In instructions for cleaning CDs, it always specifies cleaning the CD by wiping radially from the center out. Why does it matter? — AB, Toronto, Canada
Whenever you wipe a CD to clean it, there is a chance that you will scratch its surface. If that scratch is wide enough, it may prevent the player’s optical system from reading the data recorded beneath it and this loss of data may make the CD unplayable. It turns out that tangential scratches are much more serious than radial scratches. When the scratch is radial (extending outward from the center of the disc to its edge), the player should still be able to reproduce the sound without a problem. That’s because sound information is recorded in a spiral around the disc and there is error-correcting information included in each arc shaped region of this spiral. Since a radial scratch only destroys a small part of each arc it intersects, the player can use the error correcting information to reproduce the sound perfectly.
But when the scratch is tangential (extending around the disc and along the spiral), it may prevent the player from reading a large portion of an arc. If the player is unable to read enough of the arc to perform its error correcting work, it can’t reproduce the sound. That’s why a tangential scratch can ruin a CD much more easily than a radial scratch can. That’s why you should never wipe a CD tangentially. Always clean them by wiping from the center out.