Electronic – How to clean the soldering iron tip or how to determine that it’s beyond repair


First, I've read though questions Soldering Iron Maintenance and Going through Soldering tips quickly and was unable to solve my problem. I have recently (as in less then a month ago) obtained Multitip 25 ERSA Microsoldering iron with 0172BD/10 tip.

From the start I had problems wetting the tip. I tried everything but solder just wouldn't flow over the whole tip. I later found information in one of manufacturer's catalogs that I should wrap solder with flux around the tip and then turn on the iron. After few tries, I managed to get a big part of the tip wet (and it was working great), but one small part wouldn't wet.

After some soldering I decided to try to get whole tip wet and obtained 0TR01/SB tip refresher. After using it according to the manual, the whole tip was covered in black substance which should be easily removable, but it isn't.

Now about half of the tip is contaminated and about half seems to be working (I managed to clean the working part).

My question is: Is there any other way to clean the tip? Two things from questions I linked I didn't use were dedicated tip cleaning mesh (couldn't find a source of them in my country) and flux outside the wire (because I don't have any at the moment) and how to decide when a tip is dead and needs replacing?

Also, how do the tip refreshers feel (I'm assuming that they are more or less all alike)? I often find them described as paste, while the one I got is solid (but melts when in contact with hot tip).

Best Answer

(Solid) tip "tinners" are almost always ammonium phosphate with some tin (or tin-lead) bits mixed in. They are moderately aggressive at cleaning oxides off, so shouldn't be used constantly, but only when needed. The best tip tinner is your solder--tips should always be coated with a small amount of solder.

If some of the oxides are just sticking really well, you could try to mildly abrade them on a brass sponge, copper braid, or similar, but you can't be too hard or you will damage the iron plating (good tips are typically copper core, plated with iron, then chromium everywhere but the working area).

Practice good tip care. I use a Hakko iron and tips at work and mine has lasted about a year (moderately light use, maybe 5-6 projects). Put a good amount of solder on the tip when storing it or leaving it idle for any length of time; don't, for instance, wipe it off, put it in the holder, then leave it on over lunch.

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