Ask the Experts
May 11, 2011 - Updated
May 8, 2011 - Originally Posted

Devices for Soldering Iron Tip Cleaning

What is the best way to clean a soldering iron tip? Beyond sponges, are there any commercial devices or systems specifically designed for cleaning soldering iron tips?

R. M.

Expert Panel Responses

One of the methods we are starting to see move into the forefront for cleaning solder iron tips is the brass type brillo pad. Although this type of pad has been around for quite a while I think with the use of the new lead-free solders and the new fluxes and tip temperatures, people are getting better results cleaning their tips with the pads as opposed to the damp sponge. I also believe that there is less thermal shock with the brass pad which protects the plating on the tip from allowing the tin from the solder to migrate into the tip and accelerate the dissolution of the tip plating and base materials.

Leo Lambert
Vice President, Technical Director
EPTAC Corporation
At EPTAC Corporation, Mr. Lambert oversees content of course offerings, IPC Certification programs and provides customers with expert consultation in electronics manufacturing, including RoHS/WEEE and lead free issues. Leo is also the IPC General Chairman for the Assembly/Joining Process Committee.

We supply all of our Metcal and OKi branded soldering systems with both the traditional soldering sponge and the Brass Wool for tip cleaning. As Leo states above, the brass wool reduces the thermal shock to the soldering tip reducing the opportunity for micro-cracks to form in the tip plating, increasing tip life. With either method, it is important the sponge or the brass wool be replaced whenever it is dirty or contaminated from the soldering process.

Edward Zamborsky
Regional Sales Manager
OK International Inc.
Ed Zamborsky is a Regional Sales & Technical Support Manager for Thermaltronics, located in New York. His position requires frequent customer visits throughout North America and the Caribbean and his position encompasses not only sales but the role of trainer and master applications engineer for all of Thermaltronics products. His expertise includes such specialties as hand soldering, convection and conduction reflow techniques, array rework, fluid dispensing equipment, and fume extraction. Ed has authored many articles and has presented many papers on topics such as; Low Volume SMT Assembly, Solder Fume Extraction, SMT Rework, BGA Rework, Lead-Free Hand Soldering, High Thermal Demand Hand Soldering, Lead Free Visual Inspection and Lead Free Array Rework.

Soldering tips are often cleaned with tip cleaner or tinner. The majority of these cleaners are a semisolid mixture of phosphoric acid, diammonium salt and tin. There is packaging designed for the workbench for use in cleaning single soldering tips.

Steve Cook
Director of Product Technology
Steve Cook is the Director of Product Technology at Techspray, a division of Illinois Tool Works (ITW) and a leading manufacturer of chemical products for the electronics industry.
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