How To Take Care Of Your Retro Consoles, Games & Controllers

Emulators are all well and good but there’s nothing quite like a retro console. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a SNES, Sega Megadrive, or PlayStation 1: they’ve entertained you for hours on end, and you at least owe them some longevity.

Whether you’ve recently invested in a retro games console or if you’re just trying to eke out a bit more life from a beloved remnant of your childhood, here are some simple tips for keeping your consoles, games, and controllers in top condition.

Cherishing Your Console

Let’s start with general good practises. These are things you should be doing regardless of how old your console is.
Keep your console at room temperature. This is what feels comfortable to you, and the same can be said of your console. Don’t expose it to extremes: that means avoiding direct sunlight or other sources of strong heat; don’t situate it beside a radiator, for instance. Equally, don’t place it anywhere that it’s likely to get very cold, such as in a loft that’s not properly insulated. Components can damage and warp.

The same goes for any electronics, including your PC. There’s an art to knowing how hot is too hot.

Most can withstand such temperatures for a little while, but extended periods of time will affect your console. If it’s exposed to extreme temperatures for a few hours, let it acclimatize to room temperature before plugging it in. And however tempting it may be to while away the day playing games, give it a break. Overuse can lead to overheating too.

It’s best to keep consoles in a well-ventilated area, so don’t block it in amidst a mess of games and strategy guides, or in a tight unit. They need to stay cool and they need proper air-flow. That also means keeping them as dust-free as you can, especially any grilles or fans.

Tread carefully when cleaning your console, though. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t use water to clean it, but you also need to beware of sensitive parts like the lens that reads your games. It can be replaced rather simply but why go through that hassle at all? Try a fiber anti-static duster, which should unclog your electronics with ease.

Steer clear of anything with a strong magnetic pull or risk storage corruption, especially if your “old” console has a hard disk drive, introduced to gaming around 2005.

Handheld consoles will attract dust just as greatly, so it’s worth investing in a carry-case. A travel case will be enough to stop dust gathering, but a hard case will combat spills better. Pop down to your local gaming store and buy a cheap cleaning cloth designed for a Wii U or 3DS: these will be just as effective on the buttons of an old Game Boy.

Watch Out For Wires


If you’re anything like me, you’ll have wires all over the place. Behind your television will be a messy mass of black and gray cables. Without them, though, your console’s just a useless piece of plastic.

It’s difficult if you’re doing it retroactively but keeping track of which cables go to where is important. Organizing them reduces the risk of them becoming knotted.

Sadly, the old way of folding up these wires has been found to actually damage them. Don’t fold them up. The end starts to break and the inner workings get frayed.

If you’re storing your wires, carefully lay them out in a cardboard box. They’ll naturally curl around to fit in; it’s winding them up into a tangle that you have to avoid. Using this method, they likely won’t fit into their original box, but that’s okay: better them secure than damaged in inept housing. Alternatively, a loose figure-8 is condensed but shouldn’t do any real damage.

When it comes to storing a console, then your best bet is to keep it in the original packaging – if you still have it. Most get thrown away, certainly classic ones. They were designed not only to look good on a shelf, but also protect the hardware. If you’ve not got the original box, though, it should be fairly easy to find a suitable one. Cardboard should do it, but put some bubble wrap or similar around the corners and edges of the consoles in the event of accidents.

Whether it carries cables or a console, label the box. You might forget what’s in it and be less than careful when rearranging the cupboard, for example.

Keep cable ends as dust-free as possible. Use the anti-static duster again and make sure all those connections are free of dirt. Look after chargers for handheld consoles just the same. You’ll have your work cut out for you if you’re looking for a protective case designed specifically for such an item, but a simple air-tight plastic box will do the trick instead.

Guard Your Games

Spyro 2

The core problem with games is dirt. Cartridges collate it in their nooks and crannies, while discs attract and display dust and fingerprints easily.

