How to clean a Nintendo switch game card


I remember back in the day, trying to get games to work on the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The NES had a big cartridge slot that swallowed dust and the game cartridges wouldn’t always read the first time.

I don’t know when it started but the rumor soon got around that blowing on the game cartridge would make them work. 

It always worked for me.

But now I’m older and understand that it was one of the worst things I could have done.

Why? 

Because of the spit particles slowly erode the metal contact strips!

The Nintendo Switch can also have similar issues. But on a smaller scale because the game cards are a lot smaller. So what can you do if the game won’t launch because the game card isn’t being read? 

Your first option is to clean the game card.

How to clean a Nintendo Switch game card. Patience and precision are needed to carefully clean the exposed contact points on the game card. This can be done with Q-Tips and an alcohol-based cleaning solution with no higher percentage than 70% alcohol. 

With the game cards from the Nintendo Switch being so small what if you accidentally put a game card in the washing machine? Or spill a soda all over your favorite Mario game?

Read on to find out the best ways to clean your game cards and how to prolong their life.

The Nintendo game cards pack a lot of punch in a tiny package

There is a reason Nintendo coats their Switch game cards in a special coating of denatonium benzoate. This is most commonly used on nails to stop a nail-biting habit. Which is a bitter-tasting, non-harmful layer, designed to discourage children and adults from putting the game card into their mouths.

Nintendo knows that the Switch is going to be in the hands of children. The Nintendo Switch is not a FisherPrice toy, it has more in common with the iPad than a child’s toy. This is why it is more rugged.

The game card is the biggest weak point in the design.

It has exposed pins that need to cleanly make contact with a set of pins inside the Nintendo Switch. 

If there is even a little bit of dirt in between the connections then the game will fail to load. Forcing you to have to buy games online or risk turning your Switch into an expensive paperweight.

Patience and a delicate touch are crucial when cleaning the game card for the Switch. 

Today you are a surgeon operating on your sick patient: the game card.

What can happen if you don’t clean the game card after it gets dirty.

Nintendo Switch game cards are small ‘circuit boards’ with a small flash chip attached. The chip is a non-rewritable memory that houses the game’s data.

If the chip becomes detached from the circuit board in any way the game will not be readable. This is also the case if one of the connections is severed.

Contaminants such as drinks and foods are a bad mix with computer components. As these substances can corrode the connections within a Nintendo Switch game card.

When you discover that a game card has been compromised you should aim to clean it as quickly as possible. 

What tools should you use? You don’t want to add to any possible damage. Let’s not make the situation any worse.

Use the right tools. 

No Sharp instruments, such as a key or penknife. The goal is to clean the metal strips not remove them.

Don’t blow on the game card!

You will more than likely be blowing small spit particles onto the metal strips.

Don’t use compressed air!

Canned air is not air, it is made up of compressed chemicals. In most cases that’s fine, but when it comes to game cards it is not great. You might get some short-term success but Nintendo warns about using chemicals to clean the Switch.

What to do if you get food on your Nintendo Switch game card?

Don’t put the game card into the Nintendo Switch game console. It is far easier to just clean one card than the game slot as well.

The good news is that the internal components of the Nintendo Switch game card are quite simple. This means that it should be easier to clean than previous Nintendo cartridges such as the Game Boy’s, which had far more complicated circuitry as well as a battery in most cases for game saves.

The goal of cleaning the game card is to remove any foreign substances from the gold contact strips.

First, you will need a few things:

Cleaning the Nintendo Switch game card

It should go with saying that you should wash your hands first. 

Before jumping straight in with the isopropyl alcohol (70% max). Gently wipe off any large pieces with a soft cloth. The reason it needs to be a soft cloth is because cloths by their very nature tend to store static when used in cleaning. 

A small static shock to you or me is negligible but to a small circuit such as your game card, it can be devastating. You can always touch the cloth to a piece of grounded metal to let the static pass out of the cloth. 

OK, so now that the patient is prepped you can begin your surgery.

Your make-shift operating theatre needs to be a well-lit area. Have a good light source nearby so you can easily see what needs cleaning. You can use a table lamp or even your phone light if needed. 

Next, gather all your tools.

Then apply the cleaning solution to a Q-Tip, less is more. You don’t want it to fill like a paintbrush. When light pressure is applied the cleaning solution should not drip off. You are not bathing the card. 

Gently make a swipe starting in the middle of the game card and swipe away from the card. This will make sure you don’t make things worse and also not push any small bits into the inside of the game card.

Keep repeating until the card is clear.

Keep Rotating the Q-Tip making sure you are always using a clean side when cleaning. Changing the Q-Tip when they get dirty.

Don’t be tight with the Q-Tips, it is better to use a many as you need than risk rubbing the food in, making it worse. 

After it is clear, wait until it is dry. Don’t rush after all your work. Remember patience is a virtue.

Recap

  1. Remove excess with a dry soft cloth.
  2. Apply isopropyl alcohol (70% max) to a Q-Tip.
  3. Gently rub the Q-Tip over the contact strips on the card, Start in the middle of the card and rub in one direction until the Q-Tip is off of the card.
  4. Keep rotating the Q-Tip to make sure you are only using a clean side.
  5. Use as many Q-Tip as you need until the card is clear from any visible contaminants.
  6. Leave to completely dry. 

Things not to do:

  • Don’t fully submerged the card in a cleaning solution. 
  • Don’t be tight will the q tips
  • Don’t Scrub the Q-Tip too hard, you aren’t sanding the dirt off!

