How to Care for Your Cables to Ensure Longevity

Cables break – it happens. But it doesn’t need to happen quite so often. If you know how to maintain your cables, they can last you years and years. While it might seem like common sense, very few people know how to keep cables in good condition, which leads to wear, breakage, and frustration. Here are the must-know techniques for ensuring your cables last as long as they can.

1. Wrap Carefully

Every cable is made up of a series of twisted wires. Sometimes more wires, sometimes fewer, but even the simplest of cable contains a copper wire inside the plastic sheathing. Taking care of the cable means taking care of the copper inside the wire. And while the copper wire is flexible, it’s not impervious to damage. The thin copper strands that make up most wires will break over time, causing signal degradation and eventually failure. Cable mishandling accelerates the wear process, so the less careful you are with your cables, the shorter their lives will be.

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When wrapping a cable, never wrap around your arm, hand, or wrist. That’s the easiest way to break a cable. Wrap the cable in a loose circle, following the contours of the cable’s natural curve. If you lightly guide the cable in circles with your fingertips, allowing the cable to roll naturally between your fingers as it winds, you’ll ensure the longest life for your cables.

It’s a little hard to get a clear grasp on what this means without a video guide.

The video above describes what’s called the “over-under” method, which is absolutely necessary for thicker or shielded cables. This allows the cable to unfurl without kinking or wrapping up on itself. Woe betide he who wraps a mic cable in any other way!

You can wrap shorter cords, like USB cables, with the “over-over” method. This means making the cable loop in the same direction each time, rather than alternating. Give the cable a half turn with your fingertips at each wrap, and you’ll follow the natural “curve” of the copper coil. Go with the grain, rather than against it, to extend the life of your cable.

2. Store Carefully

Most tech enthusiasts probably have a big box of tangled cables, where you’ll find ancient printer cables, RCA patches, ethernet cords, USB extenders, and a bunch more. If you ever need anything out of this box, you’ll be forced to dump the whole thing out and decipher the Gordian knot you’ve made. If you wrap your cables carefully and then casually throw them in a pile, you’re just undoing all your hard work.

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After you’ve wrapped your cables properly, secure them with a velcro tie or a left-over twist-tie from electronics packaging. Once they’re firmly wrapped, cables of similar sizes can be stored next to one another like records or like pizzas, depending on the shape of your container. There’s a ton of clever ways to organize smaller cables, either in paper tubes, grid boxes, plastic containers, hooks, or other storage methods.

3. Keep Cables Sorted

This doesn’t specifically prolong the lifetime of your cables, but it reduces cable loss. This means fewer cables get buried at the bottom of a milk carton, never to be seen again, crushed under the weight of a thousand other wires or wedged between box edges.

By keeping your cables organized, you can make sure you’re not losing track of a cable you might need later. It saves time in the future, and you won’t need to run out to Best Buy to replace the USB cable you were sure you had somewhere.

Gallon plastic bags make good sorting containers for most cables. They’ll fit everything up to XLR cables, including Ethernet, power, and other bulky cable types.

Honorable Mention: Cable Management in Use

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You also want to take care of your cables when they’re in use. Cables most commonly fail at the ends, near the connecting points. This is because these junctions are subject to the most stress. The connectors are where the cable is manipulated the most. Yanking or bending a plugged-in cable will damage the connection eventually, so don’t make a habit of it.

Never put a cable under stress or leave a cable holding weight. Make sure that cable connectors are not kinked, bent, pulled, or jammed up against something when the device is in use. There should always be a smooth arc of cable coming out of the connector.

Image credit: Fils électriques

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