How to Fix a Game Boy Game: Start by Cleaning the Cartridge

An image of two boys playing Gameboy games.

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Things get dirty. No matter how hard you try — whether by using slipcases, dust jackets, or air filters — you just can't prevent dust and grime getting into those hard-to-reach spaces in your Game Boy game cartridges.

Their openings are small, but the dirt still seems to get lodged in there, often making it hard for your Game Boy system to read the cartridge. You can avoid all of this by cleaning your games at the first sign of trouble. It’s not as hard as you might think.

First, make sure you have the right equipment:

  • A can of compressed air
  • Cotton swabs
  • A small amount of water
  • Paper towels
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Blow Out Dirt With the Compressed Air

An image of someone cleaning a Gameboy cartridge with compressed air.

Spray compressed air into the cartridge to remove dirt and dust. It's simple: Just hold the straw end of the can approximately a half-inch from the opening of the game cartridge. Spray air into the opening, being careful to hit the center and corners.

Tip: Do not put the straw directly into the cartridge opening. Compressed air cans contain tetrafluoroethane, an ozone-safe chemical that is also used as a refrigerant. When it first comes out of the can, it is very cold and could damage the cartridge. Holding the straw end a half-inch away from the opening should allow the air temperature to level enough not to cause any damage.

This may be the only step you need to take. Test the game out and see. If you still have problems, proceed to the next step.

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Use a Damp Cotton Swab

An image of QTips that can be used with a small amount of water to clean Gameboy games.

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Dip one end of a cotton swab into water. Don’t soak it—just dampen it. Use a paper towel to dab excess water off the cotton swab. Place the damp end of the swab in the opening of the cartridge. Gently rub the connector pins with a side-to-side motion.

Flip the swab over and use the dry end to dry the connector pins gently. Let the cartridge sit for 10 minutes before using to allow any extra moisture to dry.

Tips: The swab should be just damp, not wet. If water seeps into the cartridge, it can destroy the game. You might think alcohol is a better choice, but don't use it; in fact, Nintendo specifically recommends only water and not alcohol for cleaning Game Boy cartridges.