Good as New: Clean Your iPod

Clean up your dirty iPod using the tips and tricks in this hack.

Remember those first moments when you unwrapped your new iPod? So clean, so shiny…until you put it in your pocket. The iPod’s metal back loves to be scratched, and its plastic front is not much better. Don’t get out the bleach and silver polish, though. Your iPod needs the cleaning products and tools appropriate to its outstanding design.

Getting Clean

The best product for cleaning dirt, fingerprints, and small scratches off your iPod is a product called Plexus Plastic Cleaner. Originally designed to polish the windshields of F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft, Plexus does an amazing job of cleaning up any polymer surfaces, so you can use it on everything from CDs and DVDs to your car (which probably has a polymer-based clear coat on top of its paint). The company that makes Plexus sells it only by the case online (, but if you Google “Plexus Plastic Cleaner” you’ll find a number of outfits selling it online at a price of about $10 for a big can that will last you years.

A cleaner is only half the battle; you also need something with which to apply it. For that, get a set of microfiber towels. Of course, microfiber everything (T-shirts, towels, mops) is all the rage these days, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them. I use these towels for almost everything, from waxing my car to cleaning my laptop’s LCD display to dusting around the house. The ones I like best come from an outfit in Tacoma, WA, called Griots Garage ( Their three-pack of microfiber towels goes for $16, which is expensive, but the ones they sell last forever and clean up to be like new if you put them in the washing machine. (Don’t use fabric softener! It will ruin them.)

To clean your iPod, simply spray a small amount of the Plexus onto the towel (not directly onto the surface you’re trying to clean). Use a toothpick to shove the towel down into the small crevices and lines and get dirt out.

Once your iPod is nice and clean, it’s time to deal with all those scratches you’ve accumulated.

Getting Rid of Scratches

When we talk about getting rid of scratches, we typically use terms such as polish them out or fill them in. These terms aren’t quite accurate, because the definition of polishing is that you are removing material. When you make a surface nice and shiny with a polish, you’re essentially sanding down the microscopic bumps that reflect light unevenly. When you polish out a scratch, you’re removing the surrounding material so that it is even with where the bottom of that scratch was. This might sound sort of frightening, but don’t worry. Unless you have a gouge (i.e., a really deep scratch), we are only talking about removing a few microns of material here. I am telling you this because it’s important to realize exactly what’s going on when you’re in the process of rubbing out that huge wedding ring scratch that goes right across the front of your iPod’s LCD display.

There are a number of kits on the market that do a good job of removing scratches. The kits available from iCleaner ( are good, but you probably already have the most effective iPod plastic polish in your garage or utility closet: Brasso. This old-school, $3-a-can metal polish does a pretty amazing job of safely removing iPod plastic scratches, because it contains a mild abrasive. Twist the microfiber towel so it forms a tight, smooth surface over the pad of your index finger, and put a small amount of Brasso on it. Press hard when you rub, and go back and forth, not in circles.

Back and forth and not in circles, you ask? But Mr. Miyagi told Daniel in The Karate Kid that one waxes and polishes in a circular motion! That’s just how things are done!

Well, the problem with waxing or polishing in a circular motion is that it produces swirl marks that you can see from a mile away. When you polishing anything, you leave tiny scratches, and if those scratches are circular, light will catch them from every angle and they will be quite visible. If you polish in straight lines, though, those scratches will be visible only when light catches them in 1 of the 360 degrees of the viewing angle, so they will hardly be noticed. This also works on your car (wax/polish front to back for surfaces parallel to the ground, up and down for surfaces perpendicular to the ground).

You’d better be a little patient, because this job takes a good, longtime to accomplish on your iPod, but the results are well worth it. Unlike the Plexus, I wouldn’t use Brasso to polish out scratches in other plastics. I have heard about bad results from people who were so amazed that it worked on their iPods that they went out and ruined their cell phone screens, because the composition of the plastic was different.

The Ugly Truth About Pretty Chrome

The back panel on your iPod is made of an aluminum part that has been electroplated in chrome. When it’s new out of the box, the surface is very pretty, but it scratches very, very easily. The ugly truth is that there’s nothing you can do about those scratches once they are there, because you can’t polish out scratches in chrome. Chrome is a plating process, and the shiny silver material you see is just a few microns thick, so any scratch you see probably goes all the way through the chrome layer and down to the bare aluminum. To polish out the scratch, you’d need to polish off the whole layer of chrome, and you probably don’t want to do that.

Unless your iPod is subjected to the environment the same way the chrome bumper on a truck is, your best bet to keep it shiny is just to use Plexus or another plastic cleaner along with the microfiber cloth, as this will remove any surface contamination that would dull the appearance of your iPod. Most of the chrome polishes you see on the market are intended for automotive applications where chrome is subjected to all sorts of crud (flying bugs, exhaust gasses, dirt, rain, etc.), and these products remove that fouling from the metal to make it shiny again.

With this hack, now know how to keep your iPod in good aesthetic order. Don’t overclean your iPod, though; once a month should keep its appearances up nicely.

Greg Koenig

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