Soldering irons are a staple in any household carrying out many DIY jobs. They’re highly versatile and mainly useful for building and repairing projects.
However, soldering irons are prone to wear and tear, inherent to their heavy-duty use and the temperatures at which they operate. Therefore, you must clean your soldering iron regularly if you want it to last long.
Read on to find out more about how to clean a soldering iron and why it’s highly advised that you do so to keep your soldering iron working at maximum efficiency.
How to Clean Soldering Iron Tip
There are several ways in which you can clean your soldering iron tip. The best methods for thorough cleaning are scouring pads and brass brushes. If the tip doesn’t need much cleaning, you can use a sponge.
Here’s a roundup of the three methods.
Using a Scouring Pad
The first method for cleaning your soldering iron tip is using a scouring pad. This is a polymer-based tool that does away with any oxidation on your soldering iron tip without compromising the integrity of the layer of nickel on it.
The first step is to ensure that your soldering iron is at room temperature before you start cleaning. If you’ve just finished using the device, wait for 30 minutes until it’s cooled down. This helps you avoid getting burned. It also enables you to really get into that tip with your scouring pad.
Once the soldering iron is at a safe temperature, wrap the scouring pad around its tip tightly and apply rotational motion all the way up and down.
This will leave your soldering iron’s tip shiny and as good as new. It will also remove any oxidation or debris hindering the heat transfer from your soldering iron tip.
If you don’t have a scouring pad, you can use a brass brush instead.
Using a Brass Brush
Another way to clean your soldering iron tip is using a brass brush. It’s essential that the brush be made of brass because brass abrasion won’t damage the nickel plating on your soldering iron’s tip as steel would.
This method is more of a safety hazard than a scouring pad because it requires the soldering iron to be at a high temperature. This increases the risk of injury, so be very careful when using this method.
What you need to do is turn on your soldering iron and wait until it gets to its operating temperature. Then, douse the brass brush in rosin flux and scrub away at your soldering iron’s tip.
Continue to do so until the tip is clean. Add more rosin flux as you scrub to effectively clean the tip without damaging it.
The rosin flux also boosts your soldering iron’s performance, improving the solder flow and strengthening the bonds created by your soldering iron.
Using a Sponge
You can also clean your soldering iron tip using a sponge. However, you can’t use just any sponge. You need to use cellulose, sulfur-free one. These sponges are designed with use with soldering irons in mind.
Other sponges may work, but they won’t be nearly as efficient in removing build-up from your soldering iron’s tip as cellulose, sulfur-free ones.
This method is best to use when you’re actually working with your soldering iron. It allows you to clean the tip early and often to avoid cumbersome build-up when the soldering iron has cooled down.
You should dampen the sponge with water and thoroughly scrub it against your soldering iron’s tip.
It’s worth noting that this method only works in removing mild build-up on your soldering iron. For deeper cleaning, you should resort to the previously mentioned methods. A sponge can only do so much cleaning.
Tinning Your Soldering Iron Tip
Tinning your soldering iron tip is an essential step you must take after cleaning it. This is particularly important if you’ve cleaned it using a scouring pad or a brass brush.
When you clean your soldering iron using these methods, the anti-oxidation layer protecting your soldering iron is weakened. Therefore, you must reinforce it by tinning to prevent your device from being vulnerable to oxidation in future use.
This procedure comes with significant hazards, so you must take the necessary safety precautions.
When tinning your soldering iron tip, wear protective eyewear and gloves. The solder you’ll use to do so contains dangerous substances. You want your eyes to be protected in case of splashes.
Why You Should Clean Your Soldering Iron Tip
You may be wondering why you need to clean the tip of your soldering iron at all.
If you want your soldering iron to stay functional and last for a long time, it’s highly advised that you clean it regularly. That’s because the tip of your soldering iron becomes oxidized as you use it more and more.
This is compounded by the constant temperature shocks that it goes through.
This oxidation essentially renders your soldering iron’s tip unable to serve its purpose as a conductor of heat and turns it into an insulator instead. The same is true for residue that may have built up on your soldering iron’s tip from past use.
That’s why it’s essential that you clean your soldering iron tip early and often to prevent this oxidation from reaching a point that’s beyond cleaning. At this point, you’ll be forced to replace it.
There are several ways of cleaning your soldering iron tip, depending on how much cleaning it needs.
When it’s in use, the best way to keep your soldering iron’s tip clean and free of residual solder and debris is by using cellulite, sulfur-free sponge.
You can also use a scouring pad or a brass brush with rosin flux to scrub off that pesky oxidation build-up on your soldering iron’s tip. Keep in mind that the soldering iron should be at room temperature for the former and at soldering temperature for the latter.
Finally, don’t forget to tin your soldering iron’s tip after every cleaning. We have discussed the difference between welding and soldering here.