Cheap Paper Wipes Cause Expensive Fiber Optic Network Problems

With fiber optic data rates increasing, the need to clean fiber end-faces properly has never been more urgent. But many technicians clean fiber end-faces with inexpensive paper wipes. As it turns out, that selection is sub-optimal.

“Cheap wipes are worth everything you pay for them,” notes Sticklers™ product manager Brian Teague. “They cause far more problems than they solve.” There are five major sources of contamination from cheap paper wipes:

Weak Fibers:  An LC connector dragged over a wipe is like a microscopic snowplow roaring down a winter road. The edges of the connector easily shred feeble fibers, re-depositing them on to the end-face. This can be catastrophic.

The term “modulus” describes the strength of a wipe; a “high-modulus” wipe leaves fewer fibers than a “low modulus” wipe. Inexpensive, low-modulus wipes are made from cellulose. Better wipes are made from polyester but the best high-modulus wipes use natural fibers woven into a cloth. Select a high-modulus wipe for cleaning fiber end-faces.

Wipe Size:  Many companies buy large wipes, some even 23x 23cm (9×9 inches) to be economical. This is a mistake. “Wipes should never be re-used,” says MicroCare Senior VP Jay Tourigny. “There will be contamination on the wipes, fingerprint oils, dust from the workbench and shredded fibers from prior cleanings.” The best strategy is to select smaller, single-use disposable wipes.

Glues in the Paper: Since many wipes are made with mechanically weak fibers they are reinforced with glue (called binders). To a connector, glue is as sharp edged and rock-hard as sandpaper. Scraping a connector across these surfaces can result in scratched end-faces requiring re-polishing.

Dissolved Residue:  Glues also will be dissolved by solvents if “wet-dry” cleaning is used. The glues themselves then will be deposited on the end-faces. Select a quality wipe made without glues or binders, eliminating the source of contamination. Look for the term “hydroentangled” for the best quality wipes.

Packaging:  Cheap wipes are sold in cardboard packaging that will damage low-modulus wipes, creating lint. Cardboard also will deposit fibers on to the wipe and can generate a static charge. A quality wipe will have a quality package protecting the wipe during shipping, storage and use.

In conclusion:  Operators should not use cheap paper wipes because they will degrade network performance. A cheap price does not reflect the real cost of downtime, repair visits or sluggish networks. Select wipes that are convenient, consistent, effective, reliable and affordable.