5 Ways to Maintain Your Soldering Iron Tip

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Do you have a dull soldering iron tip that just wont do what you want it to anymore? Without proper maintenance soldering tips will not last as long as they could, and the cost of frequently replacing tips is expensive compared to using all of these methods. Not sure which method to pick? Well that's what we are here to help with. Let's start with the basics.

Helpful Tips for Your Tip 

1. Check that the tip has been installed properly and be sure that the tip on the soldering iron is securely fastened. If the tip is not secure, the tip may not be getting hot enough to melt solder.

2. When working with flux other than solder wire, avoid direct contact with your soldering iron because the acids in the flux will corrode the tip. 

3. When the tip is secure and able to heat to the optimal temperature the user will know whether they are working with good or bad solder. Good solder will melt at the proper melting point whereas bad (old) solder will not melt at its melting point due to oxide build up.

Method #1 - Wet Sponge

The wet sponge is the most common method of tip cleaning. It is standard issue on almost every soldering station out there. 
Cost-effective
Highly-efficient at cleaning flux acids
Sponge can be cleaned for extended use
Momentarily drops tip temperature
Thermal-shock from water can shorten tip life

How to Clean Using a Wet Sponge

Take a spray bottle filled with water and wet the entire sponge but don't drown it. Too much water will affect cleaning and tip life and not enough will leave burn marks.
To check this, push down on the center of the sponge with your finger, if you get a pool of water it is too damp. 
Try cleaning the iron by dragging it across the sponge in two passes to clean all sides of the tip. You should hear a “Pssh” sound to let you know its clean. If you don’t hear this the iron is either not hot enough or the sponge not wet enough.
Drag the broad part of the iron tip across the sponge diagonally from the top of one side to the bottom of the other.
Keeping the same grip on the iron make a half circle turn and drag across the sponge in the opposite direction to clean the other side of the iron tip.
PRO TIP: When there's too much solder applied to your tip or you want to simply remove excess, you can flick it off into your sponge to remove quickly. Be careful of molten solder and wear safety protection.   

Method #2 - Abrasive Brass Coils

This waterless method of cleaning uses soft brass coils to remove solder from the tip quickly without dropping temperature.
Fairly inexpensive
No risk of thermal-shock to the iron
Indent on enclosure for resting iron
Doesn't clean as well as water
Although soft, the abrasiveness can still shorten tip life.

How to Clean Using Brass Coils

Plunge the soldering iron tip directly into the brass coils and push back and forth until clean. 
When the solder and flux buildup starts affecting cleaning, flip over the coils and use clean side to extend life. 
SRA SOLDER PRO TIP
For beginners and most solderers we recommend using tip tinner to keep your tip clean and tinned. This is a very convenient and safe method that works better than solder wire because it is less acidic and formulated for this purpose. The sal ammoniac bar is suitable for more advanced users who are comfortable using more dangerous chemicals to bring extremely oxidized tips back to life. There's a point where your tips cannot be saved, so if neither of these methods work it is time to get some new tips!

Method #4 - Tip Tinner

A compressed tablet that contains a mixture Lead Free Solder and oxide reducing compounds. Used for safe cleaning and re-tinning of blackened and highly oxidized soldering iron tips.
No wasted solder wire
Fast and efficient cleaning
Re-tin highly blackend oxidized tips safely
Momentarily drops tip temperature
Thermal-shock from water can shorten tip life

How to Use Tip Tinner

Heat the soldering iron to around 320°C.
Next, brush the iron on a wet sponge or brass coils several times to remove any surface oxidation.
Put the tip into the center of the tip tinner.
You should see some smoke which is normal. When the metal starts to melt let the tip sit for about 10 seconds. You may need to rotate the tip in the tip tinner if the tip is large or the amount of tip tinner is getting low.
Brush the tip off on the sponge or brass coils to remove excess solder.
Now try to tin the tip with flux cored solder to see if it will accept it. If it does, you are done and can begin your work. If not, repeat this procedure. Do not use water soluble flux as this can corrode the tip at elevated temperatures.

Method #5 - Sal Ammoniac Bar

Sal Ammoniac, also called a tinning block, quickly cleans any carbon build-up that collects on the tip of a soldering iron. Simply rub the tip of a hot iron against the block and its clean!
Block lasts a long time
Non-abrasive, will not damage tips
Quickly cleans carbon buildup on oxidized tips
More toxic than tip tinner
Recommended for professional use

How to Safely Use a Sal Ammoniac Bar

Heat your soldering iron up to about 350°C. 
Once the tip is hot, wipe it on a brass coil a few times to remove any excess solder that might be on it.
For best results, use a sharp tool to dig a hole into the sal ammoniac bar creating a small pile of powder in the hole.
Mix the powder with some solder in the hole. You can do this by transferring a small amount of solder on the tip of the hot iron or by cutting a small chunk of solder off the roll and then putting it into the hole in the block.
Stir the contents of the hole with the tip of the hot soldering iron.
Remember, this is toxic. Do not breathe the fumes!
Wipe the iron on a damp sponge or in brass coil.
Use the tip of the iron to push the solder/sal ammoniac into the sides of the hole (think of it as the same motion as creaming sugar and butter together).
Repeat until the tip is completely re-tinned and silver. Now, never ever let the tip be any color other than silver again!
Remember to tin the tip with fresh solder after each use. Do not use water soluble flux as this can corrode the tip at high temperatures.
As with all soldering products, it is highly recommended that you use this product in a well ventilated area or with a durable smoke absorber.

Practice Healthy Tip Habits

There are many things you can do to make sure that your tip keeps a healthy layer of tin. Here are some of the causes of de-tinning that you want to avoid.
  • Failure to keep the working end of the tip covered with solder during idling periods.

  • Operating at high temperatures, which speeds oxidation. Maintain the temperature of 608°F (320°C), or less, whenever possible.

  • Use of very small solder wire. Its small diameter carries inadequate flux to keep the tip.

  • Lack of flux in the soldering operation.

  • Use of no clean fluxes and low-residue fluxes.

  • Repair and touch-up, and the use of wick.

  • Wiping of tips on dry sponges, man-made sponges, rags, paper towels, or metal wool in lieu of a wet cellulose sponge.

We hope this post was helpful, let us know if you have any questions or comments below!

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