I do backups to a HP Ultrium 2 tape drive (HP StorageWorks Ultrium 448). The drive has a 'Clean' LED that supposedly will light up or blink when the drive needs to be cleaned.

The drive has been in use since october 2005, and still the 'Clean' light has never been lit.

The drive statistics are:

  • Total hours in use: 1603
  • Total bytes written: 19.7 TB
  • Total bytes read: 19.3 TB

My question is:

  • How many hours of use can I expect before I need to clean the drive?

Edit: I have not encountered any errors using the drive. I do restore tests every two months, and every backup is verified.

Edit 2: The user manual says: "HP StorageWorks Ultrium tape drives do not require regular cleaning. An Ultrium universal cleaning cartridge should only be used when the orange Clean LED is flashing."

Update: It is now May 2010 (4.5 years of use), and the LED is still off, I have not cleaned, backups verify and regular restore tests are done.

  • It can make a major difference whether you are reusing the same backup tapes or if you are using new tapes. You have written the equivalent of 99 tapes worth of data. If you had started with 99 new tapes and filled them all with data without overwriting any, I would not expect you to get that far without needing a cleaning. But had you started with a single-digit number of tapes and cycled through them overwriting the oldest backup each time, then you wouldn't be introducing much dirt into the system.
    – kasperd
    Jun 24 '15 at 13:25

We have lots of LTO-2 drives scattered around the north west of the UK. On average we find they need cleaning every two months, that is with doing a backup 5 days a week so that would be after about 50 backups. How many hours use that is I'd have to guess. Say an average of 6 hours per backup so that's 300 hours use.

However it does seem to depend a lot on the site. Some sites need to clean the drive once a month or even sooner, whilst others seem to go months and months without a clean. I suspect it depends on how dusty the environment is and how careful the staff are in handling the tapes.

I am surprised that you haven't cleaned the drive for 4 years, but I suppose with only 1,600 hours use that's just about plausible. If you're at all concerned about the drive performance download the HP Library and Tape Tools tester from the HP web site and do an acceptance test. If that comes up green HP think your drive is OK!


  • Thanks for your suggestion for HP Library and Tape Tools. One question: Do you clean the drives based on the 'Clean' LED (assuming your drives have it)? Or do you have a schedule for cleaning drives?
    – codeape
    Jul 13 '09 at 10:22
  • I rely on the "clean me" LED, though if it had been a year I'd weaken and run a cleaning tape anyway :-) Jul 13 '09 at 10:34
  • 1
    This is bang on the money, especially about the dust factor. Some tape decks in use in a badly sealed room next to an industrial shop floor needed almost constant cleaning attention every few days. On the other hand we have a very low occupancy server room in our environment right now that's very clean with way overspec air conditioning, and it's running years at a time without a clean. May 13 '10 at 10:29

Have you used the tape to restore any data and had any errors? Or is there any software you have that will do a read/write test and compare the values for errors?

I know that some of the HP tape drives have self-cleaning mechanisms on the drive itself, though I have no experience with your specific model.

However, if you take good care of your tapes, they tend to take good care of you. I had some tapes from 2002 that we used to test a device in June, and they still worked.

Maybe not an answer, but food for thought.

  • Thanks for sharing. I have encountered no errors. Do successful restore tests. Backups are verified. I ask mostly out of curiosity. The (so far unused) cleaning tape can be used 50 times. At this rate, it will outlive me by an infinite number of years.
    – codeape
    Jul 13 '09 at 9:44

There is no hard and fast rule to this. When the drive detects too many errors it will tell you it needs cleaning. Don't let the idea of errors worry you, as some errors are to be expected and modern tape systems use write multiple interlaced copies, each with error detection/correction bits. This is why they are so much more reliable than hard drives.

How often you need to clean depends on a number of factors, mostly environmental. If you have a good clean server room you may go anything up to a couple of years between cleans. A dirtier environment will necessitate more frequent cleanings. As an example, at one company I had to clean every couple of months. After relocating to new premises the same drives, using the same tapes, would go at least a year and a half between cleans.

Some tapes will also shed more or their oxide layer than others, so will result in more frequent cleaning. You may also notice that when you start a batch of new tapes you will often need to clean more often than with tapes that have been used a few times. This is because new tapes tend to shed a bit, then settles down after a few uses.


I am using the HP Ultrium 2 single and Ultrium 3 robot drives for 8 and 4 years respectivelly. From my experience, cleaning depends on how often you use the drive and also how dirty the environment is. You should (as the manual says) really clean it when the yellow LED is on. There should be no harm if you clean it sooner, but bear in mind that the cleaning tape has a limited number of uses.


I had an LTO3-Drive wich worked about a year without cleaning.
After the first cleaning was needed, I talked to my vendor and
they suggested to insert the cleaningtape once a month.
So, you may check this with your vendor (HP), too.

Best regards.

  • 1
    Cleaning an LTO-3 drive once a month won't do any harm (apart of course from costing you money as it uses up the cleaning tape) but it shouldn't be necessary. Jul 13 '09 at 10:11

From experience, read the drive's manuals, and do what they recommend. A while ago I was cleaning a HP DDS drive when its cleaning light said to, and it eventually stopped working, and was replaced under support contract. The tech who replaced the drive asked how often I cleaned it, and told me to ignore the light and follow the manual.

  • I just RTFM. It says: "HP StorageWorks Ultrium tape drives do not require regular cleaning. An Ultrium universal cleaning cartridge should only be used when the orange Clean LED is flashing."
    – codeape
    Jul 13 '09 at 20:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.