Using too much isopropyl alcohol or too high a percentage may cause some discoloration on the card itself, but will just be cosmetic. 

Be careful to only apply the isopropyl alcohol to the part you are cleaning on the game card. Your focus should only be on cleaning the metal contact strips. 

Don’t use it on the outside of the Nintendo Switch itself.

Nintendo has said NOT to use alcohol when cleaning the Switch because it can discolor and or deform the plastic. 

You can tell that the Nintendo Switch is a pre-pandemic device because you can’t even sanitize it with disinfecting wipes.

The alcohol can eat away at the top layer of plastic, giving the Switch a shiny appearance. 

Nintendo recommends using a dry soft cloth. It sounds like Nintendo has no idea that a large part of their target audience eats food with their hands and that the console would need constant cleaning.

Nintendo has since had a change of heart and give the following advice when disinfecting the Switch:

“Lightly apply a consumer-grade disinfectant containing about 70% alcohol to a soft clean cloth and gently wipe the product. “ – Nintendo Support

What to do if you spill water on your Nintendo Switch game card?

Don’t use water to clean the game card! You can risk doing more damage.

Never submerged the game card yourself, even when cleaning! 

But accidents happen, it could have had a drink spilled on it or dropped outside in the rain. 

So what can you do other than pray to give yourself the best chance at getting the game card to have a full recovery? 

The first step is to dry the game card. 

Don’t be tempted to test the game on your Nintendo Switch. You don’t know what damage has been done to your game card. You don’t want to risk passing it on to the Nintendo Switch itself. 

A broken game is painful but a broken Switch is even worse.

Do not dry your cards in the following manner.

  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Open flame, eg. Lighter, or gas hob.
  • Dryer 
  • Rice – this works with phones because they are sealed differently.
  • Hairdryer, but this is the riskiest one on the list because you need to use it from a great distance. Most people are too impatient and will end up burning the card.

How to dry your Nintendo Switch game card

  • Low heat, Radiator 
  • Let it dry in the sun

It is a bit of a juggling act. You need to dry the card as quickly as possible. But you can’t use extreme heat because it will damage the game card.

If you can tell that water has gotten into the close part of the card then you will need to wait until longer to be sure that the card has fully dried.

Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch game cards or not designed to come apart.

They don’t use clips or screws but are glued shut.

To see what’s inside of a Nintendo Switch game card have a look at ‘Spawn Waves’ video on what’s inside a Nintendo Switch Cartridge.

So opening one up is a risky prospect. Which is a shame because it would have been the ideal way to let it dry. 

To dry the game cards use a soft cloth first to try and absorb as much water as possible.

Second after you have removed the large visible drops you need to finish letting it dry. 

The best place to put it is on a cloth on top of a radiator. The reason for putting it on the cloth is so it doesn’t get too hot. Low heat is best if you can control the temperature.

What if the game card stops reading?

Check that it is the game card. Do any of your other games work? It could be that there is something blocking the slot on the Switch itself.

  • If it is the game card, then you can try and open the card to see if you can clean it.
  • If the metal strips are scratched or broken your game card could be dead. It still has the information on the card but no way to pass it on to the switch console.

If it is the Nintendo Switch itself, you have a few options:

  1. You can try and clean the Switch port yourself, following the methods for cleaning the game card.
  2. If your Nintendo is still under warranty you can send it back to Nintendo to fix it.

How to maintain your Switch game cards.

Always store your game cards in a dry place such as their game boxes or a fully closeable box. This will prevent dust and other contaminants from contacting the exposed metal contact points on the back of the game card.

Always check your game card before placing it into the Switch, it only takes a few seconds and could save you a lot of time and money.

If you have a soft carry case that the game is placed in you run the risk of a static building up in the case and shocking your games. It is best to keep your games in a hard plastic box such as the Dainslef 12 in 1 Game Card Storage Case Box.

Conclusion

Cleaning a Nintendo Switch game card can look deceptively simple. Due to the nature of the game format, it can be easy to accidentally destroy your game.

Utmost care must be taken when cleaning a game card. The cards are little circuit boards with memory that holds the data. A break in any part of the circuit will result in an unusable piece of plastic. 

When cleaning the game card don’t use isopropyl alcohol with a high percentage than 70%. If you do you run the risk of discoloring and distorting the plastic.

Take care not to scratch the metal contact strips. 

Use Q-Tips with the isopropyl alcohol to brush away any dirt. Make sure to keep rotating or replacing the Q-Tip so you are using the clean side when you wipe.

Don’t make it worst by rubbing dirt over the contact strips!

After you have finished cleaning, make sure to let the game card fully dry before inserting it into the Nintendo Switch.

Hopeful you don’t have to do this much. The best way to clean the cards is to keep them clean in the first place. Try and store them in a dry place. 

What’s Next

Can I buy small cases for my game card for the Nintendo Switch? Unlike the ‘Game Boy,’ The Nintendo game cards only come in their full-size case. You do not get a smaller case inside. This means it can be hard to transport many games around without a carry bag. Take a look at these awesome 12 game slim carry cases.

How can I make the Nintendo Switch controller more economic in handheld mode? There are two main options. You can buy a full-size grip that your switch can slot into. Which will add more Ergonomic handles. Such as the Satisfye, ‘ZenGrip Pro’. The second option is to buy different JoyCons that will give you a full-size controller experience like the Hori Nintendo Switch Split Pad Pro.

Ian Malsbury

Since being introduced to the Amstrad, Ian has been hooked on gaming. Motivated by a love of worldbuilding and story-driven gaming experiences, Ian now has a place to write about his passion.

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