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How to clean n64 games

The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning N64 Cartridges

March 18, 2022

TLDR

N64 games are awesome…when they work. Like all cartridge-based games, N64 games benefit from being opened up and thoroughly cleaned every once in a while. Air dusters, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and some q tips will do the trick for most cartridges.

Until the development of CD-based consoles like the Playstation, every gamer had to deal with cartridges. For a long time, cleaning cartridges and your console’s cartridge slot was just another chore you needed to do to keep your games in good working order.

Nintendo 64 game cartridges are some of the most notoriously difficult to keep clean. Any gamer who grew up with the system will remember furiously blowing into their cartridges when their game failed to boot up.

However, blowing into cartridges is not recommended and is often counter-productive, simply pushing dirt and debris further into the internal components. Since N64 game cartridges aren’t being made anymore, you need to know how to take care of them properly to maintain their longevity.

Without further ado, here’s a foolproof guide on how to disassemble and clean N64 game cartridges so you can continue enjoying them for decades to come!

All the gear you need to clean your n64 games

Gear you may need

Depending on how deep of a cleaning job you want to do, you may need some or all of the following gear:

  • 3.8mm Gamebit screwdriver
  • Phillips #1 screwdriver
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), metal polish, or contact cleaner
  • Cotton swabs
  • Can of compressed air (air duster) or an electronic dust remover

How to disassemble your N64 game cartridges

While taking your game cartridges apart may be more work than you’re used to, the only way to thoroughly clean a cartridge is to open up the plastic shell and access the circuit board underneath.

Luckily, disassembling your N64 cartridges isn’t difficult. Follow these steps:

Step one

  • Place the cartridge face down and use your Gamebit screwdriver to remove the two screws on either side.
  • Grasping the top of the cartridge, carefully peel the shell off. Don’t force it, as you may damage the shell.
Removing screws from the n64 cartridge
Removing metal shielding from the n64 cartridge

Step two

  • One half of the cartridge will have a metal shield attached with two Phillips head screws, so get out your Phillips head screwdriver and remove them.
  • The metal shielding is attached at the top end with pressure tabs, so you’ll need to press down on them firmly when you reassemble the cartridge.

Step three

  • Remove the plastic shield on the bottom of the cartridge carefully with your hands.
  • Now that the circuit board is exposed, you can gently remove it from the shell casing.
Removing plastic shield and circuit board from the n64 cartridge

Congratulations, you’ve successfully disassembled an N64 cartridge! But don’t start celebrating yet – now begins the delicate process of actually cleaning the components.


Three ways to clean your N64 cartridges

There are three main methods for cleaning the circuit board. Which is most appropriate will depend on how old the cartridge is and how long it has been since it was last cleaned.

So, if your cartridge looks like something that Indiana Jones dug up, it’s well overdue for a deep clean. Besides, your games have done so much for you, so the least you can do is give them the complete spa treatment!

Clean your n64 game with an air duster

1. Using an air duster

Whipping out an air duster is a safe and efficient way to remove dirt and other debris from your cartridges. Whether you’re using a can of compressed air or an electronic dust remover, all you need to do is blow along the bottom of the circuit board.

This method is much safer for your cartridge than blowing with your mouth since the circuit board won’t have to bathe in all the tiny moisture particles (or endure your breath, for that matter).

If you’re just trying to get a game working again, this method may do the trick. If the game still isn’t functioning, you’ll have to pull up your sleeves and move on to methods two and three.


Clean the cartridge circuit board with rubbing alcohol and q tips

2. Using rubbing alcohol

The copper metal contacts on the bottom of the circuit board are the part you need to clean, as they are what interact with the console itself.

Cleaning steps

  • Dampen a cotton swap with a small amount of rubbing alcohol (be careful not to use too much alcohol.)
  • Insert the cotton swab into the insertion gap.
  • Start cleaning the copper contacts in a gentle rectangular motion.
  • Replace your cotton swaps as they get dirty to avoid moving the grime around the cartridge. You’ll know you’re done when your cotton swab doesn’t get dirty.

After you’re done cleaning, leave the circuit board out to dry for around five to ten minutes. You might be tempted to use a hairdryer to speed this step up, but don’t, as the heat can damage your game permanently.


Clean a dirty Nintendo 64 cartridge with metal polish as a last resort

3. Using metal polish

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If your Nintendo 64 cartridge still isn’t working, you may want to do a heavy-duty clean using a metal polish like Brasso.

The cleaning steps here are identical to what you would do with rubbing alcohol, except that you want to use a very small amount of metal polish and wipe more gently (since it is quite strong). This method is typically a last resort for games that are so dirty that no other cleaning method works.

The metal polish method may help you salvage games others have given up on. So, if you see someone throwing away a dirty N64 cartridge, you might be able to save it and add it to your collection!

90s Toys mascot lying on the floor reading some facts for peeps asked!

Peeps Asked!

How do you clean a Nintendo 64 cartridge slot?

To clean the cartridge slot, open it with your finger and use an air duster to blow out the debris. After that, run a cotton swab damp with rubbing alcohol along the interior of the slot.

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