A hand holding a smartphone with a cracked touch screen.
Miew S/Shutterstock

So, you’ve scratched or cracked your new smartphone or tablet screen. In search of a quick-fix, you stumble across endless listicles that advise you to use automotive wax, toothpaste, or even a glass buffer. Do any of these methods actually work?

Most of the time, the answer is no. In fact, some of them could make your problem worse. We’ve got some real tips that can repair your scratched smartphone or tablet screen.

Don’t Sand Down Your Scratched Display

A hand sanding wood with a piece of sandpaper.
Lazy_Bear/Shutterstock

Sandpaper is an abrasive material designed to gradually remove a thin layer of whatever you use it on. You can get it in a range of grits from very coarse to very fine. Most commonly, people use it on wood to remove splinters and create a smooth surface.

If you’re building a picnic table, you might want a roll of sandpaper. If you’re trying to remove scratches from your smartphone, sandpaper is one of the last things you should use. Even if you use a very fine grit on the surrounding area, it’s still a bad idea.

When you sand the surface of a touch screen, you just create more scratches. You’ll wear away any remaining oleophobic (oil-repelling) coating, and the screen will almost certainly look worse than before you first started. If you don’t want to trade the scratches for a blurry mess, leave the sandpaper alone.

Avoid Glass Buffing with Cerium Oxide

A man's hands polishing a car window with a power buffer machine.
My Life Graphic/Shutterstock

To glass buff something, you use a drill and a buffing wheel to gradually wear down a layer of the glass, which removes any scratches in the process. Professionals do this to remove scratches from car windshields and shop windows; it’s a precise and exacting process. It also requires a steady application of cerium oxide and water, plus careful thermal management.

John Herrman attempted this process for Popular Mechanics, but it didn’t go well for him:

“Glass grinding requires the steady application of wet-mixed cerium oxide, which is quite messy, and sprayed water, a natural enemy of all things electronic. I attempted to seal the phone with tape, but the sticky cerium slop found its way into almost every opening, drying like a fine cement.”

Despite the messy process, John pushed on with disappointing results:

“My inconsistent water application had resulted in overheating, which destroyed an area of the underlying LCD. For a touch screen device, glass grinding is, in other words, overkill.”

Even with careful thermal management, precise application of water and cerium oxide, and masterful use of a buffing wheel, you’re still removing a layer of your touch screen, which is ill-advised.

Skip Turtle Wax and Other Auto Scratch Products

Four bottles of Turtle Wax auto glass scratch repair products.
turtlewax.com

Turtle Wax and other auto cutting agents are designed to remove scratches from metal and paint by removing a fine layer of the scratched material. As the cutting agent works its magic, scratches appear less deep and, in some cases, disappear altogether with a good buffing.

Your smartphone’s screen is not made of metal or covered in paint, though. The glass in your smartphone was never meant to be “cut” in this manner. At the very least, auto wax will completely strip the oleophobic coating from your display. This means more smudges and grease on your display.

Real-world testing of auto wax reveals even more disappointing news, as John Herrman of Popular Mechanics also pointed out:

“One standout claim is that a coat of Turtle Wax will minimize scratches; in my testing, it did nothing of the sort, and left behind a thin film of wax, which attracted fingerprints. Others point to 3M scratch remover for cars as a possibility; three rigorous applications did nothing for the iPhone. Displex, a polish for plastic screens and another favorite among online DIYers, left the screen immaculately shiny and seemed to darken the appearance of scratches, but this was a temporary effect of lingering residue.”

Don’t Use Toothpaste or Baking Soda to Polish Out Scratches

Toothpaste being squirted out of a tube onto a toothbrush.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Toothpaste and baking soda work the same way as other abrasive compounds. They cut away a fine layer of the scratched surface, so the scratches appear less deep or disappear altogether.

Depending on the brand and ingredients, toothpaste can range from gentle to abrasive. Even if you apply toothpaste to your screen and polish it vigorously, you’re still stripping a layer of your touch screen. Goodbye oleophobic coating, hello smudges.

You might find that toothpaste is completely ineffective and turn to baking soda, which is also a common ingredient in many whitening toothpastes. This is similar to cutting your screen with auto wax or other cleaning products, and it will only make things worse.

While you might start the process with a few nasty scratches, you could end up with a blotchy screen that’s unpleasant and impractical to use.

You Can’t Fill a Scratch with Oil

Cooking oil being poured into a glass bowl.
White bear studio/Shutterstock

The rumor that you can “fill in” scratches with oil is bizarre, but somehow, it persists online. While oil has a tendency to find its way into nooks and crannies, there’s no reason for it to stay there once applied.

If you apply vegetable or mineral oil to your screen, you’ll just make a mess. Once you put the device back in your pocket or pick it up, the oil will disperse. The scratch will still be there, and you’ll just have oil all over your hands and in your pocket.

What to Do Instead

Now that you’ve successfully avoided some of the worst advice on how to remove scratches from your phone screen, what can you do?

Apply a Screen Protector

It might seem like “too little, too late,” but a screen protector can reduce the appearance of scratches. If you apply a soft plastic screen protector, it can “fill in” scratches and provide a small layer of protection.

A tempered glass screen protector is even better! It applies a fresh layer of glass to the touch screen. You might still be able to see the old scratches underneath, but you won’t be able to feel them. Plus, the glass will provide superior protection against any new scratches.

A screen protector about to be applied to an iPhone.
amazon.com

Before you apply a screen protector, clean the screen thoroughly with a soft, damp, cotton cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners, cutting agents, or household products, like Windex.

Get the Screen Replaced

If you can’t live with the scratch, you can always have the screen replaced. Most people wait until the screen cracks before they take this step because the cost is relatively high.

The cheapest option is to replace the screen yourself. With an iFixit guide, the appropriate set of tools and replacement parts, and some technical know-how, you can often replace a screen yourself at a fairly low cost. However, you should avoid trying this unless you’re confident you can disassemble your device, replace the screen assembly, and then put everything back together again.

The iFixit Repair Kit for Smartphones.
ifixit.com

Another option is to take your device to a third-party repair center. However, the replacement parts will likely be from a third party, as well. They might perform poorly, even when compared to a damaged device with a first-party display. Scratches are merely cosmetic; they don’t affect a device’s functionality.

You can also go with a first-party repair. If you have an iPhone, Apple will replace the screen for you at a premium. However, the parts will be high quality, and they’ll be replaced by a trained technician. You also won’t have to deal with the problems you might encounter if you get third-party repairs on an iPhone or iPad.

If you have AppleCare+, this service costs $29. And keep in mind, AppleCare+ only covers two incidents of accidental damage. Contact your smartphone manufacturer to find out the full range of options available to you.

Ignore It

The cheapest option is to ignore the scratch. After all, the screen isn’t broken, and a few blemishes won’t affect your phone’s functionality. You’ll probably replace it in a year or so, anyway.

When you do upgrade your phone, be sure to apply a high-quality glass screen protector. It’s a lot easier to replace a protector than it is to remove scratches from or replace a damaged screen.

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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