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I was wondering if floppy disks are ruined if, say, a terror of a 3 year old rips them apart...

I had important pictures on a floppy disk. I was doing some spring cleaning and came across it and threw it on my nightstand. His awesome little 3 year old sister with a very curious nature decided to take it apart... I am completely devastated right now because, if my recollection serves me right, all the data on there is useless... and I just ordered an external floppy drive...

Can someone shed light and tell me if I am right or wrong?

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    3.5 inch? Is it folded/creased/physically damaged or exposed to a magnet? If not - if it's still flat and can be assembled into a working case, it's probably OK. – Nick Westgate Apr 28 '18 at 22:01
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    So long as there is no creases or cheetos fingerprints, the media has a good chance of still working. We used to freak out other kids back in the 80's by slipping the media out of 5.25 disks and inserting just the disc into the floppy drive ... they worked just fine sans case... I fully expect 3.5 discs are more of the same... – Geo... Apr 29 '18 at 4:04
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    Pictures please. – Anonymous Apr 29 '18 at 7:21
  • I do remember vaguely replacing a damaged case of such a floppy disk. It works as long you avoid touching the inside layer. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 29 '18 at 8:33
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    It's probably not ruined unless the magnetic disc inside the jacket was physically damaged, placed in direct contact with a strong magnet, or exposed to harmful compounds that can't be cleaned. But what you do to get the data back depends on how damaged it is. If it's a 3.5" diskette and the hard plastic shell was cracked open but the magnetic disc inside was undisturbed, you will probably be fine (but you might need to remove/discard the metal shutter since it will probably be bent). If the shell was completely destroyed you may be able to transplant the magnetic disc into another shell. – Ken Gober Apr 29 '18 at 15:53
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If the surface of the disk is not dented, kinked, torn or otherwise damaged, you may be able to recover the data on it.

Considering that five and a quarter floppies are long outdated, one can guess that you are referring to the more recent three and a half format diskettes.

With that in mind, you can consider to find another undamaged diskette and remove the metal slider and spring. Carefully pry it apart and remove the plastic film media inside.

Replace it with the one from which you wish to recover the data.

You can secure the diskette covers with simple office tape, as you should only expect to get one chance at this. The sliding metal cover is not a requirement.

If the film media is damaged and mostly flat, you might get most of the data. If there is a hole or a tear, the data is lost.

  • What would happen if the OP tried to wash off sticky fingerprints? From what I know of the media, it's not good, but I don't know whether that might actually be a good thing to do. – wizzwizz4 Apr 29 '18 at 8:00
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    One way of looking at it is that the data is currently lost. If attempts are made that fail, the status does not change. If washing the cheetos dust off is required, it would be necessary to wait for it to dry. – fred_dot_u Apr 29 '18 at 9:06
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I grew up on the Apple II, and I also remember other kids taking 5.25" floppies out of the sleeve, and just putting them in the drive directly, and they worked. That may be more difficult with 3.5" floppies, because the loading mechanism doesn't really leave much room, so I'd consider doing this with the external drive housing opened, so you can properly center the floppy. And maybe try it with some test disk first. Don't touch the surface if possible, use the edges or the hole.

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A friend of my mother's spilled coffee on a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk. Unfortunately, the data on it wasn't backed up anywhere.

She carefully removed the disk from the jacket and washed it in soapy water. Then she rinsed it and let it dry. Finally, she sacrificed a new floppy disk so she had a clean jacket, put the disk in it and was able to read the data off the disk.

This was a Commodore PET floppy disk so the data was pretty low density, but I don't see why the same procedure shouldn't work in principle with 3.5 inch disks although opening one of the plastic cases to put the disk in might be more difficult (my mother's friend simply slit one side of the jacket with a knife).

  • The 3.5 inch floppies aren't too hard to pry open. Getting the shutter off without bending it or getting the spring back on afterwards is a bit tricky, but you can just leave the shutter off. The actual plastic case is held together with melted plastic rivets, but running a sharp thin blade around the outside edge can usually pop them off in one piece. Then it would be a simple matter of swapping the inside disc over and taping the two unbroken plastic halves back together. – mnem Feb 8 at 3:46
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Working on the assumption that it was 3 1/2 inch floppy disk, there are varying degrees of "open".

The easiest part of a floppy disk for a three-year-old to remove would be the sprung metal shutter. (It's probably the most entertaining part for someone to start playing with in the first place.)

The shutter's purpose is to protect the disk surface from dust, dirt, and fingerprints. Older 5 1/4 and 8 inch disks had no shutter, and were stored in a sleeve instead. The shutter is pushed to the side when the disk is inserted, to let the drive's heads read the magnetic surface inside.

If the shutter is bent slightly, so that the faces are "lifting up" from the case, this can be a problem: the shutter may catch on the floppy drive's door when ejecting the disk, resulting in a disk stuck in the drive. (Such a disk can usually be prised out by lifting the door clear of the bent shutter.)

If the shutter has been removed completely, then it will cause no problem in the disk drive. The heads will be able to access the magnetic surface with no obstruction at all. It would, however be a good idea to back up the data stored on the disk, as it will now be more vulnerable to ingress of dirt and dust through the open hole.

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