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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Stumped by a customer question today: when to replace a cleaning tape

It was an innocent enough question: "when will I need to replace this cleaning tape?"

And I realised that not only did I not know the answer, that in fact, I'd never replaced a cleaning tape in 20+ years of backup work. Sure, I've put one in when I've been deploying a system, but I tend to forget about it after that.

Estimates from drive manufacturers suggest that a tape should be cleaned every month. Looking at backup logs, it looks like tape drives request cleaning about every 6 months.

But that data is mostly from tape drives that are inside a tape library, so the amount of dust getting in and out will be less than for a standalone tape drive.

The spec sheet on HPE's universal LTO ultrium cleaning kit suggests that it should be good for between 15 and 50 cleans.

Put together, that means that a cleaning tape should be replaced somewhere between once every year or so and every quarter century, which is not very helpful!

I believe the data from the tape drives themselves reporting "I'm dirty" rather than the vendor suggestions, so even taking the low end of the HPE spec sheet, a cleaning tape in a tape library should be good for 7 years. Since that's enough for at least two generations of tape technology to come and go, it's probably safe to assume that you will have bought a new tape library in that time.

But if you have multiple tape drives, and it has been a couple of years since you last replaced the cleaning tape, errm, maybe it's worth buying one. I'm not selling tapes at yet, so my best suggestion is this vendor on Amazon: LTO ultrium cleaning kit.

Incidentally, if you do have a tape library and you are running HPE Data Protector, then you will almost definitely want to sign up for the free cloud-hosted Backup Navigator trial here: Free Backup Navigator Trial at HPE so that you can see which are your most unreliable tape drives -- perhaps they need cleaning!

Greg Baker is an independent consultant who happens to do a lot of work on HP DataProtector. He is the author of the only published books on HP Data Protector ( He works with HP and HP partner companies to solve the hardest big-data problems (especially around backup). See more at IFOST's DataProtector pages at, or visit the online store for Data Protector products, licenses and renewals at