The Sticklers™ team has many “National Stock Numbers” (NSN numbers) assigned to the Sticklers™ cleaning products. These are used by the U.S. government and most NATO countries to specify approved products for different tasks, including fiber optic cleaning. You can find these NSN numbers on the product specs, on the web page for each product and on the product labels. For convenience, the complete list of NSN numbers of currently active products is included here: MicroCare Current NSN Numbers.11-2017
For years, the popular Sticklers™ fiber optic cleaning fluid was only packaged in a 3 ounce / 85 mL miniature pump spray. Now that has been expanded to a jumbo-sized, 10 oz./284 g pump spray. Both pump sprays are terrific packages:
- The small bottle contains more than 650 cleanings — that’s a LOT of connectors — and the big bottle contains 2,200 cleanings
- Both packages preserve the cleaning fluid, keeping it clean and factory fresh (which is a lot harder than you might think)
- Both packages have a unique, 3-way cap which means the fluid is dispensed without waste
- Both packages use an engineered “metered” valve, so none of the liquid is wasted
- Both packages are not pressurized, so they’re not hazardous to ship
- Both packages won’t leak or spill, unlike bottles of IPA alcohol
- Both packages cannot be refilled, avoiding cross-contamination
- Both packages are nonflammable, for maximum safety
Either way, those are two pretty nifty packages.
Everybody asks, how to clean patch cables, also called patch cords or jumpers. But what they really are asking is, do I need to clean them, when they’re new and right out of the bag? The answer is yes, you do. Here’s why:
There are three “P”s to perfect fiber connectivity:
- Perfect core alignment
- Perfect physical contact (no air gaps between end-faces)
- Perfectly pristine connector end-faces and interfaces
The only variable techs easily can control is the cleanliness of the end-face. More than 33% of all new patch cords are sufficiently contaminated as to degrade the network. This is true even when the patch cords are coming right out of the bag, even when the dust caps are still in place. Overall, “75% of network troubleshooting is the result of optical fiber connectors that are dirty or damaged by dirt,” according to Matt Brown, “Inspect Before You Connect,” BICSI News, Nov 2008.
The Sticklers™ team strongly suggests that techs clean and inspect every jumper cable and patch cord before mating them into panels and systems. This especially applies to brand new jumpers and patch cords, right out of the bag.
The Economics of Patch Cables
How can this be? Well, patch cords are a commodity, so the primary distinction between brands is the price. This drives all the makers to get their price as low as possible. That means they have to get their costs down, too. Cleaning is an extra step that can be avoided — after all, the customer is going to clean the connectors before mating! — so most simply don’t bother to clean.
Even if they do clean the end-faces, they don’t clean the end-caps and they certainly don’t clean the plastic shipping bags. Brian Teague, Sticklers™ product manager, noted in a BICSI presentation that you can “Never assume that a new cable assembly is clean.” He explains that end-caps usually are made with PVC plastic softened with plasticizers. These chemicals can leach out from the PVC and transfer to the connector end-face. “Out-gassing” is a major concern if the assembly is exposed to high temperatures, such as being in a sealed shipping container crossing the Pacific Ocean.
To keep repair costs low, customer satisfaction high and networks fast, it makes sense to clean every patch cord connection, every time, before mating.
The issue of static charges on fiber tools is interesting. Static on fiber cleaning products are only an issue if the work environment involves the manufacture of electronics. This is because many electronics manufacturers have an ESD control program that restricts materials at the workbench. The maximum allowed on the workbench is a static charge of 150 volts. If you are not working in electronics assembly, this requirement for static dissipative materials does not apply.
That being said, if compliance with an ESD program is the goal, no major manufacturer will have a compliant product. All of the materials of construction (as well as packaging) use polymers that may exceed the 150 volt threshold. To become ESD-safe (electrically conductive) these plastics would need to contain an anti-static compound. Those compounds used in those plastic polymers leach out, on to fingers and desktops. They can transfer from the cleaning stick to an end-face, and become contamination.
But static IS an issue on the end-face. Electrostatic charges on an end-face will attract dust to the end-face and lock the dust in place, making cleaning very difficult. The dust then will degrade the optical signal. Eliminating this static greatly improves cleaning and network performance.
The optimal control of static charges is typically achieved by the use of a static-dissipative cleaning fluid, along with the appropriate cleaning tools. That’s why we invented the Sticklers fiber optic cleaning fluid. If the tip of a Sticklers™ cleaning stick has been properly treated with the Sticklers™ cleaning fluid prior to cleaning, the presence of a static charge is minimized to well below 150 volts and assures proper cleaning performance.
