Does CD Rot Really Exist?

You’re constantly told to back up valuable data to keep your images, music, video and data collections safe. One method is to copy this data to DVDs or CDs.

Your precious collections are amongst your most valued possessions. They are, in a word, irreplaceable. The sometimes-vague claims made by manufacturers of these products say CD-Rs have a lifespan of anything between 20 and 100 years, depending on their manufacture and disc quality, and how you store them.

Yet, the unthinkable can happen. Despite religiously following storage instructions, your CD-R’s become dysfunctional; just 18 months from the purchase date!

What happened to the claims made by manufacturers about the longevity of CDs and DVDs?

The fact is that proving such claims will require one of two actions: either create a testing scenario in a high temperature with extra humid conditions to gauge a response, or wait the suggested 20-100 years. Both of which you, as a layperson, are unlikely to do.

Real rot revealed

Some disc manufacturers argue, for obvious reasons and with vested interests, that, technically, CD rot no longer exists.

Nonetheless, the 80’s phenomenon of moisture damage to audio CDs lingers on in the minds and experiences of consumers today, as they still refer to CD and DVD dysfunction as CD rot.

What happens is that, over time, a slow deterioration of the aluminium layer on the DVD or CD begins. It occurs when a disc has not been sealed properly, which allow moisture to enter via holes and oxidize the aluminium. This results in an unreadable disc, and is particularly common in R discs which use a dye-based layer.

According to Fred Byers of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the organic dye used in the data layer of R discs degrades naturally but slowly.

The naked eye can also see some DVDs breakdown over time, as cloudy areas, specks and holes appear after the discs have been played frequent.

Pricy solution

If you’re buying a new computer and your choice is an LG, Acer, or Dell, your problems are solved with Millenniata’s M Drive (needed for recording) and M-Disc. M Discs uses metallic and inorganic substances on their discs and chemicals on their drive, which they claim guarantees the safety of your data for 1000 years.

The downside? You don’t have an excuse to buy a new computer.

For the rest of you, we include some vital reminders vis-à-vis disc treatment:

Disc dos

  • Store discs vertically and in slim line or jewel cases.
  • Prevent foreign matter from making contact with the disc.
  • Hold the disc at the centre or the edges only.
  • Store in a dry and cool place or data layers could be eroded.
  • Use a soft water or alcohol-based marker only.

Disc don’ts

  • Don’t bend the disc or finger the surface.
  • Don’t expose the disc to locations with changing temperatures, including fireplaces.
  • Contrary to belief, the fragile side is that with the label. Scratches on this side can penetrate to the aluminium layer.
  • Clean the disc in circular fashion, from the centre outwards.

Buy wisely              

Dye-based, non-rewritable discs are the ones to use, as they last longer than their more expensive re-rewritable counterparts. They’re also cheaper

While a scratch or speck of dust can render a disc faulty, smudges and fingerprint also do damage, so heavy-handed types will definitely want to handle their discs with kid gloves.

And, remember the obvious – if the contents of a disc are of crucial importance to you, make another copy!