How to Perfectly Clean Wires in Minutes!!!

Introduction: How to Perfectly Clean Wires in Minutes!!!

Here is an old ham radio operators trick for cleaning wires for soldering that are old and corroded.  It is hard to find this technique printed anywhere! I am a ham, NH7ZE, and learned it from my elmer (mentor). I am passing it on.  I hope it helps people who need to clean wires:P Please vote!!!

Normally, if you strip a wire, and see it is corroded, there is not much you can do to restore it's shiny new conductive properties. There is scraping and scratching which comes to mind, but you'll never get it to the solderable slickness it once was long ago. After laboring and fretting over the corroded pieces of wire for a long, long time, you see that your sweat coming out of your palms and fingers are corroding the copper AGAIN!!!! Oh, dear. NOT TO WORRY!!!!! Give yourself a pat on the back, because what you will pull out of your bag of tricks now, will send all the corroded copper wires scurrying and scampering away in fear!!!! Here is how to clean any corroded wire without even touching it, in 30 seconds!! And what's more, you can even solder it!!!

This process uses two solutions, one is regular table salt and vinegar. Any kind of vinegar will work, from balsamic, to rice, to white vinegars. Its the acidity and corrosiveness of the salt and vinegar together that you want. The other solution is Sodium Bicarbonate, or baking soda, and water. This is used to neutralize the corrosive properties of the other solution, and to further clean the wires.  

Step 1: Strip the wires to be cleaned.

Step 2: Get 2 containers, one for each solution. They can be paper cups, plastic, glass, bowls, whatever you can find. I have vials, because I am a professional electronics installer and I use these solutions out in the field.

Step 3: Get 1 tablespoon of raw salt, and put it in one of the containers. Fill up the rest of the container with vinegar, and stir the both together.  As a general rule of thumb, put as much salt in the vinegar as will dissolve.

Step 4: Get 1 tablespoon of Sodium Bicarbonate, (baking soda) and add it to the other container. Fill up the rest with water, and stir well.  Add more baking soda to make it cloudy. The amount is not important, as long as it is alkaline to cancel the acid of the vinegar solution.

Step 5: Put the stripped end of the wire in the vinegar solution, and stir the solution with the wire. any wire you want cleaned needs to be under the solution. Movement of the wire in the liquid speeds up the process.

Step 6: After 2 minutes or so, the wire will look very shiny and new in the vinegar solution. The acid and salt in the solution is etching away the oxides, exposing the bare metal. Make sure the metal is uniformly shiny. Leave it in longer if it is not perfectly clean throughout. 

Step 7: Once the wire is satisfactorily clean, remove the wire from the vinegar, and plunge it into the baking soda solution to neutralize the acid's corrosive properties.  If the wire was exposed to the air, without neutralizing the acid first, it would quickly corrode again. The baking soda keeps it clean and shiny. Swish the wire around in the baking soda water for about 10 seconds, and then you are done!! Shiny new wire ready for soldering, and conducting once again!!

Please vote on this instructable!! 
Thanks for reading.

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    80 Comments

    1
    DaneP10
    DaneP10

    2 years ago

    Not quite sure how only removing the corrosion from the stripped end of the wire helps much, you still have the unexposed portions of wire that may very well be corroded and just as unconductive. But it def works.

    0
    NeilRG
    NeilRG

    Reply 10 months ago

    Please note that oxidation turns the wires black but by itself does not attack the copper to a great extent. Soldering requires bare shiny copper so the rest of the strands being oxidized is of no real consequence. Corrosion of copper is green in color and actually eats the metal. You can't clean what is no longer there.

    0
    JellyJolly
    JellyJolly

    1 year ago

    May I know after doing the above technique, will the copper wire be corroded again?
    If so I would like to know how to keep it to prevent corrosion after doing the procedure?

    0
    KevinB302
    KevinB302

    1 year ago on Introduction

    I think the salt part is an old wives tail. The vinegar is what's doing the job.

    One can, however, clean bullet style connectors by jamming a baking soda and water paste into them and repeatedly plugging and unplugging them to "polish" them up where they contact. Then the soda polish/abrasive can be thoroughly flushed away with water then that water displaced with carb cleaner, alcohol, or WD-40 (essentially anything that will mix with water but evaporates faster and more thoroughly).

    Another option is to place an electrode (e.g. a metal bar or large nail) into a glass of vinegar hooked to a the negative terminal of a car battery and the circuit/connector/wire to be cleaned to the positive terminal then dunk it and it will self clean very rapidly through "sacrificial anode" action (and then the vinegar can be neutralized as normal with your bicarb solution).

