Type of brass to clean soldering tips
Brass Tip Cleaner
- Pro-Fast and easy to use, doesn’t require saturating with water, and doesn’t thermally shock the soldering tip.
- Con – It is abrasive, although brass is softer than the iron on the end of the tip. It has more of a tendency to scratch the chrome plating, which keeps the solder from wetting up the tip. That could allow corrosion to creep in under the plating, reducing the life of the tip.
- Pro – It is an effective and fast way to clean a tip. They come with different holes or slits to make it even faster and easier, and to avoid flinging molten solder.
- Con – Cools down the tip, so requires the tip to heat up again. It also can thermally shock the tip, especially if the sponge is overly saturated. This can shorten the tip life by creating micro-fractures in the iron plating.
Make sure you are using a cellulose sponge that is intended for cleaning soldering tips. Cellulose is a natural material derived from wood pulp. It will not melt and damage the soldering tip as a synthetic sponge would. The sponge should not be soaking wet, just lightly damp. Wring it out thoroughly after saturating with Deionized (DI) water. DI water is recommended to prevent mineral build-up on the soldering tip. Once your soldering tip has been cleaned, remember to retin by melting on a small amount of solder on the end of the tip. This prevents the working end of the tip, which is iron, from corroding when exposed to air over a period of time.
When should I throw away an old soldering tip?
When the tip is black and dewetting (solder doesn’t cling to it), called a “cold tip”, it can generally be cleaned and used again. Once there is pitting and visible corrosion, it is time for a new tip. The outside of a soldering tip is plated with iron over the thermally conductive copper center. This protects the soft, corrosion-prone copper from the harsh fluxes. Once flux gets through the iron plating through pits, the tip will be eaten away quickly.
It is a common practice to wipe down the soldering tip before putting it back into its holder. This exposes the raw iron on the working end of the tip, which will rust in the open air. Add any residual flux to the mix, and you have a prematurely pitted soldering tip. Before taking a break or stopping for the day, wipe off residual flux and solder, and retin by applying fresh solder to the end of the tip.
Should I clean all the solder off the soldering tip after I’m finished soldering?
What can I do to increase soldering tip life?
- Turn down the heat
- Properly clean the tip
- Tin the soldering tip
- Use special cleaning tools
When leaving the solder station for anything over 5 minutes, turn off it off. When you leave the station turned on, the tip remains at soldering temperature, further reducing tip life. Modern soldering equipment heats up to a soldering temperature in seconds, so the time savings is not worth the reduction in tip life.
Flux residues can cause dendritic growth and corrosion on PCB assemblies, so make sure you’re using best practices and clean the board. After all, the components have been replaced and excess solder removed:
How can I avoid corrosion on the PCB after I’m finished soldering?
- Clean the area thoroughly with a quality flux remover.
- Angle the board to allow the cleaner and residues to run off.
- If needed, use a horsehair brush or lint-free wipe to gently scrub the PCB, and then follow with a rinse.
- If using a wipe, make sure it doesn’t leave fibers/lint on your PCB, which may cause issues later.
This is an optional step for no-clean flux, but still a good idea for densely populated or high voltage boards. It is absolutely required, regardless of the flux type, if you plan to follow your repair with conformal coating.