Network Data: Tape Head Cleaning

An important aspect of backup reliability is proper maintenance of your tape drives. Every time you back up to tape, little bits and specks of the tape rub off onto the read and write heads inside the tape drive. Eventually, the heads become too dirty to reliably read or write data.

To counteract this problem, clean the tape heads regularly. The easiest way to clean them is to use a cleaning cartridge for the tape drive. The drive automatically recognizes when you insert a cleaning cartridge and then performs a routine that wipes the cleaning tape back and forth over the heads to clean them. When the cleaning routine is done, the tape is ejected. The whole process takes only about 30 seconds.

Because the maintenance requirements of each drive differ, check the drive’s user’s manual to find out how and how often to clean the drive. As a general rule, clean the drives once weekly.

The most annoying aspect of tape drive cleaning is that the cleaning cartridges have a limited life span. And, unfortunately, if you insert a used-up cleaning cartridge, the drive accepts it and pretends to clean the drive. For this reason, keep track of how many times you used the cleaning cartridge and replace it as recommended by the manufacturer.