Proper Soldering Iron Cleaning & Maintenance

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Introduction: Proper Soldering Iron Cleaning & Maintenance

This instructable will guide you on how to properly care for your soldering iron. Proper iron care will result in lower melt times, cleaner solders, and a longer iron life. Cleaning and caring for your soldering iron is very easy and can be accomplished with everyday household items.

Step 1: Tools of the Trade

This section will explain the tools of the trade. Some of these you will need, some of these you will not. The first (and most common) apparatus is the simple yellow sponge.

Yellow Sponge
The purpose of the sponge is as follows; the sponge is porous, so it holds water. Rubbing a hot soldering iron tip on a wet sponge causes the solder to contract at a different rate than the soldering iron, helping to knock off any globs of solder that may be clinging to the tip. NOTE: Make sure the sponge is damp (not soaked) with water.

600 Grit Sandpaper
The second tool of the trade, is 600 grit sandpaper. NOTE: Paper ignites at 451 F, so make sure the iron is unplugged, and has had time to cool before using sandpaper. You will only use sandpaper if the tip has been abused by the previous technician, student, or co-worker.

Tip Tinner / Cleaner
You wont need this if you've got some extra solder. I wouldnt recommend spending the money to buy it unless you have a high-end soldering iron ($XXX.XX price range) for all intensive purposes, regular solder will work just as well for what we're doing.

Step 2: Cleaning the Soldering Iron

This has been broken down into two different scenarios. Each scenario has its own technique for adequate cleaning and storage.

Scenario 1: Someone left me with a cold & dirty iron.
This is common in some workplaces / college electronic labs, etc. If the tip of the iron is covered in gunk, it may not heat properly, even if you heat it up, and use the steps listed under Scenario 2. If this is the case, unplug the iron and allow it to cool. After the iron is cool, lightly scuff the surface of the iron tip with 600 grit (or higher) sandpaper until it begins to gain some luster again. You are not trying to remove metal, just the oxidation. (notice the tip of the iron in the provided picture)

Scenario 2: My Iron is dirty from use, but still hot.
Remember that sponge from earlier? All you need to do is set your iron to the side and allow it to heat for a few moments (about 90 seconds is usually sufficient). Once the iron has heated, you'll start to notice some brown deposits on the tip. This is rosin. Simply take your iron, and flick the tip on the wet sponge (WARNING: do not hold the sponge in your hand to do this.)

We're almost done.. but not quite. Procede to the next step.

Step 3: Tinning the Tip

After cleaning the iron, its a good idea to tin the tip. We will achieve this by allowing a thin coating of solder to cover the tip of our iron. This will protect the iron from oxidation as the solder serves as a sacrificial buffer zone against oxidation (it oxidizes rather than our tip oxidizing).

To tin your tip, use a tinning compound, available at RadioShack. If a tinning compound is unavailable, you can substitute this with regular electronics solder. I recomend a low temperature solder for this because you want the iron to cool fairly quickly, so you dont fry the solder onto your tip which would defeat the purpose of cleaning.

A properly tinned tip will look similar to the tip below. An instructable has been created by royalestel demonstrating the proper technique of tinning a iron tip. The instructable can be found here.

A properly maintained soldering iron will give you years of flawless service.

THE END

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    49 Discussions

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    AjU5

    1 year ago

    Good article - for the record though, the expression is "for all intents and purposes" :)

    i tried all ways but the same happen, the tip is heated up but does not melt the tin
    but i notice that the base of the tip melt tin but when i move the melted tin to the tip of the tip it cool down and turn to brownish hot pulp

    To clean my iron I add some solder and shake it off. Most of the time this works. If not, I heat it and whip it (fast)with a peace of cotton (old socks etc).
    I am not a friend of sponges. Either they become too dry or they are so wet, that the fast cooling might destroy the first layer of the solder iron.

    Just a small correction: it's "for all intents and purposes", not "for all intensive purposes".

    How can I clean rust off of my soldering iron? One of my kids plugged it up and when I realized it was plugged up I unplugged it but then some how the next day it was rusted so I need to know how to clean the rust off of it.

    1 reply

    Is there rust on the tip, Or on the soldering iron itself?

    Well that is some good advice, but all that falls by the wayside of the 100% best way to take care of your soldering iron. And it is most simply this: Go buy a box of that bulldog steel wool. Keep it beside your soldering station. Everytime you take the iron out of the receptacle, with a few quick strokes ala knife sharpening, run the steel wool over the tip. There you go. Always perfectly clean, perfectly tinned soldering iron.

    3 replies

    Steel wool is pretty helpful, but it will never replace the sponge =) Always good to have some steel wool around though because it does a great job at cleaning the iron.

    I've slowly developed a disliking for steel wool and its employment in all but extraordinary situations. The material breaks down into pieces too small to be noticed and may by accident become the agents of "short circuits" within a computer by way of its' cooling fan intake or externally via the magnetic power cord terminal of a Mac laptop. I recognize I'm commenting on a subject created about 8 years previous to the present.

    I've had stupendous luck with cardboard, actually. It's abrasive and absorbent enough to rub the crud and oxides right off, but it's soft enough that it doesn't wear down the tip cladding. Try just stabbing the hot iron tip through the side of a corrugated cardboard box a few times, I think you'll be surprised! It's also oddly cathartic. ;)

    "For all INTENSIVE purposes"? I've never heard of such a thing. Intensive purposes? Is that like the normal saying "for all intents and purposes"?

    Hey! if u have got the spongeBOBs corpse, how can I have one :( !!!

    instead of a soldering sponge, use a 'curly' metal tip cleaner
    Google "GOOT ST-40"

    I am happy to say I have never been given instruction to soldering. Why did my soldering iro tip get a great big chunk eaten out of it after one board. I was told to put solder to tip! What am I doing wrong?

    4 replies

    Can you upload a picture of the iron somewhere? I've never saw the tip of an iron get eaten away.

    OK, here it is. The whole tip has fallen off now, but it had a chunk taken out of the side and it crumpled in

    Sometimes tips will overheat if the iron left on for long periods of time without soldering. This can cause the metal to loose a bit of its strength. However, I've never seen something this bad before. It almost looks like the tip melted off. I have no idea why this happened. Perhaps the iron is getting too hot because of a design flaw or defect.

    Hi, you can actually add a dimmer to the soldering iron to control the heat/power of the soldering iron. For more information, please visit http://www.bustatech.com/adjustable-soldering-iron/ for the story on adding a dimmer to soldering iron.