Instructables

Soldering Iron Tip Care

The Problem:
When I was younger, the tip of my soldering iron was always pitted and eaten away. It is difficult to solder with a damaged tip. I have since learned some techniques from pros that will help you keep your soldering iron tip in mint condition.

Explanation:
Tips corrode because of oxidation. This is the same process that causes rust to form on things made from iron or steel. Oxidation is greatly accelerated with higher temperatures, especially soldering temperatures.

The Solution:
Here are two tips to prevent excessive corrosion and maximize the life of your soldering iron tip.

First Tip
Keep your heat low. You can do this by:
  • Turning off your soldering iron when not in active use.
  • Use a temperature controlled solder station to keep the temperature low and constant.
Second Tip
Keep oxygen away from the tip. You can do this by keeping fresh solder on the tip when not in use. The photos show (in order):
  • Tip with old solder and poor coverage
  • Freshly cleaned tip - ready for use
  • Newly applied solder - tip is not ready for standby
Summary
  • Keep your heat low; turn off when not being actively used.
  • After each actual use, coat the tip with fresh solder before putting back into its holder.
Just in case you are new to soldering and don't know, be sure to wipe the tip clean on a wetted sponge before soldering. Excess solder on the tip will do no good and lead to problems when trying to solder.
proflayton10 months ago
Love it man. I am new to soldering and destroyed my first 2 tips. Next time I will be sure to take a little bit better care of my iron!
erazor9831 year ago
Instead of a damp sponge try a copper or brass scouring pad (no soap versions only!) to clean the hot tip of your iron. Less time waiting for thermal recovery after cleaning, and less thermal shock cycles to the tip itself. Plus you can get to soldering right away rather than hunting down the sponge, wetting it, then monitoring it to make sure it doesn't dry out too much while you solder.
My soldering station has a sponge well. I even know where my stock of spare sponges is. I've wet a sponge then used it for a couple of days. I've also soldered professionally and we all used sponges then too. So in short use a sponge, it is the right thing to do.

If you're having to wait for your iron to heat back up you're wiping your iron too slowly and your sponge is too wet. You want a damp sponge, not one soaking wet.
osgeld pfred21 year ago
Using a metal pad is not a wrong thing, they all have their place. I also solder professionally and we have damp yellow sponges sitting next to brass pads that are coated in flux.

That's one of the main differences in electronic metal pads, is the coating of flux, but with some of this new lead free stuff the flux in the solder will actually burn and after a handful of joints you cant solder cause there is black ash stuck on your tip. Quick wipe with a copper dish pad, a couple jabs in the brass flux sponge and the tip looks factory new.
waldosan1 year ago
is it possible to take the soldering tip to a grinder and freshen up the soldering tip or is the actual soldering area some kind of metal that was plated on?
ProvideYourOwn (author)  waldosan1 year ago
I honestly don't know the answer, but I don't think grinding would be a viable answer. First, the tip usually gets really mishapped really fast and is too far gone to dress up on the grinder. Second, the grinder would leave it with a rough surface, which I think might compromise its use.

The tip shown has been in use for over a year. By following these tips, a good tip should last a long time, and not need to be ground.
I fear you assume everyone will only have to worry about equipment they receive new. I for one often buy used soldering irons, most of which haven't lead the best of lives before they came into my possession. I also don't refer to any of my grinders as, "the grinder". Having about a dozen of them that would be too ambiguous. A few of my grinders can create very fine surface finishes. Why I've even a dedicated buffing polisher, if it comes down to it. But for dressing a soldering iron tip it wouldn't.
No matter what tip type you have I think you will run into difficulties retinning your iron after you have removed all solder from it. Unless you either use some kind of a cold tinning solution, or do it how I do it, by immersing the tip into molten solder. If you heat up an iron with a bare tip, they tend to oxidize before you can even start melting solder onto them. At least that has been my experience with trying to do that.
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