to working than the blue screen of death. If you try this method repeatedly, it will probably work eventually, but I'm going to move on to the hard way just to be sure.

Step 3

The Hard Way

The hard way isn't actually all that hard, but since we'll be opening up the cartridge, it's time consuming and requires special tools.

You're probably going to need a special tool to open the game cartridge. Early games (those made in or before 1987) use regular slotted screws, but the bulk of NES carts (as well as all SNES and N64 carts) use special 3.8mm security screws designed to keep people like me from tampering with the games. They look like this:

Nintendo Gamebit screw

Now there are a few different ways get around these. What I suggest, especially if you're going to be doing this alot, is to suck it up and go buy a 3.8mm gamebit tool. Alternatively, you can make your own tool, but I don't suggest it. You can find pretty good instructions on that at: http://www.mmmonkey.co.uk/console/other/diy-gamebit.htm

Step 4

Ok! Now that we've got our tools, let's open up that cart! Take out the three screws on the back of the cart (five screws on older carts) by turning the driver counter-clockwise. Be sure to put them in a container so you don't lose them. I put mine in a pill organizer.

Removing Gamebit screw

Step 5

After you've taken out all of the screws, carefully open the cartridge by lifting the lip at the bottom of the cart.

Opening the cartridgeInside an NES cartridge

There! We've finally got this little guy open! Now we just have to take out the game chip and clean it. You can just pull it out; there are no screws or adhesives holding it in. You may be surprised to find that the actual game only takes up a little less than half of the cartridge space, and you may be wondering why. Well, not too many people know this, but the extra space is for hiding cash and blow.

Nintendo drug money

Step 6

Before we clean the chip, we need to clean the inside of the cartridge itself. Even though the cartridges are closed up tight, plenty of gunk still finds its way inside. This one actually got dog hair in it somehow. Anyway, take a cotton ball or soft cloth, dip it in windex, and wipe down the inside. Invariably, the cotton will come back pretty nasty.

Cleaning insideGunk from inside

Step 7

Now that the inside is clean, get yourself something to scrub the contacts with. I use a scouring sponge dipped in windex. Scrub the pins from side to side, and don't worry about getting liquid on them. As long as you make sure it's COMPLETELY dry before you put it back together or plug it in, it will be fine.

Scrubbing the contactsClean contacts

There! Look how shiny and clean those contacts are! Just a couple moments of elbow grease and it's good to go! Now just put it back together. Don't worry about putting the chip in wrong--the chip and cartridge are molded so that it can only go in one way. Put the top clips into their slots and close the cartridge, then put the screws back in, turning them clockwise until they're snug.


Super Spike V'Ball

Here we are, all back together. Ugh, looks like we'll need to clean the outside too, but let's just pop it in and see if it works for now.

Super Spike V'Ball menu screen

HUZZAH! Success! Now I can enjoy Super Spike V'Ball! This came in a box of about 100 NES games I came across, so I haven't played it before. Let's see if it's any good.

We're gonna punish you turkeys

We're gonna punish you turkeys with our spikes. They just don't make games with that kind of deep, powerful dialog anymore.

Well that's how to get your old game carts working. The process is basically the same for any game cartridge; Genesis, SNES, Atari, whatever. Hope it helped! Good luck and happy gaming!

Tips & Warnings


Do not use rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, or other harsh solvents; they will damage the game.

Be careful when reinstalling the screws; tighten slowly until you feel just a little resistance so you don't strip the screws or the game.

Make sure all parts of the game are completely dry before you put it back together or try to play it.