Review: iPod scratch removers

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If you’ve got a full-size iPod, chances are you’ve got a full-size iPod with scratches—at least on the mirror-like back, but possibly even on the shiny white front. Even if you carry your iPod in one of the myriad cases on the market, you’ve likely scuffed some part of your player. (We’ve scratched one simply unwrapping its box.)

As a result, one of the most common questions Playlist receives from readers is, “How can I get rid of these blemishes?” (And sometimes people are actually talking about their iPods! I kid.) It turns out that a number of vendors sell products specifically designed to restore your full-size iPod to its original luster. What’s more, rumors have made their way around the Internets touting successful home remedies. We’ve gathered these products together, scratched up our own iPod (a 30GB 3G model) using several shiny metal objects, and gone to town on the offending flaws. Read on to see how each product fared.

Keep in mind that the way any “scratch remover” works is to buff down the surrounding surface so that it’s level with the deepest part of the scratch. This means that the most effective scratch removers also tend to be the most abrasive, requiring subsequent treatment with milder products in order to remove finer scratches left by the scratch removers themselves. Thus, I found that products including several different solutions to be the most effective at removing deeper scratches without leaving your iPod covered in finer blemishes afterwards.

iDrops

PodShop’s $15 iDrops (
2 Play
) is the only commercial product I tested that includes only a single solution, shipped in a 1.7-ounce bottle with an eyedropper (or is it “iDropper“?) cap. iDrops is advertised for use only on acrylic surfaces (in other words, the white front of your iPod or the white cases of Apple’s iBooks, iMac G5s, and eMacs—not your iPod’s metal back). You simply squeeze 2 to 4 drops onto the affected area using the included eyedropper and then buff with a “dry, clean, soft cloth“—the iDrop package does not include a polishing cloth as the other commercial products do.

Unfortunately, iDrops didn’t have much of an effect on our test iPod, which had a good number of surface scratches, both fine and deep. Even after repeated applications, I saw hardly any improvement in the fine scratches, with no affect at all on the deeper ones.

AstroShine Clean Kit

AstroAge’s $10 AstroShine Clean Kit (
4 Play
) is the least expensive product I tested, but still includes three different solutions—a 2-ounce bottle of Plastic Clean & Shine (#1), 2-ounce bottle of Fine Scratch Remover (#2), and a 2-ounce bottle of Heavy Scratch Remover (#3)—and two large, lint-free cloths. (Interestingly, the contents of the package are labeled “Novus plastic polish kit” and include no mention of the iPod—the instructions pamphlet implies that the kit was originally designed as a general plastic repair and cleaning kit. This means it should also be effective on Apple’s other white acrylic/plastic products.) According to the directions, you should use solution #2 first, and only use #3 if #2 can’t remove a particularly deep scratch, as #3 is more abrasive and may leave scratches of its own (which should then be treated with #2).

AstroAge’s #2 solution worked well at removing minor scratches (via repeated applications, of course) without leaving too many scratches of its own. The #3 solution, on the other hand, is the most abrasive of the commercial products I tested; it was able to remove deep scratches as well as, or perhaps even slightly better than, RadTech’s Ice Creme A, but it left more of its own scratches than any other commercial product. Fortunately, the #2 solution was able to remove most of those. The #1 solution is really just a surface cleaner that removes oil and dirt (and polishing products—you should use it to remove solution #3 before moving on to #2).

I was impressed with the AstroShine Clean Kit given its low cost, but it does have one significant drawback compared to the RadTech and Applesauce Polish products below: It’s not intended for use on your iPod’s metal back. If you want to get rid of scratches in the chrome backplate, you’ll want one of the next two kits.

Applesauce Polish Plastic Surgery Kit

Applesauce Polish’s $25 Plastic Surgery Kit (
3 Play
) is comprised of a .25-ounce jar of the company’s Deep Scratch & Chrome Polish, a 1-ounce bottle of Heavy Scratch Remover, a 1-ounce bottle of Fine Scratch Remover and Protectant, and three lint-free cloths. The company recommends using the Heavy Scratch Remover first, and using the Deep Scratch & Chrome Polish only if the former doesn’t produce the desired results. Like AstroAge’s #3, the Deep Scratch & Chrome Polish is fairly abrasive and may leave scratches of its own. You then use the Heavy Scratch Remover to get rid of those residual blemishes. The Deep Scratch & Chrome Polish is also designed to remove scratches from your iPod’s chrome backside.

Applesauce Polish notes that it can take up to 12 applications of the Heavy Scratch Remover before many scratches are removed, and I found that to be the case. The first few applications didn’t appear to have much affect, but as I applied further treatments, the scratches didn’t seem to be as noticeable as before. That being said, the recommended-first Heavy Scratch Remover inflicted a number of very fine scratches on our iPod’s face, which then needed to be treated with the Fine Scratch Remover and Protectant (which couldn’t completely remove them). After treating part of our iPod’s screen with the three Applesauce Polish solutions, it looked much better, with only a few deep scratches still being obviously noticeable.

