Over the years, I've occasionally had to retrieve data from backups I've made to CD or DVD.

All these backup media were burned with extra care (at low speeds, not always with high-end media but never with the cheapest crap either) and almost always with the burning program's double-check option turned on.

However, every time I had to search through some CDs or DVDs a couple of years later, there were shockingly many occurrences of data corruption on a shockingly high number of the media.

I managed to work around the corruptions so no serious damage was done (as they would usually span only across a few sectors, or whatever they are called on CDs/dvds), but is this a normal rate of decay for CDs/DVDs? Does the storage method influence the media's longevity? I usually store them in soft plastic pouches. Could chemicals permeating from those pouches be the problem?

  • Is there a way to prevent decay of CDs/DVDs? Is this a brand issue, with cheap media decaying faster?
  • 1
    I'm not completely sure whether this is on topic on SU in this form - if you think it isn't, and think this can be improved, please let me know!
    – Pekka
    Jun 3, 2012 at 16:57
  • 4
    Yes, it is normal. You cannot do much more than storing them in a cool dark dry place and copying the data to fresh disks every 3-5 years
    – Akash
    Jun 3, 2012 at 17:01
  • 1
    @Pekka: Your two questions (about CDs and cloud storage) are pretty unrelated, and both were discussed here on su.com... For example: superuser.com/questions/251369/… (there are other similar topics)
    – haimg
    Jun 3, 2012 at 17:03
  • 1
    @avirk if you are using it for a decade you have a better chance of it working than if you used it, kept it away for a decade and came back.Same for SSD's, the data decays after 1-10 years depending on the type of cell used in it
    – Akash
    Jun 3, 2012 at 17:09
  • 1
    @Akash roger that Sir. ;)
    – avirk
    Jun 3, 2012 at 17:10

4 Answers 4


Probably preaching to the choir here, but this is experience gained after a couple decades of using the darn things. My first drive was a really expensive SCSI interface 1x CD-R. That $250 you pay for a really good manufacturer now? Pfft! I could buy six now for what I paid for that thing. Ouch!

  1. Use a quality drive to produce the disk
  2. Use a quality disk manufacturer (Mitsubishi, JVC, Sony) and as fresh a batch of disks as you can get.
  3. Make sure the disk surface is clean before inserting into the drive
  4. Slower burn speed is supposed to produce larger dots, verify data after burn
  5. Multiple copies of important data is a "Really Good Idea™"


  1. Time will degrade the write-ability of the dye layer, slow burn speeds will not make up for this, use as fresh a disk as you can get.
  2. Heat will degrade the dye used in the writable layer.
  3. Ultraviolet light will degrade the dye used in the writable layer.
  4. Moisture can get through the label side coating and attack the aluminum flash layer.
  5. In certain environments, there is a sort of mold that will eat the label side of the disk, even on pressed disks.

The 20-30 year lifespan quoted for writable disk life was based on advanced aging tests, not real lifetime tests. Real life shows that a high proportion of written disks probably aren't much good after 10 years.

So the name of the game is "make multiple copies over several media types for long term storage" on rather static data. With multiple copies, there's a chance of recovery of the bad files.

The case is not so good if large databases are involved, a couple bad spots can render the whole database useless on a couple disks. Most backups have a lifetime of weeks, so this isn't as much of an issue, but for monthly backups, you may need to do refresh copies every so often if long term storage is a legal liability.


Use DVDisaster to mitigate the CD/DVD deterioration problem. Remember, I said mitigate, not solve.

If you put some effort, and regularly check the integrity of your disks, DVDisaster will inform you of the extent of the deterioration, if any, and then can actually repair it! Once repaired, you can write the disk's data onto a new disk. Thereafter you should continue to check the new disk for deterioration regularly ( I think checking every year should be more than sufficient).

DVDisaster, combined with the other advice given by Fiasco Labs is a very good (and cheap) archival method.

One (small) disadvantage of DVDisaster is that it requires space on the disk to store recovery data (Reed-Solomon code). The more space you allow for recovery data, the higher the probability of a successful recovery. So, if you allow more space for recovery data on the disk, you can do integrity checks less frequently.

This has an advantage over manually making multiple copies of the disk: it is more convenient to just command DVDisaster to repair the deterioration using recovery data, than to manually go through the disk's files yourself to see which have succumbed to deterioration, and then, go look for their copies on other disks and manually copy them over, and slowly recover the original disk. Also, we cannot be sure that the survivors don't have a teeny tiny deterioration in them that makes them appear unharmed: those files can be opened and read, without any application errors.


It is normal.

Your best options are:

  1. Multiple backups. If you don't have 2 copies of it, you don't really have it. Especially for your own data (your photos, important documents, etc). Actually, these days my advice is to copy your own backups off CD/DVD/Blu-ray discs altogether and onto multiple external (or portable) hard disk drives. For example, a 3TB main backup drive and a 3TB 2nd backup drive, and a 3TB 3rd backup drive, all with the same data. Every few years, check the hard drives and copy onto new hard drives as required.

  2. Downloading: Where you don't have or can't keep a backup for movies/music/games etc that you own, torrent sites and other tools and facilities to obtain copies of your digital property can be an OK backup. The quality is often lacking for movies, but it's better than paying twice for the same content.

(There are laws in a few countries that say you're an evil pirate if you use these, even for stuff you paid for fair-and-square. My advice is: don't confuse bribe-bought laws with your actual moral rights, nor what you can actually do).


It is completely normal.

One solution I've found to minimize loss which wasn't mentioned in any of the other answers yet is to use the par2-algorithm. This algorithm allows you to construct "redundancy data" without being a 1:1 copy.

So, if you had 7 GB (10 CDs) of data, you could use a tool like par2cmdline to generate 8.4 GB (12 CDs) of par2-data. When you burn this data onto 12 CDs, it means that, as long as only 2 (and it doesn't matter which 2) of the CDs fail, you can still retrieve all Data. It's similar to RAID 5 in that regard. It's quite computationally expensive, though, so expect long waits for both generating and restoring larger chunks of data. For example, I once made a backup of 700 GB of photos with 1TB of par2-data and the actual generation process took nearly one week (!) on a six-core i7 processor. Considering that it's only for backups you're going to store away for years, anyways, I still find it not that awful after all.

Another very important aspect (which was obviously not that easy to achieve when this question was asked, but is now) is not to use CDs or DVDs but BluRay-Discs instead. Because BluRay uses a different way of storing data that is much less prone to failing. It's also cheaper per GB nowadays.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .