Head and Tape Path Cleaning

by Steven D. Peterson

Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for anyone who attempts these procedures and damages their equipment. I am not authorized by Sony, as such, my procedures may or may not follow Sony's prescribed methods. I am, however, a trained electronics technician with more than 16 years combined experience on heavy aircraft and commercial flight simulators. The procedures I detail in this e-mail are my own and have worked many years without fail.

To get started, we need to have the proper materials. If you only wish to wet clean the capstan and pinch roller, relying upon the cleaning tape to clean the drum head, you will need to purchase the first five items on the following list. If you are performing a complete wet cleaning of the tape path and drum head, you must purchase all six items. If you feel squeamish about cleaning the drum head, eventually you'll need to take your camera in for a professional cleaning. Here is a list of what we need:

Freon TF head cleaner (M.G. Chemicals cat. #407C-340g or equiv.)
Double headed cotton swabs (Radio Shack #44-1093, M.G. Chemicals cat. # 811-100 or equiv.)
Compressed canned air
Non-slip fluid (Radio Shack cat. #44-1013 or equiv.)
Cleaning tape (Sony, Panasonic or equiv.)
Chamois tips (M.G. Chemicals cat. #810-15, Chemtronics cat. # CC15 or equiv.)
All items, except for the cleaning tape, can be purchased at any decent electronics supply store for under $45.
Note: Be sure to follow all cautions and warning labels on cleaning fluids. Work in a ventilated, well-lit area. The fumes created by these cleaners are toxic and can seriously ruin your day if improperly used. They are also hazardous to the eyes and skin, so be careful!

Note: If you rely upon the dry tape to clean the drum head and roller guides, at the very least you must clean the capstan and pinch roller by hand. The dry tape is incapable of cleaning the capstan and pinch roller. According to a Sony Tech article I've seen on another site, the dry tape should be used every 50 hours of use. They recommend using it for only five seconds. Do not allow the tape to remain in the compartment in standby mode as the head continues to spin even when not playing or recording. If problems still exist, reinsert and repeat for five more seconds. Another five second use is permitted followed by a 10 second cool down. Reinsert and repeat up to two more times, allowing the drum head to cool down for 10 seconds after each cleaning. Up to a maximum of five, five second bursts is permitted, according to Sony. Don't forget to immediately eject the tape after each session! Sony claims that the tape generates heat and using it for more than 5 seconds at a time can worsen the condition by melting deposits further into the head. They further recommend that the tapes not be rewound and reused after the first pass, as is suggested by their directions. Reusing a tape can reintroduce contaminates back onto the head and other surfaces. They also recommend a wet cleaning every 20 to 25 hours of use. The remainder of this procedure details the wet cleaning method. Ideally, you'll perform the entire procedure every 50 hours of use. If you don't feel up to performing the entire thing, I recommend taking your camcorder to a professional, authorized technician. It may cost a few bucks for this service, but it's worth it. You may be able to get by cleaning only the tape guides, capstan and pinch roller every 20 to 25 hours of operation.

Perform steps 1 through 4 to clean the capstan and pinch roller. Optionally, you may perform step 5 to ensure the tape guides are clean, even though the cleaning tape will tend to clean them. Only perform step 6 if you feel comfortable cleaning the rotating drum head. Improper cleaning of the drum head can permanently damage it. Replacing a damaged drum head will set you back several hundred dollars. More warnings and cautions on this topic later on!

1. Begin by ejecting any tape in the mechanism. With the door left open ( I have to say that...), gently blow the interior of the tape compartment with compressed air until you are satisfied all loose dust and oxide particles have been removed.

2. Identify the tape path. Locate the roller guides, capstan, pinch roller and drum head. These parts should all be fairly easy to recognize. The roller guides are responsible for pulling the tape against the capstan and around the rotating drum head. Another stationary roller guide is to the right of the drum head. The capstan is a rotating shaft that is responsible for tape tension, or the speed at which the tape runs The pinch roller is a small, black rubber wheel that presses the tape against the capstan. With the tape ejected, the pinch roller no longer presses against the capstan. It will be up and slightly to the right about 3/4" away from the capstan.

Note: Do not reuse or rewet dirty or contaminated swabs or chamois tips that have dried out. Our goal is to remove loose oxides, not reintroduce them to the tape path.

