Destroying Optical Media

We got a tip about a USB CD destroyer. We found its methods amusing as it just scratches the CD as seen above on the left. If you really have data security issues, perhaps something more than scratched plastic should be used. There are a lot of paper shredders that can also shred CDs, what about taking that shredder with the burnt out motor and turning it into a hand-cranked shredder that doubles as a CD killer?

Got a lot of optical media that needs to go? These folks developed the chain-gun of CD shredding with an automatic feed. This consists of a CD shredder and a slew of discs connected with packing tape. As seen in the video after the break, the shredder advances and the next disk is pulled into its jaws.

Microwave has been a popular bringer of death for disc media. The light show and resulting chaotic art (above on the right and after the break) are what make this interesting, but it’s pretty hard on the much-loved kitchen appliance. What we’re really looking for is a way to force a CD/DVD writer to overwrite data. The fact that burnt discs, rather than factory pressed versions, are what normally need to be disposed of makes this a hack waiting to happen. Why isn’t this a standard hardware feature of all drives, and can it be implemented in software?

There’s always the low-tech snap, scratch, or mangle methods. We usually just scratch the foil off the top of the disc.


CD Shredder with automatic feed.


The best microwaved CD.

52 thoughts on “Destroying Optical Media

  1. @Mike Szczys
    “. We usually just scratch the foil off the top of the disc.”

    On a cd the data isn’t recorded on the foil layer. The data is recorded in the pits and lands of the polycarbonate layer. The foil is just used to reflect the laser back to the lens. Scratching the foil layer Isn’t a very good way to destroy your data at all.

  2. @Lambda_drive: Thanks for that, I had no idea. I made that assumption based on the frustrating read problems with discs whose tops were scratched.

    Now does the microwave technique do the same thing? Is it just the foil that is damaged?

  3. Not sure I get the point of any of this. Optical media is the most fragile form of modern storage, in fact I have managed to securely destroy a number of optical discs completely by accident (and I’m certainly not alone).

    If you feel you really need to do more than simply snapping the things in half, putting the disc in the microwave for just a few seconds completely obliterates it. I don’t see how any data recovery could be possible. As for damage to the microwave, a small one is less than $30 anymore and should blow up a few hundred discs before it self destructs itself.

  4. Stick the disks on a 25-50 disk spindle, and then hit it with some 12 gauge shot if you have a smaller stack you could just hit it with 20 gauge a couple times and that’ll do the trick.

  5. I have often imagined that some day, a high resolution scanner could read in a disk by scanning it, and possibly recover partial files from between the scratches.

    Also, if someone made a mini-microwave for disk frying, that would be awesome. If you just put some water in the chamber along with a CD, it should absorb enough of the microwaves to avoid damaging the magnetron, i think.

  6. For those of you interested in the microwave method, place a glass of water in the corner of the microwave to act as a “dummy load” for the microwave so it won’t burn out.

    Your CDs will still be destroyed, but the magnetron will not be hurt due to such a small load. Also, you can (mostly) safely create little plasma balls and other experiments in the microwave as long as you have that dummy load.

  7. for most of these plastic scratching methods, it’d be a better idea to scratch the top–often times, the aluminum where the data is actually pressed in is actually sandwiched very close to the top surface (hence, as you may have noticed, any scratches on the top of your disc more or less mean you’re screwed)

  8. >a bit off-topic, but does anyone have any idea how to actually REPAIR a label-side scratch? I’ve always understood those to be irreparable.

    On a CD-R the reflective material *is* the label. The CD is written by sublimating dye on the ‘write’ side so the laser shines through the plastic to the reflective surface on the other side, then back to the lense to represent a 1. Try metallic fingernail polish.

  9. I say make a rig stand for 2 side grinders and mount the cd(s) on one and an abrasive disk on the other. Use springs to push the counter-rotating heads together and turn them on. Easy and automatic once you turn it on.

  10. I’ve destroyed a few on a sunny day with a nice magnifying glass. A black Sharpie helps increase increase the heat.
    I have seen a spindle of them superglued and put into a lathe. If you spin it too fast, they practically explode. If you go at just the right speed, it makes chips about the size of glitter. That’s one way of keeping the CDs out of the landfill.

  11. I take a nail to the foil side and just scratch around in circles on the foil. most of it ends up flaking off. Takes about 10 seconds to get a really well destroyed disc. Costs literally a penny.

  12. another method might be to repurpose a lightscribe drive by remounting the centre disk permanently under the spindle, then installing the disk to be nuked as normal.
    this has the advantage of being able to draw pretty patterns upon the disk therefore rendering it into something more useful than a coaster.

  13. I scratched up both sides of a CD with deep grooves and then tried to read it and I was able to read a lot of data. I then drilled holes into the CD and while the drive had a hard time with the unbalanced CD it was able to still read some of the data.

  14. Okay, the cops are banging on your door. You have 50 disks full of “sensitive” data that you’ve copied to your remote secure storage. What to do with the disks now? All right, pop ’em into the microwave, hit :30, press start. Now calmly combe your hair, walk to the door….”Good Evening Officer…”


  15. Oh, I have a really fun one! I once got a pressure washer and put a load of disks on a storage spindle (I was hoping to make a Tesla turbine) and fired up the water jet on to them. the foil exploded off 20 feet into the air.

  16. well isama and ben ryves answers combined kinda equal my answer of a rotary air sander, or any sander really, or attaching the cd to an air grinder or sander. so i have been forced to come up with a new and unique method, which is microwave friendly, and economically viable. it is, however, slower than microwaves, sanders, pyrotechnics, explosives, and spinning on the cd atop the disc on the sidewalk. But you can use it with the leftovers of your disc destruction shenanigans, rendering the data even more unretrievable without a flux capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts of electricity.
    get a mold.. make a mold, whatever you want. you could use a jello or cake mold if you want and if its metal. or you can use your CNC machine or whatever and make a custom one. the only requirement is that it is metal and its melting point be high, like steel or something. not bismuth, lead, gallium, mercury. that would be stupid. ok so you have a mold of something you would like a really cool looking acrylic/polycarbonate, whatever cds are made of, replica of. you are going to make a sculpture. you could make a lightsaber given that your oven is large enough or your lightsaber is short enough.
    ok you know the rest by now: put mold in oven, with a cookie sheet or at least aluminum foil underneath it to protect the oven, put the cds in and ontop of the mold, bake it. the end. oh yeah do this outside/with adequate ventilation or be prepared to breathe the fumes and die.
    but the end result is a really pretty sparkly whatever your mold is for. and you just kept some crap out of a landfill that wont biodegrade for like amillion years without being tossed into a volcano. you can blow bubbles with your cds too with a lighter and your lungs. saw it on AOTS.
    so go make some molten cd art and sell it on ebay, and donate my 10 percent to the charity “ending world hunger by genetically engineering kudzu (pueraria lobata) with some fruit like watermelon or strawberries”

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