Cleaning Electrical Connections: A Guide to Electrical Contact Cleaners

Worker carrying disassembled computer

Electrical contact cleaners are specialized cleaning solutions that are designed to remove dirt, dust, and other contaminants from electrical connections. These cleaners are formulated to dissolve and remove oxidation, corrosion, and other types of debris that can negatively impact the performance of electrical devices.

Maintaining clean electrical connections is important for several reasons. First, dirty electrical connections can lead to poor performance or malfunction of electronic devices, which can cause significant downtime and loss of productivity in the workplace. Additionally, dirty electrical connections can cause safety hazards, such as electrical arcing and fires.

Electrical contact cleaners are essential in maintaining the proper functioning of electronic devices and ensuring workplace safety. Regular cleaning of electrical connections with these specialized cleaners can help prevent malfunctions and safety hazards, prolong the lifespan of electronic devices, and improve their overall performance.

Understanding Electrical Contact Cleaners

Understanding electrical contact cleaners is important for anyone who deals with electronics. Here are the three key points to know about them:

Composition of Electrical Contact Cleaners

Electrical contact cleaners typically contain a mixture of solvents, surfactants, and other cleaning agents.

The specific composition can vary depending on the brand and intended use of the cleaner. Some cleaners may also contain lubricants or corrosion inhibitors to help protect the electrical connections.

Types of Electrical Contact Cleaners

When it comes to cleaning electrical connections, using the right type of electrical contact cleaner is crucial to ensure optimal performance and longevity of electronic devices. There are various types of electrical contact cleaners available, each with their unique benefits and drawbacks.

There are two main types are: solvent-based and water-based.

Solvent-based cleaners are typically more powerful and effective at removing tough contaminants, but may not be as environmentally friendly as water-based cleaners. Water-based cleaners are generally safer to use and dispose of, but may not be as effective at removing certain types of contaminants. Solvent-based cleaners typically evaporate quickly, leaving behind a clean and dry surface. Water-based cleaners may require more time to dry, but can be rinsed off with water to remove any remaining residue.

Under the two main types of electrical contact cleaners are as follows:

Compressed Air

First on the list is compressed air. This type of electrical contact cleaner uses high-pressure air to blow away dust and debris that may accumulate on electrical components. Compressed air is a fast and convenient way to clean electrical connections, but it may not be effective in removing tough dirt and grime.

Wire Brushes and Sandpaper

Another method of cleaning electrical connections is through the use of wire brushes and sandpaper. This method involves manually scrubbing the electrical components to remove corrosion, dirt, and other debris. Wire brushes and sandpaper are effective in removing tough dirt and grime, but they can also damage delicate components if used improperly.

Alcohol and Acetone

Rubbing alcohol and acetone are also commonly used as electrical contact cleaners. These solvents are effective in removing dirt and grime, and they evaporate quickly, leaving no residue behind. However, they should be used with caution as they can damage certain types of plastics and rubber.

Specialty Contact Cleaners

Specialty contact cleaners are also available for specific types of electronic components. For instance, contact cleaners specifically designed for circuit boards or switches are available. These specialty cleaners are often formulated to be non-conductive, which is essential for delicate components.

Ultrasonic Cleaning

Ultrasonic cleaning is another type of electrical contact cleaner. This method uses high-frequency sound waves to create small bubbles that remove dirt and debris from electrical components. Ultrasonic cleaning is effective in removing even the smallest particles, but it requires specialized equipment and may not be practical for small-scale cleaning.

Signs That Your Electronics Need Contact Cleaners

If you notice any issues with your electronics, it's important to assess whether they might need contact cleaners. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Corrosion: If you see any signs of rust or corrosion on the metal parts of your electronics, it may indicate that there is moisture or other contaminants present. Corrosion can negatively affect the performance of electronic devices, so it's important to address it as soon as possible.
  • Dust and Debris: If you notice a buildup of dust or debris on the surfaces of your electronics, it may be a sign that the electrical connections are dirty. Dust and debris can interfere with the proper functioning of electronic devices and may cause them to overheat or malfunction.
  • Oxidation: Oxidation is a chemical process that can cause discoloration or a hazy film to form on the surfaces of electronic components. This can indicate that the metal is starting to break down and may need to be cleaned with a contact cleaner.
  • Signs of Wear and Tear: If you notice any signs of wear and tear on the electrical connections, such as frayed wires or loose connections, it may be a sign that they need to be cleaned and inspected. Neglecting to address these issues can lead to more serious problems down the line.