3. A visual inspection of the capstan will usually reveal a dark band of tape oxide. Clean the capstan using a swab saturated with Freon TF. It may be necessary to insert and then eject an ordinary tape into the mechanism for the purpose of rotating uncleaned areas of the capstan into view. Most swabs are too large to clean the entire capstan at once. If the capstan is unusually dirty, it may be necessary to replace the swab and repeat until the capstan appears clean.

4. Saturate a fresh swab with non-slip fluid. Non-slip fluid cleans and reconditions the rubber pinch roller. Apply the head of the swab to the pinch roller. The swab should be held at a slight offset angle to the roller such that when the swab is spun, it rubs slightly across the pinch roller, cleaning it. Applying slight pressure to the swab against the roller, rotate the swab several times. You may find it easier to use two hands - one to hold the swab against the roller and the other to rotate it. The pinch roller should spin and any accumulated oxide should be removed and deposited onto the swab. As the swab becomes contaminated, replace it and repeat the procedure until the pinch roller appears dull black - it should not be shiny or have discolored bands of oxide.. Be careful not to over clean the roller as it is possible to remove rubber! No evidence of oxides should be visible on the pinch roller. This may require two, three or more cleanings, depending upon how contaminated the roller is.

5. Saturate a swab with Freon TF and clean the roller guides. Check the swab frequently for contamination and replace and repeat as necessary until all guides are clean. Do not forget the stationary guide located to the right of the drum head. Guides should appear shiny and clean when finished, with no evidence of oxide residue. Once you have completed this step you are finished unless you are confident of your abilities to wet clean the drum head. If you are not confident of your abilities to safely clean the drum head without damaging its delicate parts, do not proceed!

6. IMPORTANT! Proceed at your own risk! Please read this entire step before continuing. Soak a chamois tip cleaner in Freon TF. Apply the chamois tip across the full width of the drum head. The flat portion of the chamois tip will cover the entire width of the rotating head, including the pickup coils. The chamois tip must not be moved up and down across the head, but held stationary, or head damage will occur. Using your finger, or preferably a swab, gently rotate the drum head only in the CCW direction. NOTE: If using your finger, you should not contact the grooved, smooth surface of the head. This will deposit oils from your finger onto the head, possibly contaminating it. You'll most likely find it impossible to reach the drum head with your fingers. If using a swab, apply it towards the top of the head (the side closest to the door) to avoid damaging the pickup coils. The delicate pickup coils are located at the base of the drumhead. Rotate the drum CCW several times. Remove the chamois tip from the head surface and inspect it for contamination. If the chamois tip is contaminated, wet the other side and repeat. Replace the chamois tip and repeat if necessary. CAUTION: Under no circumstance should you use a cotton swab to clean the head. Doing so can transfer cotton fibers to the pickup head, or worse yet, permanently damage the pickup head.

Insert a prerecorded tape and verify proper playback. Also verify that the camera can record and playback without any problems. If everything works properly, you're done! That's it!

If you have any questions, please e-mail me at the address listed below. I'm also a member of the TRV900 e-mail user group and can be contacted through them. Users are free to distribute or publish this message provided the entire message is kept intact.

Steven D. Peterson
2 June 2000

Steven's Addendum.

Re: cleaning supplies. Generally, any product which is marketed as a head cleaning solution will suffice. The Radio Shack #44-1115D tape head cleaner will work fine. The only thing I would strongly urge you not to use is rubbing alcohol, as it commonly contains additives which are harmful to heads, pinch rollers and other tape components (and tapes themselves). The additives are typically lubricants. You can get by using this type of alcohol, but you need to ensure it is at least 99% pure and contains no additives. Using anything with a lower purity will leave a residue. [ed. note: another reader claims rubbing alcohol contains only water as an additive. You can find out yourself by putting a drop on a mirror and letting it evaporate; if a residue film is left, don't use it in your camcorder. -jpb] Check out these websites:


go to their Product Cross Reference section where you can find their Audio/Video Cleaners and Swabs and Cleaners sections.


select their Products button and then go to the Chemical Cleaners section.

You may be able to order from these sites, if not, try these supplier sites:

These are just a few of the suppliers we use where I work


Radio Shack Non-Slip Fluid is listed as containing: Isopropyl Alcohol (#67-63-0); 1,1,1 Trichloroethane (#71-55-6); 1,4 Diethylene Dioxide (#123-91-1). The numbers in parentheses are the CAS registry numbers for these chemicals. TCE (trichloroethane) can have bad effects and the last item, also known as 1,4 Dioxane, is a carcinogen so avoid breathing or touching this material. [jpb]

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