I also tried the Deep Scratch & Chrome Polish on the chrome back of the iPod. After several applications, there was a significant improvement in the appearance of the surface. On the other hand, as you might expect, a close inspection of the chrome back revealed very fine scratches from the solution itself. Overall, however, it was an acceptable tradeoff.

Ice Creme

RadTech actually sells two versions of its Ice Creme scratch remover (
4 Play
): a $21 standard kit and a $26 “M” kit. The two products are identical except that the M version includes a “metal refinishing pad” for the iPod’s chrome backside; both include a 2-ounce bottle of RadTech’s Ice Creme A, a 2-ounce bottle of Ice Creme B, and two of RadTech’s handy Optex polishing cloths. You start by using Ice Creme A to get rid of the more significant scratches, and then use B to restore the iPod’s glossy finish.

Even after only three or four applications, Ice Creme A got rid of some of the noticeable scratches that I had purposely inflicted on our iPod’s screen. A few more rounds and those scratches blended in with the slight circular scratches left behind by the product—like Applesauce Polish’s potion, Ice Creme got rid of scratches while leaving fainter ones of its own. Ice Creme B did a good job of reducing those, but they never fully went away.

I didn’t test the M version’s metal refinishing pad because, according to RadTech, it’s for iPods with severely damaged chrome backs—meaning nasty scratches and grooves that can’t be removed using the standard Ice Creme. RadTech warns that using the metal refinishing pad included with the M package too often will accelerate the thinning of the polished surface and, at the very least, will leave “faint swirling”—in other words, the M version’s refinishing pad will get rid of severe scratches but will leave behind less noticeable scratches of its own.

Toothpaste and Brasso

I’m kidding, right? Actually, no. If you spend enough time in the world of iPods, you’ll eventually hear someone make the claim that toothpaste—which is indeed a mild abrasive—is a great option for removing scratches from your iPod’s white front, and that Brasso, the well-known metal polish, can work wonders on its shiny back. Given these widespread rumors, I felt I had to at least try these methods.

For the toothpaste, I used Crest’s Extra Whitening , which has a bit more abrasive power than the standard stuff. At $3.39 for 8 ounces, it’s quite a bargain, and you can even brush your teeth with the leftovers! Sadly, I can’t recommend it, as—and this is a bit frightening considering that we use this stuff on our teeth—it’s simply too abrasive. It was quite effective at removing some of the deeper scratches on our iPod’s screen, but it left noticeable scratches in its wake which then required treatment with one of the commercial products above. In other words, if you’re going to have to buy one of those product to clean up after the toothpaste, you may as well use them in the first place. (A less abrasive toothpaste may have provided better results, but until we do a Toothpaste Roundup, I can’t provide any recommendations.)

I then tried Brasso, a metal polish for “brass, copper, chrome, stainless steel and pewter” that’s available in a $3, 8-ounce container at most hardware stores. Again, cheap! Again, not the best thing for an iPod! Actually, Brasso did a great job of polishing up the iPod’s chrome back so that it shined, but it didn’t get rid of any scratches—at least not after four or five applications, which was enough to reduce scratching using the RadTech and Applesauce Polish products.

The Lowdown

If you’re looking to remove scratches from your iPod, you shouldn’t expect instant miracles—it’s a process that involves lots of time and effort. In fact, I’ve heard from a good number of readers and colleagues that scratch-removal products don’t work. After testing these products, I’m guessing that most people who hold that view simply didn’t have the patience (or possibly the rubbing stamina) to keep at it long enough to see any results. With any of these products, enough applications and elbow grease will likely get rid of all but the most stubborn scratches; even iDrops will likely get rid of minor scratches given enough time. (Most will also leave very faint scratches behind—an acceptable tradeoff.) But you need to go into the process expecting to spend a good amount of time on it—at least an hour or so, maybe longer. Spread it out over the course of a week, 15 to 20 minutes per day, and you’ll likely be pleased at the end result.

(Voice of experience: During my testing, I learned that because some of these products leave minor blemishes, you should mix up your rubbing strokes when applying them. In other words, don’t use the same circular motion over and over, as you’ll likely end up with fine scratches in that pattern.)

In terms of the products, if you need to remove scratches from both the front and back of your iPod, RadTech’s Ice Creme was the most effective in my testing, with Applesauce Polish’s Plastic Surgery Kit not far behind. Ice Creme was especially effective at restoring our iPod’s shiny metal backside to nearly-new condition, and is $4 less than the Applesauce Polish product. If you instead want to concentrate on just the front of your iPod, AstroAge’s AstroShine Clean Kit is a bargain at only $10 and works well. One other thing to note is that the cloth you use to polish makes a difference, and RadTech’s Ice Creme packages include two of the company’s Optex cloths, which I found to be the best of the bunch—both because of the high-quality fabric and because you can wash and reuse them.

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