Choosing The Right Electrical Contact Cleaner

Choosing the right electrical contact cleaner is crucial in maintaining the optimal performance of your electronics. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right cleaner:

Factors to consider when choosing the right cleaner:

  • Type of contaminants: Different cleaners are designed to remove specific types of contaminants such as dust, dirt, oil, grease, and oxidation. Identify the type of contaminants on your electronic device before selecting a cleaner to ensure effective cleaning.
  • Surface materials: The surface materials of the electrical connections should also be considered as some materials can be sensitive to certain cleaners. For instance, using an abrasive cleaner on plastic surfaces may cause damage or discoloration. Be sure to read the label of the cleaner for any warnings or precautions before use.
  • Intended use: The intended use of the cleaner is also a significant factor. For delicate electronics, milder cleaners are recommended to avoid damaging sensitive components.
  • Environmental considerations: The environmental impact of the cleaner is an important factor to consider. Some cleaners contain chemicals that are toxic to the environment and human health. Therefore, it is advisable to choose cleaners that have low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, are non-toxic, biodegradable, and do not have ozone-depleting substances. Avoid using cleaners with hazardous materials such as chlorine, trichloroethylene, and benzene as they pose significant health and environmental risks.

Selecting the appropriate electrical contact cleaner requires considering the type of contaminants, surface materials, intended use of the cleaner, and environmental impact. By carefully selecting the right cleaner, you can maintain the optimal performance of your electronic devices, while protecting both the environment and your health.

How To Use Electrical Contact Cleaners

Here are some steps to follow when using electrical contact cleaners:

Preparation Before Using Electrical Contact Cleaners

  • Turn off and unplug the electronic device before cleaning. This ensures that there is no current running through the device and reduces the risk of electric shock.
  • Identify the areas that need cleaning, paying particular attention to areas that have visible signs of corrosion, dirt, or dust. Use a flashlight or magnifying glass if necessary.
  • Select the appropriate cleaner based on the type of contaminants and materials of the device.

Steps to Take When Using Electrical Contact Cleaners

  • Apply the cleaner to a lint-free cloth, cotton swab, or brush, depending on the size and accessibility of the area to be cleaned.
  • Gently rub the cloth or swab over the area to be cleaned, making sure to remove all visible dirt or debris.
  • If necessary, repeat the process until the surface is completely clean.
  • Allow the surface to dry completely before turning the device back on and plugging it in.

Safety Precautions to Observe

  • Always wear gloves and eye protection when using electrical contact cleaners as they may contain chemicals that can irritate or damage the skin and eyes.
  • Use the cleaner in a well-ventilated area or use a respirator to avoid inhaling fumes or vapors.
  • Avoid using the cleaner near an open flame or heat source as some cleaners are flammable.
  • Store the cleaner in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area, away from heat or sources of ignition.

It is important to take the necessary precautions to ensure safety during use. By following the proper steps and safety precautions, you can effectively clean your electronic devices and avoid any damage or harm.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Cleaning Electrical Connections

Cleaning electrical connections is an essential part of maintaining electronic devices, but there are some common mistakes to avoid when doing so. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid:

  • Overuse of electrical contact cleaners: Overusing contact cleaners can cause damage to the contacts and the surrounding components. Using too much cleaner can also leave behind a residue that can attract dust and dirt, making the contacts even dirtier over time. It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions and use the recommended amount of cleaner.
  • Use of unsuitable cleaning tools: Using abrasive materials or tools like sandpaper, wire brushes, or metal wool can damage the contacts and surrounding components. It is important to use soft, lint-free cloths or cotton swabs to avoid damaging the contacts and to ensure that no fibers are left behind. It is also important to use non-metallic tools when cleaning to avoid scratching the contacts or causing other damage.

Failure to Observe Safety Precautions

  • Not wearing gloves or eye protection can expose you to the chemicals in the cleaner, which can cause skin irritation and eye damage.
  • Failing to work in a well-ventilated area can expose you to fumes or vapors from the cleaner, which can be harmful if inhaled.
  • Using electrical contact cleaners near an open flame or heat source can be dangerous as some cleaners are flammable.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help ensure that you are properly cleaning electrical contacts and avoiding any potential damage or harm. By using the right amount of cleaner, suitable cleaning tools, and observing safety precautions, you can keep your electronic devices functioning optimally.

Overall, it is essential to prioritize the maintenance of electronics with electrical contact cleaners to prevent any adverse effects on devices. It is important to choose the right cleaner, observe safety precautions, and use suitable cleaning tools to avoid damage to devices. Regular cleaning of electrical contacts is crucial for the smooth functioning of devices and can help prevent costly repairs.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.