Saturday, May 28, 2011

How To Clean A Sega Saturn Controller

The picture doesn't do it justice - this is nasty.

So, you've bought a new Saturn controller and the original owner seems to have dunked it in a pitcher of Kool-aid.  Or, you kept a controller in your attic and it looks like a tiny animal lived and died in it.

Or, in this case, it seems to have been rolled around through mud.  Or dog crap.  Or both.

The controller in question is a Model 2 Sega Saturn pad, purchased at Goodwill for about $2.50.  Before the tag sale, it was $4.99 - I can't imagine why no one wanted to take it home with this thick layer of god-knows-what encrusted on and inside of it.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Remove the sticker while you're at it.

First, there are five screws, all easily accessible.  No stickers or rubber plugs to remove.  Easy stuff.

Looks much cleaner on the inside.

Next, pull off the back case of the controller and remove the circuit board.  If you're cleaning this controller because the buttons don't work, now would be an excellent time to verify that the cable shown above is firmly seated and the internal shoulder buttons are clicky.

The little black spots are what make electrical contact with the circuit board.  Clean 'em.

Remove the rubber pads from the buttons and D-pad.  If these are covered in, say, fruit juice, you'll want to clean them extensively.  If they're just a little used, like these, all that needs to be cleaned are the black pads.  Use something non-abrasive and be gentle.  The older these controllers get, the more likely the piece is to break or the black pads to separate from the plastic.  If this happens, you'll either need a new pad or a whole new controller, so be careful.


Turn the controller over and the plastic buttons will fall right out.  Don't lose them.  You'll want them all.

Removing the D-pad.

To remove the D-pad, gently pry the white plastic cross inside away from the main assembly.  It'll come out easily, and the D-pad should drop right out.

God, what IS that?

Now you can see just exactly how disgusting this controller was.  So, now that it's disassembled, let's get cleaning.

Soap: not just for cleaning out your mouth.

The buttons and D-pad can be placed in a bowl of soapy water and left to soak.  They're just plastic, so dish soap is just fine for removing just about anything that ails them.  Once they've soaked, or if they don't need to be soaked, take a toothbrush or scrubbing brush and give them a once-over in order to get into the cracks and embossed letters on the face.

Cleaning the guts.

This part's especially important if something has been spilled inside the controller - clean up the circuit board with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.  If your controller is not a spill victim, simply rub the contacts clean, as shown above.  Mine weren't all that dirty - seems all the dirt collected in the contact pads.

The outer shell can be treated the same way as the buttons - soap and water will do the trick just fine.  Take your toothbrush or scrub brush to get in all the cracks, button holes, and anywhere else that's nasty.

Let it dry.  Seriously, do it.

Before reassembling the controller, be sure to let the parts dry.  A drop of water in the wrong place can cause a short or completely destroy your controller, so ignore this warning at your own peril.  If you aren't able to let it dry completely before reassembling it, at least be sure to let it dry completely before using it.

Great, now that it has all dried, let's do what we did above... but backwards.

D-pad first.

Put the white plastic cross piece back where it belongs, and use your finger to hold it in place.  Line the D-pad assembly up with the hole in the cross piece and press them back together.

You can't screw this up, trust me.

Put the plastic buttons back in place.  It's impossible to put the buttons in the wrong place due to tabs in each one that will only fit in their designated spot.  Ever played Roogoo?  Yeah, it's easier than that.

Pads: check.

Place the pads back where they belong.  As shown, there are small guide holes at the bottom of each to ensure they're attached properly.  Be sure to put the side with the black tabs up, as these will make contact with the circuit board.

Last chance to check if that cable is tight.

Lastly, place the circuit board back in, face down, lining up with the plastic tabs protruding from the case.  Line up the cord in the slot and reattach the back.  Screw it all back together, and you're done!

SO much better.

That's all.  Now that you've got a clean, working controller, enjoy some arcade fighting games with the best D-pad of the 32-bit era.

Feel free to leave a comment with any questions or concerns.  Have fun!


  1. Thx dude! I think mines needed to be cleaned as well :D Thx a lot!

  2. Nice write-up. You should do one on the 3D analogue pad, too.

  3. I know it's been five years since the last comment, but does this work on a Model 1 controller? I want to get back to my Baetona. (I'm sorry. I had to.)