    1
    geoff.saul.9
    geoff.saul.9

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thankyou for this information. We have 4 electrically powered fishing kayaks and with the constant exposure of salt water, the wiring has to be regularly replaced because of corrosion to the copper wire. I have added insulation paint to the connections but can't beat the corrosion. Your simple answer has saved us hundreds of dollars each year.

    Regards

    Geoff

    0
    KevinB302
    KevinB302

    Reply 1 year ago

    Marine grade wire is tinned with solder just to prevent this. Best thing I've found to keep the moisture out of the connectors is to keep them slathered in grease. Some use dielectric. I use Vaseline. Scrape the connectors clean with a pocket knife, wire brush, or sand paper, and assemble them with grease. When doing splices, clean the wires by scraping/brushing/sanding, solder tin the wires to be joined, slide clear heat shrink tubing over one wire, lay the tinned ends together and touch them with the soldering iron and they will fuse nicely, then slide the clear heat shrink tubing over the joint, heat shrink one end, pack it with petroleum jelly, then heat shrink the other end. The nice thing is you can instantly inspect the integrity of the splice to see if water has intruded because both the tubing and the grease is essentially transparent (if the splice is green or pink it's had water intrusion).

    0
    solomonhorses
    solomonhorses

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I'm glad that helped. Another thing to try if you are in a marine environment is stainless steel heavy leader cable. It's what you use for fishing heavy game fish. Make all your wires out of that, and make the insulation out of heatshrink. The terminals on the wires can be made from small gauge stainless tubing crimped on the stainless cable wire, and you can drill a small hole in the flat crimped end of the tube. You are basically replacing the assy with all stainless. Most people say stainless doesn't work for electrical, but that is not correct. I have installed all stainless wiring in several boats and never had any wiring issues for years, of constant sea spray. Hope that helps.

    0
    JeffG193
    JeffG193

    Reply 3 years ago

    Stainless is a poor conductor compares to copper. That idea is perhaps ok but only for low amp circuits

    0
    ardrhi
    ardrhi

    Reply 3 years ago

    Even better, make sure the heatshrink is the marine-grade, with the adhesive inside, then hit 'em with a heat gun to shrink it and melt the adhesive to hold it on and seal it tight.

    0
    SeaBoss255
    SeaBoss255

    1 year ago on Introduction

    I live in Florida and I have a boat. The saltwater environment is brutal on all electrical connections... especially on trailers. This saves me a LOT of aggravation!

    0
    jamesbrichmond
    jamesbrichmond

    Question 2 years ago on Introduction

    I wonder how this would work dipping an acid brush in the solutions and scrubbing the wire with it. I have a buttload of wires that I need to apply this technique to and anything that would speed it up would be terrific.

    0
    rkogucki
    rkogucki

    2 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortuntely it didn't work. It took the green corrosion off of the wire, but not the brown tarnish. I tried soaking for 2, 5, 20 and 80 minutes and it just wouldn't come off. I always did the baking soda bath after too. Ideas?

    0
    solomonhorses
    solomonhorses

    Reply 2 years ago

    It sounds like you might have a super tough tarnish that is resistant to the acid at room temp. Try heating up the salt and vinegar solution to near boiling and then put the wire in the hot solution. That should do the trick.

    0
    rkogucki
    rkogucki

    Reply 2 years ago

    Great idea! Thanks for the tip.

    0
    ChuckS32
    ChuckS32

    5 years ago

    Aluminum wire corrodes quite quickly. Does this same process work equally well with aluminum?

    0
    solomonhorses
    solomonhorses

    Reply 5 years ago

    Yes I believe it will work on aluminum as well. Any wire that is corroded in the first place should be cleanable with this corroding solution. Just make sure you neutralize the wire with baking soda water right away!

    0
    PowerPlayer
    PowerPlayer

    Reply 2 years ago

    Tested this on 3/0 Aluminum wire made in 1968-ish. It had no effect on this main household power line. If there is any change in the wire over night I will note it later. In smaller applications, this comes as a reassurance because, it does not react. Frequently Aluminum and Copper have corrosion issues due to the metal interactions and the physical connectors are aluminum/tin mixtures so the aluminum integrity will remain intact.

    Welders have methods for cleaning Aluminum that use stronger chemicals with more involved cleanups or simple soft stainless steel brushes.

    https://www.thefabricator.com/article/aluminumweld...

    and an aluminum tool cleanup method here

    http://www.deweyl.com/tech_tip6.php

    1
    donebysunday
    donebysunday

    Tip 2 years ago on Introduction

    SEEM TO REMEMBER MOM USING SALT AND VINEGAR TO GET COPPER BOTTOM COOKWARE NICE AND COPPER COLORED AGAIN, GREAT TIP, I'D FORGOTTEN