Recently I was talking to my friend Zac at his shop, Press Start Games, about methods of getting original NES hardware back to working order. While discussing replacement of the infamous 72-pin connector that seemingly causes 90% of NES problems, he told me about the boiling method, and how it can yield even better results than installing new aftermarket connectors. Boiling? Like literally boiling the connector in water?

Turns out, yep.

So as pretty much everyone knows by now, the cause of the most common NES malfunctions — the console not reading games and/or the power blinking on and off — is the cartridge connector pins getting dirty and bent after the NES’ “zero insertion force” (aka “the toaster”) mechanism has endured years of use. There have been all kinds of ways to deal with it, from cleaning kits to removing the connector and re-bending the pins by hand to the aforementioned replacement connectors. All have worked to varying degrees.

But Zac was telling me that actually boiling the connector not only loosens and cleans any dirt and buildup from the pins, but actually restores the pins back to their original shape with no manual bending required. And it doesn’t melt the plastic. Mind blown!

I looked into it a little further and sure enough, this has been a popular fix for a while now, with a number of YouTube videos covering the process. So, since I have at least four or five NES units that don’t work, I decided that this was the project for me.

It sounded pretty straightforward: just disassemble your NES and remove the connector, boil it in a pot of water for 20-30 minutes, scrub out any remaining debris with a toothbrush, NES cleaner, or a clean cartridge, let it sit to cool back to normal temperature, and finally put your NES back together. Some users suggested putting a junk cartridge in the connector to help re-position the pins, and others even claim that after completing the process, you might not even have to push the cartridge down after inserting it! Sounded easy enough. Zac also recommended mixing a little vinegar in with the water — now you’re cleaning with power!

So I picked up a cheap 3-liter saucepan (don’t use anything you use for actual cooking) and some plain white vinegar, and waited until a week when my wife was out of town and the weather was nice enough to open the window in case I stunk up the kitchen with boiling vinegar.

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I tested four NES consoles that I dug out of storage. One, to my shock and surprise, actually worked pretty well, so I marked that one “NOT BAD” and set it aside. Another unit ran a game and sounded fine, but had a serious video-out problem, so that one’s a whole different issue. The remaining two exhibited the classic blinky-blinky problem, so there were my two prime candidates for this experiment.

So? Let’s give this a shot!

The consoles disassembled and laid bare, with connectors removed
The bottom one doesn’t look too awful, but the one on top is pretty grody
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A 5-minute soak in pure vinegar to kickstart the cleaning
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Okay, let’s fire it up and see what happens

After about 25 minutes in a rolling boil, I pull them out of the pot
Using an original Nintendo cleaning kit and a toothbrush to wipe clean anything that may be left after the boilage
Wow, those look way better!
Letting ’em cool by the windowsill, just like Grandma’s apple pie
Boiled connector back in place, first NES reassembled except for the lid, let’s see what we’ve got…
Great success!
Putting the second one back together and doing a bit of cleaning
And there’s the second unit working too!

From what I can tell, the boiling method worked pretty well! I now have a couple more functioning original NES decks (it figures, right after I bought a Retron HD — actually, my aforementioned conversation with Zac occurred when I bought the Retron, which is how the subject came up in the first place). I might also do this with my original NES that I had as a teenager — which actually surprised me by working okay when I tested it the other day, but could still use a little help — so that I can go back to using that as my main NES.

Besides, boiling your connectors will work better than deep frying or grilling them, amirite? womp womp.

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