How to Remove Oxidation from a Soldering Iron Tip

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Oxidation occurs when oxygen combines in any element, in this case, iron to form iron oxide. The soldering iron tip’s surface does not get wet and blackens once it gets oxidized. The process occurs even at room temperature. Extreme temperatures mostly hasten it during soldering. The oxides form a coating on the tip impeding heat transfer and the wetting of the tip. 

When this happens, the soldering iron is never adequately hot, and the solder begins to accumulate on the tip instead of flowing normally, respectively. It is advisable to clean the tips after use because the longer the oxides and flux residues sit on the tip, the harder it gets to clean. Clean your tip regularly for longer tip-life and easier use.

How to Remove Mild Oxidation

Soldering iron tips are always exposed to oxidization because of the temperatures. Being sensitive, you must always be on the lookout for any changes in its performance, either ineffectiveness or physical changes, color for instance, or build up. You can clean the tip through:

• Set the soldering temperature at a typical range between 250°C -300°C.

• Apply to the solder tip solder cored with flux. The temperature range activates the solder’s flux and starts the chemical reaction to remove the oxidation without burning it.

• Clean the tip with specially designed cleaners or brass wool (dry-cleaner). The brass wool comprises of soft chippings of metal coated with flux. You dip the iron tip in the chippings until the oxidation is removed.

• Repeat steps 2 or 3 times. When oxidation is completely removed, the tip manifests normal wetting; there is no accumulation. For mild oxidation, repeating the process more than three times is not necessary.

You can remove oxides easier by wiping the soldering iron tip in a wet sponge. Be careful not to get a thermal shock while doing this. Therefore, it is advisable to use the dry cleaner options to avoid shock, do a faster job, and increase the life of the iron tip.

Your soldering iron tip might not respond to these fixes, and you can consider removing severe oxidation. 

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How to Remove Severe Oxidation

Severe oxidation means the solder tip cannot restore its wettability even after following the steps to removing mild oxidation. You might want to consider tinning or a chemical paste. A tin tinner has a mild acid that removes the oxides formed at the tip. It also serves as a coating for the iron tip, protecting it from the rapid oxidation. A chemical paste is a combination of solder paste and flux more activated for the removal of oxides.

• Set the soldering temperature at a typical range between 250°C -300°C.

• After settling on a temperature within that range, dip the soldering iron tip into the tinner. Ensure the tinner or the chemical paste covers the entire tip.

• Allow the tinning product/chemical paste to melt around the solder tip. Once it melts, use brass wool, any other dry cleaner, or an automatic to clean.

• Repeat steps 2 or 3 times. When oxidation is completely removed, the tip manifests normal wetting; there is no accumulation.

Normal flow is regained

Employ a soft steel brush to remove the oxidation. Make sure to brush the oxides off gently and cover it with the solder immediately to avoid further oxidation.

Using sandpaper to remove oxidation is ill-advised. Abrasive materials destroy the plating on soldering tips and limit tip-life.

Black flux residue on the chrome surface of the tip is not detrimental to the tip’s effectiveness. Avoid cleaning the residue at all costs because you might destroy it by eroding the iron under the tinned surface.

Consider using high-quality irons; cheaper irons do not have their temperature regulated, which translates to running extremely hot. The extreme temperatures attract rapid oxidation.

Oxidation can potentially damage the soldering iron tip completely. You can prevent this by:

• Turn off the when not in use: This reduces the amount of time it is in high temperatures, consequently the oxidation process. Though room temperature allows for oxidation, it happens much slower. You can go for soldering irons designed to turn off when not in use automatically.

• Avoid excessive heat: there are different solder types that come with specified temperatures to apply. Extreme temperatures attract oxidation build-up and limit the soldering iron’s tip life. Solders that do not contain lead mostly employ very high temperatures. Today’s solder market offers soldering irons that automatically regulate temperatures increasing the soldering tip life.

• Always ensure the tip is clean: Always keep the tip clean. You can use a wet sponge or the dry cleaning options discussed above. Make sure to pinpoint your preferred cleaning method or that which your soldering iron responds better to.

• Apply a protective layer of solder: After cleaning the soldering iron tip, dip it into a fresh solder. This layer will protect it from oxidation when you put it away. Make sure the solder covers the whole tip.

How to Store Your Solder Tips

The way you store your soldering iron tips can determine how well they perform and how long they last. Hence, follow the recommended storing tips every time. If you are storing your soldering iron for a shorter period, stick it in a secure iron holder. Make sure it does not stay at the operating temperature to avoid affecting its lifespan.

However, if you are storing your tips for an extended period, clean and tin them to prevent oxidation. After letting the tips cool, keep them in a sealed container, for instance, a bag or a case to further protect them from contamination, humidity, and oxidation. Makes sure you loosen the screw or nut that holds the tip in place to prevent it from getting stuck i.e., seizing. 

A well-maintained soldering iron guarantees long service. Regulate temperatures and keep your tips clean always. Finally, if you are not soldering, ensure you turn the iron off. It is essential to understand that the natural oxidation process occurs at a slower rate at room temperature. Ergo, if you are not using the iron, turn it off. Also, familiarizing with the soldering iron’s manufacturer’s guidelines is crucial to increasing your soldering iron’s lifespan. 

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