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When compact discs first appeared in the consumer market in the early 1980s, they were hailed as a tremendous technological advance. No longer would music lovers have to tolerate the scratches and pops of vinyl albums or work around the search limitations of cassette tapes. One push of a button, and the selected cut would play instantly- with a clarity never heard in the home environment before. Manufacturers of these compact discs emphasized the product's damage resistance and storability as major selling points. Once the price of CD players came down sufficiently, the consumer demand for these seemingly indestructible discs skyrocketed. Vinyl albums soon became a memory, and cassette tapes became far less popular.

But are these technological marvels really as invincible as they seem? The answer is no. Compact discs may be more durable that vinyl albums, but they still require some proper cleaning and maintenance by the consumer in order to preserve their playability. Here are some tips for cleaning and maintaining your CD collection.

1. Remember that CDs are NOT indestructible. They are resistant to normal stresses, such as the occasional scratch or dust build-up, but they can be easily broken by intentional bending or accidental crushing. Never allow children to play with your valuable CDs. Children are experimental by nature, and will be tempted to bend objects just to see if they will break. Also avoid placing CDs near high traffic areas in your house.
CDs are very small, and easily overlooked when walking through a room. Children may also perceive these round, flat objects as Frisbees.

2. Remember that the laser reads the bottom of the disc, not the top. When cleaning a CD, extra care should be given to the bottom of the disc. Take a soft lint-free cloth and wipe from the inner hole to the outside edges in a LINEAR direction, not in a circle. CDs are not engineered like vinyl albums of old, and circular cleaning motions may distort the information needed to play the disc. Such distortions may create the 'digital skip' sound you may hear while the disc is playing. If you hear such a sound, remove the disc and inspect the BOTTOM (non-labeled) surface for any signs of damage. Especially look for any foreign substance that may be present. Evidence of intentional destruction may be dark spots or melted areas. Once a CD's aluminum center has been compromised, the chances of repair are minimal.

3. Keep track of jewel cases. The best storage method for your CDs are the original 'jewel cases' they came in. These cases are engineered to keep the disc stable, dust-free and easily storable. You'll want to develop a method that keeps the jewel cases close at hand while playing the discs. If you do lose the case, replacements can easily be found at most electronic stores or retail outlets. An acceptable alternative would be to store your discs in a plastic sleeve especially designed for CD storage. Office supply stores may offer such sleeves, and the binders you'll need to store them. In a pinch, you should get some paper sleeves designed for CD use. Although CDs can handle some jostling while loose, you want to avoid the possiblity of permanent scratches caused by outside forces.

4. Store your CDs away from excessive heat. Unlike the vinyl album format they replaced, CDs do not have to be stored vertically to avoid warping. But they are still primarily plastic, which does not take well to extreme heat. There are some heat sources you may not be aware of, such as lamps and electronic devices that generate heat as they operate. The best storage space is the cabinet drawer or storage rack especially designated for CD storage. They keep the discs organized and stable better than any other arrangement. Avoid storage systems that require loose stacking of jewel cases. One solid hit and many discs can be damaged in the fall. If you do store the discs in a bookshelf or box, place bracing objects around the jewel cases, such as bookends or foam padding.

Compact discs do offer many advantages over older musical recording formats, but one should still exercise proper maintenance to keep the discs safe and playable for years to come.