Cleaning Floppy Drives

Originally published 14 March 2000 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.
Revised slightly 22 June 2003.

Q: How do I clean/lubricate/repair the floppy drive in my Mac?

A: Once you open the Mac and remove the floppy drive and bracket assembly, remove the drive from the bracket by unscrewing the four (or fewer, depending on how responsible the last person to work on the floppy drive was) screws.

To clean the drive, use a can of dry compressed air. You can find this in various sizes at your local office supply store, probably in the electronics section. Just ask for canned air. Point the air stream out of the drive, and clean from back to front, so that you don't pack dirt around the heads and sliders.

Once you have the major chunks of dust and dirt out, you'll probably need to lubricate the drive. Lubrication points are the two gold-toned discs in the slides on the top of the drive mechanism, on the left as you face the front of the drive. They're partially covering slots in the slider mechanism. A very light lube should also be applied to the four guide posts on the sides of the drive which guide the floppy-holding mechanism down to contact the spindle motor and heads. They're barrel-shaped metal pieces, about 3/16" long and 1/8" diameter. Lube the bottom side and the metal they rub against.

The four sliders in the bottom of the disk insertion area should also be lubricated. These are hard to get to, but you can probably reach them with a Q-Tip soaked in lubricant or with the tip of a small straw. (Never transfer toxic lubricants such as WD-40 or Liquid Wrench by mouth.) I prefer using Liquid Wrench or WD-40 at first, because it loosens up the hardened and thickened grease that is already on the drive. Allow the penetrating oil to soak in for a few minutes and cycle the drive (as explained below) while it's soaking in. Once the old grease is thoroughly loosened and dissolved, and any excess wiped off, a thin coat of lithium grease or machine oil can be applied. A brief note of caution: do NOT use bio-based lubricants like corn oil or butter. I tried this in a pinch once, and not only did the corn oil go rancid, but it turned to glue after about two weeks.

Cycle the drive several times by pushing an old disk into it and then manually ejecting the disk (push the metal tab on the right side of the drive at the front). Once it snaps down with a good solid motion, you've got it lubed enough. The drives can also be cycled without using a disk (800K and 400K drives are easier than 1.44 MB drives, due to an interlock on the 1.44 MB drives), but I'll leave working out this method as an exercise for the reader.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson