Data Tape Cleaning Cartridges 101

- Posted by Author: DTC Marketing in Category: Cleaning Cartridge |

Answering All Your Questions About Data Tape Cleaning Cartridges

We all know that data storage is important to any business or organization, but just like everything else data tapes can collect dust over time, hindering their performance. Data cartridges are much more valuable than the old Nintendo cartridges, meaning you can’t simply blow into them to clear the built-up dust and grime. An important part of data backup is the proper maintenance of your tape drives and cartridges. Every time you back up to tape, microscopic fragments of the tape rub off onto the read and write heads inside the tape drive. Over time, the heads become too dirty to reliably read or write data. To fix the dirty heads and help prevent future archiving mishaps, it’s best to clean the tape heads regularly. This is why data tape cleaning cartridges were created. Follow along as we answer some of the most asked questions regarding tape drive cleaners and how they work.



How do tape drive cleaners work?

The easiest and most efficient way to clean the tape drive heads is by using a cleaner cartridge for the tape drive. The tape drive can automatically identify the cleaning cartridge by the Volser barcode label and perform a routine cleaning by wiping the tape back and forth over the heads. When the cleaning is finished, the tape is ejected. From start to finish, the entire process takes about 2 minutes to complete. Unfortunately, the tape drive cleaning cartridges have a shorter life span than the normal data tapes. Therefore, keep track of how many times you used the cleaning cartridge and replace it as recommended by the manufacturer.

Tape cartridges use a thin magnetic film layer to store bits of data, which are imprinted on this film by a magnetic read/write head. While reading or writing data, the tapes are in direct contact with the head, while the tape is sweeping with high speed. The tape’s sweeping motion over the head creates friction forming dust and debris particles on the tape’s surface. Over time, the transfer of data between the head and the tape worsens.

Using the cleaning cartridge consists of mounting a cleaning tape, which the drive winds over the heads. The cleaning tape’s surface binds and removes the debris off the drive heads. A cleaning tape can be used only for a certain number of cleaning cycles stated by the manufacturer before it loses its ability to clean properly. That is it is important to keep a record of how many times the cleaning tape has been used.

Do you use T10000 T2 tapes for backup and archiving? Here’s what you need to know.



How do I use a cleaning cartridge to clean my tape drives?

To use a cleaning cartridge, follow these simple steps:

  1. Apply power to the tape drive and wait for the power-on self-test to complete.
  2. Insert the cleaning cartridge into the tape drive. The cleaning cycle is performed automatically and takes approximately two minutes. When the cleaning cycle is complete, the tape drive ejects the cleaning cartridge, and the “C” is no longer displayed.
  3. Confirm that cleaning was completed by making sure that “C” is no longer displayed.
  4. Store the cleaning cartridge for future use if there are less than 50 cleaning cycles performed.


When will I know a tape drive needs to be cleaned?

Usually, when the read/write heads in a tape drive need to be cleaned, the display on the drive will show a “C” indicating cleaning. Cleaning signals and notices may also appear on the front LCD of a Tape Library or in the tape library event log. Due to the fragility of tape drives, it is recommended to only clean the drive when it shows a cleaning required notice. 

Learn about HPE’s StoreEver MSL3040 tape libraries and how they might be able to help you.

What will happen if I don’t clean my tape drives?

When a tape drive signals that a cleaning is required, you should stop using the drive until it has been cleaned. A dirty drive won’t work up to recommended standards because the tape drive’s read-after-write feature will reveal more errors than usual, and the drive will attempt to correct those errors. As a result of not cleaning, the following instances may occur:

  • the tape’s capacity will decrease due to rewriting
  • the tape’s writing speed will decrease due to less data being transferred
  • the drive’s error counters will indicate all those repetitions
  • there is a chance the data written on the tape can change as it was impressed by a weakened magnetic field.

What happens if my tape drive was cleaned, but the speed and storage capacity of my tapes remain low?

You may experience a decrease in both the speed and capacity of your data tapes when the tape itself nears the end of its life span. Compare the slower tapes with other tapes. If the slower tapes have a higher error count than their faster counterparts, they are most likely wearing out. 

How can I get more information and purchase cleaning tapes for my tape drives?

Keeping your drives cleaned and in proper working condition is vital to data storage success. If you have any questions about which cleaners are needed for your drives, how to purchase cleaning cartridges or have a surplus of unused cleaning cartridges that you want to sell, feel free to reach out to one of our tape specialists.

See our Sell Your Cleaning Tapes webpage here: