I was just looking back through some of the slides from a Cabling Installation and Maintenance fiber optic webinar I sat in on last week (by the way, one of the most useful webinars I’ve ever sat through), and I was again amazed at how important cleanliness is to successful fiber terminations. Presenter Varis Hicks from EXFO shared NTT-Advanced Technology’s list of most common reasons for fiber optic network failures, and contamination is the top offender. The numbers are pretty crazy – reportedly, 98% of installers and 80% of network owners run into issues caused by not-clean-enough endfaces. Sounds like there are a lot of fiber optic connectors out there in need of some serious (albeit gentle) scrubbing.
That’s why I thought I’d tell you about MicroCare Sticklers™ CleanWipes. As far as optical cleaning wipes go, these things are exactly what you want: strong, portable, and most importantly, lint-free. The “fabric” that CleanWipes are made of is non-woven “hydroentangled polyester” – look closely at it, and you’ll see that it has a random, swirly, web-like formation. And unlike cotton, paper, and other natural materials, the polyester filament is made to not produce dust, lint, or fiber particulate, so your careful cleaning won’t leave behind any unwanted nasties that could mess things up.
Another thing that I really like about these fiber wipes is that they’re available in both stay-at-home and field-friendly packaging. If you tend to do most of your fiber terminations and cleaning in-house, the 90-count tub is perfect for your workbench. What’s really cool is that the tub is cylindrical, but its lid is hexagonal, so if the container gets knocked over, it can’t roll away on you. If your business relies more on field terminations, the individually packaged wipes are perfect – just open one contaminant-free packet at a time, as needed.
Proper fiber and endface cleaning may be vital to a network’s success, but just because it’s important, it doesn’t have to be a major hassle – all you need are the right products to make the most of your technique. That’s why it’s a great idea to get these on your side.
If fiber optics were to have a dual arch-nemesis, it would definitely be that nasty pair known as Dirt and Grime. Think about how you can’t see quite right when your glasses or windows are smudged up. That’s because any dust or stickiness settled on see-though glass or plastic obstructs the proper flow of light, so objects on the other side can appear distorted. The same thing is true with optical fibers – these clear glass filaments relay data (in the form of light signals) from one point to another, and if their end-faces are covered in dust, fingerprints, or other grimy residue, the signals just aren’t going to come through right. Think of it as a bad game of telephone – you start out with a clear message at one end, and get stuck with a garbled mess at the other. Talk about something being lost in transit…
When it comes to fiber optics, clean connector end-faces equal clean data. It’s a simple as that. You just need to know that the cleaning products you’re using are truly taking all of the contaminants with them, instead of leaving a few particles behind to mess things up later. One of the most well-intentioned but sloppy connector cleaning implements out there is the fiber optic cleaning swab. Often made out of cloth or foam, these swabs may seem to get the job done, but are actually notorious for leaving behind microscopic bits of lint, which are often generated by the swabs themselves. You’re really not doing yourself any favors by using them.
You would be greatly helping yourself out, though, by cleaning your fiber optic connectors with Fiber Connector Cleaning Sticks from MicroCare. Just like swabs, they’re flexible and made to fit inside the alignment sleeves of fiber connectors, but material and cleaning-action wise, they’re worlds apart. MicroCare cleaning sticks are tiny cylinders molded from from lint-free fibers. When a solution-dampened cleaning stick is inserted into an alignment sleeve and pressed against the connector end face, its fiber ends actually open up slightly, allowing them to spin off-center as you turn the connector. This simple action allows the fibers to pick up far more dirt and debris, and actually wick the contaminants up into the tip. When that cleaning stick is removed, nothing is left behind except a squeaky-clean end face.