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Guide To Electrical Contact Cleaners

6/8/22

When it comes to electrical contacts, failures can be costly. Cleaning electrical contacts is one way to prevent unnecessary failure and can even extend the lifespan of your electrical system. Electrical contact cleaners are the best way to address rust, oxidation and debris as part of your regular maintenance plan.

What Are Electrical Contacts?

Electrical contacts occur when two different circuits carrying electricity connect. According to Electric Energy Online, contacts can take many forms, including permanent contacts or contacts that are designed to be opened and closed. Contacts allow the supply of power to be controlled, and usually take the form of switches or clamps. 

Contacts can be made from several different materials depending on the application, but copper is the most common. Copper can also be plated with silver or mixed with materials like tungsten to increase conductivity or reduce wear. 

Over time, electrical contacts can oxidize or corrode through the presence of moisture and oxygen. Depending on the facility, electrical connections may prematurely degrade due to high pressure, high temperatures or harsh chemicals. Even small amounts of oxidation can coat metal in a thin layer of material. This, in turn, reduces conductivity and can cause contact failure. 

Dirt, debris or dust can also sometimes cause poor electrical connections.

Selecting the Right Electrical Contact Cleaner

Adding regular electrical contact cleaning to your maintenance plan can help prevent corrosion and oxidation before connection failure. Electrical contact cleaners come in several types, from physical tools to sprays and chemicals. According to Mechanic Base, selecting the right contact cleaner depends on the type of metals used and the type of corrosion. Here are some options:

Compressed Air

By using compressed air, either from an air compressor or aerosol can, you can blow out debris and improve the electrical connection. Compressed air is not appropriate for connections with oxidation or rust, however. These will require chemical or physical cleaning.

Wire Brushes and Sandpaper

Physical cleaners such as wire brushes and lightly abrasive sandpaper require force to remove corrosion. Both sandpaper and wire brushes work on a range of connection types. After cleaning with sandpaper or a wire brush, wipe connections down to remove debris.

Rubbing Alcohol and Acetone

Ordinary rubbing alcohol can clean sensitive electronic parts. Alcohol-based cleaners are safe to use on sensitive materials like plastics and ABS pipe, too. Acetone works similarly to alcohol, but should not be used on ABS, plastic or rubber components.

Specialty Contact Cleaners

Specialty contact cleaners are sprays or chemicals designed to remove dirt and grime, corrosion and oxidation from electrical contacts. Some cleaners are highly flammable or toxic, and should only be used in well-ventilated areas with the power shut off. Other cleaners are designed for high temperatures or voltages, when power cannot be shut off. Labels on contact cleaners will always designate whether they are safe to use with most plastics or if they are safe to use with all plastics. Using improper cleaners can dissolve and break down plastic parts, however. Brake fluid, for example, should not be used as a contact cleaner, according to Mechanic Base. It can break down plastic parts and cause further damage to electrical parts.

How to Use Contact Cleaners

The instructions for each contact cleaner will depend on the specific product, but in general, there are several steps to cleaning a contact. The most important step, if possible, is to shut off power before undertaking any contact maintenance. If shutting off the power is not possible, using a high-dielectric strength rated product (at least over 30 kV) will be best, and a nonflammable option in case of any sparking. 

  1. Shut off power to the connection and ensure it stays off during maintenance. Cleaners not rated for electrical load can catch fire.
  2. Remove any visible debris such as dirt and dust using compressed air. 
  3. If using a contact cleaner, test the cleaner in a safe place before applying it to a contact. This can prevent a costly failure if a reaction occurs that damages the component.
  4. Depending on the material, either apply rubbing alcohol or baking soda and vinegar, use a wire brush or sandpaper or select the right contact cleaner for the type of connection and metal.
  5. Cleanup may be needed to remove residue and debris. If you use wire brushes or sandpaper, you will also need to clean debris off.
  6. Before restoring power, ensure that the connection is back in the same position as it was before cleaning.
  7. Restore power and inspect for any irregularities.

Get more tips and insights on electrical safety here.

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.