If compliance with an ESD program is the issue, use a CleanClicker™ push-to-clean tool (photo, right). The standard 1.25 and 2.5 mm CleanClicker tool (without the dust cap) does provide static dissipative properties that should pass an ESD control program.
Absolutely. A signal loss budget or “optical power budget” can be a victim of either poor cleaning tools or poor technique. A few minutes with your OTDR will demonstrate that clean connectors improve (reduce) signal losses, particularly in respect to insertion loss and back reflection. WDM networks also enjoy reduced chromatic aberration. All this enables the networks to run farther and faster.
In a recent field trial in the Mediterranean Sea, an operator of a remotely operated undersea vehicle working on the ocean floor discovered a slow but continuous degradation of the optical power budget, ultimately reaching 20db of loss. A complete and thorough inspection of every end-face in the system revealed that there were extensive cleaning issues at every junction. Previously the team had used alcohol and traditional ‘lint-free’ wipes that did not get the end-faces sufficiently clean. Switching to Sticklers™ fiber cleaning products restored the multi-million dollar robot to operating specifications.
In the screen shot, right, an OTDR trace shows a highly contaminated connector exceeding the optical power budget of the circuit. In this example, the 0.7 dB connection degrades to a 3.2 dB show-stopper due to dirt on the connector. This reduces the supportable distance for this fiber link by 90%. Clean networks are happy networks!
Image courtesy Viavi.
The fiber end-face should be inspected with a fiberscope of at least 80-200x magnification, and if it is contaminated, it should be cleaned using wet-dry cleaning.
With the wet-dry cleaning method, an optical quality cleaning cloth and fluid are used. When using this method, dampen the cleaning cloth with the Sticklers® Fiber Optic Splice and Connector Cleaner Fluid (#MCC-POC03M) and wipe the end face of the connector once, and dispose of the wipe. Never re-use wipes.
Other options include using a push-to-clean tool, such as a CleanClicker from Sticklers, which are equipped with an alignment sleeve adapter which is perfect for cleaning exposed termini.
One other option, unique to Sticklers, is the P25 CleanStixx, a special cleaning swab designed for exposed termini. This is particularly useful on hermaphrodidic connectors, such as TFOCA designs.
The fiber should not be used if the cleaning is unsuccessful because the immoveable contamination probably is a defect (scratching, improper polishing, or some other damage).
It’s laudable to try to control costs and protect the environment, but re-using lint-free wipes is a false economy. In fact, it creates a network nightmare because everything becomes cross-contaminated. You can’t clean with a dirty wipe.
Let’s suppose a company provides a large, high-quality 9×9 inch (23x23cm) wipe for their techs. That wipe becomes contaminated when a connector is wiped across it. The wipe also picks up hand oils and dust. That contamination then is re-deposited on the next end-face. I have personally seen a fiber tech in a telco central office “cleaning” dozens of connectors using a disgusting, alcohol-soaked rag. I am sure if the tech had an inspection scope he would have been shocked at the damage he was inflicting on his network.
Most companies buy cheap “low modulus” cellulose wipes, held together with glues. This is another false economy. These wipes shred easily as the sharp edges of a connector rumble across the wipe. Re-using those wipes will make thing even worse for the end-face.
Wipes are cheap. What’s expensive is an angry customer. Therefore, four important tips come to mind. First, select high-quality “high modulus” lint-free wipes made without cellulose and glues. These will resist ripping, shredding and linting. Next: don’t buy large wipes; buy the smallest possible wipes so there’s no incentive to re-use them. Third: Avoid jumbo-sized bags of wipes; select wipes in proper packaging that will keep them clean until they are used. Lastly, teach your team that any wipe, once used, must be trashed.
How much is it really saving you, if you have to waste money on a repair visit?
Some companies buy the purest IPA they can get, which is called “reagent grade” IPA. They use this to try to solve the fiber cleaning problem.
But I believe that the purchase of 99.9% “reagent grade IPA” is a waste of money and effort. Here’s the ‘little secret’ about reagent-grade IPA: since it is the most pure it also is the most hygroscopic. 99.9% “reagent-grade IPA” will reduce itself to “drug-store” purity long before the container is emptied.
Unless the techs are buying reagent-grade IPA in a hermetically-sealed container and using it under very controlled conditions (such as protecting it with a nitrogen blanket to control moisture absorption) your company is just wasting money.
Plus, even if they do all that, it still doesn’t change the other problems with IPA alcohol, such as the slow-drying nature and the flammability and the smell.
