Ask the Experts
January 27, 2023 - Updated
January 25, 2012 - Originally Posted

Cleaning with Sodium Bicarbonate

Is there an affect on PCBA long term reliability for assemblies cleaned with a "Sodium Bicarbonate" scrub, followed by DI water rinse, to remove tarnishing of silver immersion plating?

L. P.

Expert Panel Responses

Cleaning with sodium carbonate is an option however it is very important to remove all ionic cleaning by-products after the wash cycle is completed.It is important to test after the final rinse the circuit card in question to see if all ionic residues are completely removed.

Unusually ionic chromatography is the preferred method. If ionics are not present after this test it indicates adequate removal of sodium and carbonates has occurred.If residual ionic contaminants remain, electrical reliability is the risk associated with this cleaning method since sodium bicarbonate is very conductive.

Peter Biocca
Senior Market Development Engineer
Mr. Biocca was a chemist with many years experience in soldering technologies. He presented around the world in matters relating to process optimization and assembly. He was the author of many technical papers delivered globally. Mr. Biocca was a respected mentor in the electronics industry. He passed away in November, 2014.

A lot depends upon what will be done to the silver after it is scrubbed. If the silver plated pads will be soldered AND all residue from the scrubbing agent have been completely removed, there should not be any reliability issues.

If the silver finish is used for something other than soldering (e.g. ZIF contacts, ACF connection), the scrubbing would most likely remove any anti-tarnish agents and could cause the silver to tarnish much more quickly.

Mark Finstad
Senior Applications Engineer
Flexible Circuit Technologies
Mark Finstad has over 30 years in the flex circuit industry in both design and manufacturing. He is a regular speaker at IPC APEX (Professional development courses) and PCB West (flex circuit design courses). He is also vice chair of IPC-2223 and active member of IPC-6013. Finstad has extensive experience with both domestic and off-shore manufacturing.

That gets an "It Depends" kind of answer. Whether or not you have long term reliability issues depends on the thoroughness of your DI water rinse. High levels of residual sodium could result in leakage currents in humid conditions, but would probably not result in corrosion.

What soil are you trying to remove or dissolve with sodium bicarb and why did you choose bicarb as your cleaning media?

Doug Pauls
Principal Materials and Process Engineer
Collins Aerospace
Doug Pauls has a bachelors in Chemistry & Physics, Carthage College, BSEE, Univ of Wisc Madison. He has 9 years working experience for US Navy - Materials Lab, Naval Avionics Center Indianapolis. 8 years Technical Director, Contamination Studies Laboratories. 11 years Rockwell Collins Advanced Operations Engineering.

I am assuming you are relying on the abrasiveness of the sodium bicarbonate as fine scrub compound to remove the oxide and return the shine. Are these bare PCB's? Once again your question is vague so I am assuming they are bare, without mounted components.

As far as using it on a PCB, well this is an unusual request but I foresee no issues provided it is properly rinsed. Sodium bicarbonate or commonly called baking soda is a very safe substance, used in antacids and cooking. About a decade or more back one company found a way to incorporate it into an aqueous flux cleaner in lieu of a traditional saponifier.

Personally I would focus on preventing the tarnish. Why are you getting tarnish to begin with? Silver tarnishes quickly when exposed with hydrogen sulfide in the air. How old are these boards? After building the boards are they shipped and stored in airtight packaging? It is also common to have acid free tissue paper placed between each board to prevent tarnishing.

Another method instead of manual scrubbing and perhaps causing damage to the board surface is a simple experiment in the following link; would be curious to see how this works for you. Please keep me posted on your efforts.

Charlie Pitarys
Technical Expert Sales Support
Kyzen Corporation
Charlie Pitarys has over thirty years of industry experience and has been with KYZEN for twenty-one years. Charlie is a former Marine and a retired Sargent First Class in the Army Reserves. His previous employers include Hollis and Electrovert. Charlie continues to use his expertise on cleaning processes and machine mechanics to help KYZEN customers and partners improve their cleaning operations.

Reader Comment
Immersion silver is a temporary finish. Its usefulness lasts until the board is soldered. It was never intended to be a durable finish and therefore it should applied only on circuit conductors intended to be soldered.
Marwan Rahal, Holaday Circuits, Inc.

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