Your best bet is isopropyl. It’s a colorless alcohol-based cleaner that shouldn’t harm your games. You can pick it up pretty cheaply online or from your local pharmaceutical store. It should remove most marks, including oil from your hands, bacteria, and even ink.

Just dip the end of a Q-Tip in some – make sure it’s not dripping wet – and run across the pins of a ROM; alternatively, put some on a clean, scratch-free cloth and wipe across the surfaces of a disc or cartridge. But beware: it will affect the labels on some games. Laminated, glossy stickers will generally be fine, but older Atari games don’t have such a protective finish, so only do what you think is necessary. Certainly make sure the connectors are wiped.

You can use rubbing alcohol to clean your console too, but obviously make sure it’s turned off and unplugged. After wiping anything with isopropyl, leave it to stand for a few minutes for the excess liquid to evaporate.

As ever when it comes to discs, hold them with a finger through the middle and another on its outer edge. Don’t touch the surface.

Invest in a carry-case too: these will keep all your games together and largely free from dust. They’re quite reasonably priced, so even buying multiple sizes won’t leave a huge dent in your bank account. For handheld consoles, which typically have smaller cartridges, you can generally get more compact plastic cases to house each individual game.

And you know those little white sachets that come in shoe boxes? Keep them! In fact, you’ll likely want to buy more. These contain silica gel, which soak up excess moisture, making them handy for all sorts of things: getting rid of the musty smell of old books; keeping important documents safe; and, yes, protecting your games.

These will fight against mold and general degradation, and will last for years. Packs can be picked up cheaply online or in craft supply stores.

Keeping Control

Game Controller

Retro consoles are pretty pointless if you’ve nothing to play them with, so you’ll need to keep your controllers in good working order too.

Common sense plays a big part here. That means washing your hands regularly, and not being too heavy-handed. Don’t throw it on the side when you’re done, and don’t get so carried away with a game that you’re flinging it about.

Dirt is going to collate in the grooves. That’s only natural. Set aside maybe ten minutes a fortnight to deal with that. If you use a toothpick to dig out grime, be careful not to stab at any important components. Better still, if you’re an artistic type, you might have an air compressor around home. A few blasts of concentrated air will defeat all but the most stubborn of dirt conglomerations.

Obviously, don’t use water. Isopropyl alcohol will do the trick here as well, whether that’s on a Q-Tip or cloth.

However much you care for your controller, a button or joystick will eventually break. Joysticks in particular go through the mill. The problem is, replacing them depends on your console and your knowledge of its inner workings.

If you do decide to take your controller apart to see if you can deal with the problem yourself, take photos at every stage of disassembly. That way, you can revisit where those fiddly components – especially screws – actually go. It’s worth trying to solve the issue yourself because it might just mean the potentiometers need cleaning. Again, rubbing alcohol will do it, but be gentle.

Otherwise, you’re advised to see a specialist at your local gaming store or chalk it up as a lost cause and find a replacement. SNES controllers, for instance, are readily available right now, and astonishingly cheap.

The one pain we’ve all been through is frayed cords. They tend to break right on the join. It’s not just controllers; iPhone owners know this all too well. It’s important to know when they become too dangerous, when you need to throw them away. But sometimes, you can limit the damage. It’s best to nip it in the bud straight away by strengthening the cables.

The advice with thin wires is to uncoil a pen spring and wrap the join with that. But controller cords will likely be too wide for that. You could improvise, though. Remember those old friendship bracelets that were all the rage in school? They’re just multi-colored fabric woven into a jazzy pattern – and ideal for surrounding a cable.

Play On!

These are all very simple things you can do to increase a retro console’s shelf-life. It’s definitely worth spending this time away from actually playing your favorite games.

Get nostalgic and embrace that classic console.

What tips do you have for looking after retro consoles? What about for newer ones you want to last for many more years? Let us know below!

Image Credits: Mah Nintendo by Fjölnir Ásgeirsson; and the gaming shelf by Blake Patterson.

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