In short, IPA is yesterday’s news. It’s time to upgrade,
We apologize in advance for this long answer, but this is a key mis-understanding that deserves serious consideration.
In the world of fiber optics, there only are two truly critical cleaning operations. The first is “prepping” before fusion splicing. The other is “end-face cleaning.” Both are essential to deployment of reliable, high-capacity networks. But as new and advanced as modern fiber networks might be, most technicians still are cleaning them with the same fluid they used in the 1960s: isopropyl alcohol, also called IPA.
Isopropyl alcohol has many names. On safety data sheets it may be called isopropanol, rubbing alcohol, propan-2-ol, 2-propanol, dimethyl carbinol or just IPA. It is an organic compound with the chemical formula C3H7OH. No matter what the name, on the safety data sheet it will carry the official “CAS number” of #67-63-0.
IPA is a colorless, flammable liquid with a strong odor. It has a wide variety of medical, industrial and household uses but it has many flaws, as well. IPA remains a popular cleaning choice mostly due to ‘tradition’ more than ‘effectiveness.’ But there is another reason: IPA is inexpensive and often purchased from a drug store.
Why not use IPA? First of all, IPA is not a very effective cleaner. IPA is not effective on mineral oils and most hand lotions. IPA simply does not have the cleaning “muscle” to remove oils and greases very well.
Drying-speed is another issue with IPA. Slow-drying IPA can be trapped inside a fiber optic connector. This once-pure liquid may leach out inconveniently and contaminate an end-face.
IPA has another unexpected characteristic: it is hygroscopic. This means it attracts water to itself. Studies reveal that a bottle of IPA in an open container will lose 7% of its strength in as little as 15 minutes. IPA continues to absorb moisture until it reaches equilibrium at about 65%. This is why the “rubbing alcohol” purchased at a local store is about 30% water.
Water doesn’t just dilute IPA’s already feeble cleaning power. It also will add residues carried in the air. Those contaminants from the air — and others from those cheap plastic bottles — will be left behind when the IPA dries. This is the source of the “haze” that IPA leaves after cleaning which may increase insertion loss. It also may affect the transmission of one wave length verses another wave length, which can be very troubling in DWDM systems.
Packaging is critical to a cleaning fluid’s performance. No matter how pure the IPA may be when purchased, it will become contaminated when it is poured into a pump bottle, dispenser or an uncovered container. Guaranteed. Each time a drop of IPA is squeezed out of a traditional pump-bottle, air enters. This is reality… not just sometime, not just maybe… but each time it is dispensed. For optimal results, the fluid should be hermetically sealed.
So here’s the headline: to get the most from your investment in advanced fiber equipment, companies must update their cleaning processes and stop using IPA.
Special Note: The existing standard for end-face cleaning is confusing. IEC 61300-3-35 clearly states that IPA is no longer acceptable for end-face cleaning. But IPA commonly is packaged and promoted for fusion splice prep. Do not use this chemical for fiber cleaning applications!
One of the most common questions we get is asking for guidance upon when to use a mechanical clicker and when should a tech should use a stick to clean. That’s a great question.
Here’s the short answer: clickers get you fast cleaning, but sticks get you better cleaning. Which is the right choice? It depends.
The thing about click-to-clean tools is they’re great for high-volume applications. If you’re dealing with fiber counts of 288 fibers and above, or you’re going to have to clean lots of mated pairs, a Clicker is a really good option because it’s going to let you clean a lot of connectors very quickly and very consistently.
Clickers also are really good for applications with light levels of contamination, for example, maybe cleaning the equipment inside a rack at a data center or central office or head end.
Where click-to-clean tools are going to struggle is when you get medium to heavy levels of contamination. Heavy contamination means you’re going to have to run the clicker multiple times. That can get expensive. If you need 3-4 clicks you might be better off going with a cleaning stick.
A cleaning stick or fiber swab also makes it easier to deploy wet-dry cleaning, which iNEMI and IPC agree is a better process for heavily contaminated end-faces. Use a nonflammable, fast-drying liquid to enhance the cleaning; not IPA alcohol.
The other time, too, when a stick may make sense is when you’re dealing with smaller fiber counts. So for example if I were putting in a panel with 24 or 48 fibers, I might be better off from an economic standpoint using the sticks. A box of sticks will be a lot less expensive than a clicker.
So if you’re working with small fiber counts or dealing with heavy contamination, wet-dry cleaning with a stick and a cleaning fluid is the best option.
Only Sticklers® family of fiber cleaning tools has all these options.