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Due to the meticulous procedures of maintaining a fiber optic system, it is critical that all staff members working with fiber optics are educated and trained to know exactly how to properly handle and clean termini endfaces. Because you cannot see the actual fiber endface without an inspection scope, the cleaning process is not always intuitive. Make sure you and your staff are using the right product engineered specifically for cleaning fiber optics and that it is being used correctly.

Jay Tourigny

April 25, 2012

3 Min Read
Do’s and Don’ts When Cleaning Fiber Optics

Use the do’s and don’ts of cleaning fiber optics below to help you during the education and training process. And always remember to inspect, clean, and inspect.

Inspect

  • Don’t look directly at the laser-energized fiber optic termini with your eyes, and don’t expose skin to direct or scattered radiation. Most laser and LED light sources used in fiber optics operate in the near-infrared and infrared wavelengths. While they are invisible to the eye, they can cause significant damage in the form of corneal, retinal, or skin burns. Only view the termini with equipment engineered to safely inspect fiber optic endfaces. Be safe and always treat all termini as though they are laser-energized.

  • Do learn what each type of contaminant looks like. It is important to know which contaminants you are working with in order to properly clean the fiber optic termini.

  • Do a thorough examination to find the type of contaminant(s) on the endface. It might just be one particulate or a laundry list of dust, oil, and salts combined. Understand what you’re facing in the beginning to ideally eliminate the source of contamination and reduce the number of cleaning rounds.

  • Do determine which cleaning technique is appropriate for the contaminant and the instrument termini. Do you need a wipe, a swab, or cleaning fluid? Know what you need in order to perform an efficient cleaning process. Consider purchasing a ready-to-use fiber optic cleaning kit that includes everything needed to clean most commonly used connectors.

From left to right, the geometry of two snap-in type connectors, a Small Form Factor LC connector, a SC connector, and a screw in SMA high power connector.  Each presents unique cleaning challenges due to their endface geometry and service requirements. Image courtesy of MicroCare, Sticklers.

Clean

  • Do thoroughly wash your hands before handling the fiber optic connector and the cleaning supplies. Clean hands will be less likely to transfer dirt and oils that can compromise the cleaning process.

  • Don’t apply a moisturizer or lotion to your hands prior to cleaning the termini. This will attract more contaminants and cause oils to transfer onto the cleaning wipe or swab, and potentially the endface you are trying to clean.

  • Don’t wipe the endface of the fiber optic on your gown or other clothing. This is not an appropriate cleaning mechanism and will only cause the endface to be dirtier than when the cleaning process started.

  • Don’t wear gloves when working with wipes and swabs. While you may think that wearing gloves will protect the cleaning materials from the oils in your skin, you will actually be adding more particulates. Gloves, like your clothing, are a carrier of all kinds of microscopic contaminants. It’s best to simply wash your hands prior to cleaning a connector.

  • Do throw away all wipes and swabs after each use. This will ensure that the contaminants picked up by the cleaning materials won’t end up back on the endface.

Inspect

  • Don’t forget to repeat the inspection process. This is a critical step to make sure that the fiber optic connector is clean and the system will perform at full potential.

  • Do make sure the termini endface is clear of any contaminants before it is put into service. If you notice any contaminants left on the endface, repeat the cleaning process with a new wipe or swab until it inspects as pristine clean.

  • Do perform routine inspections when installing new or servicing existing fiber optic connections. Clean connectors ensure that your system is running correctly and all information is being transmitted at its optimal speed.

  • Do it right the first time. Leaving contaminants on the end face can degrade performance or cause a violent reaction, leading to costly replacements of the connector or the system as a whole.

About the Author(s)

Jay Tourigny

Jay Tourigny is Senior Vice President at MicroCare Medical, which offers medical device cleaning and lubricating solutions. He has been in the industry more than 25 years and holds a BS from The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Tourigny holds numerous U.S. patents for cleaning-related products that are used on a daily basis in medical and precision cleaning applications. For more information, visit www.microcaremed.com.

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