How to Clean Electrical Contacts for Power Continuity (2023)

Ideally, whenever there is no electrical output, there is a power disruption somewhere in the given system, power tools, or electrical appliances. That said, most of us resort to calling automotive mechanics due to the fear of being electrocuted. Nonetheless, electrical disruptions are also caused by dirty electrical contacts. Fortunately, you can clean electrical contacts by yourself and restore the electrical flow.

Subsequently, we have prepared a guide to help you understand the cleaning of contacts in electrical components. Even so, contacts in electrical equipment are always found behind covers and should be handled carefully. Therefore, before you clean contacts, you need to have the right repair information and the tools needed to avoid compromising the integrity of electrical equipment. Before we get to the concept of a contact cleaner, let's first understand the menace that affects electrical contacts.

What Causes Dirty Electrical Contacts?

In cars, electrical contacts are often exposed to dust and humidity, which cause rusting and oxidation. As a result, such elements tend to disrupt power transmission, causing electrical malfunctioning. In most cases, oxidation is inevitable since it's caused by oxygen reacting with different metals that make the said contacts.

Moreover, oxidation occurs even when contacts are protected under covers due to arcing. Ideally, debris can form around contacts due to self-extinguishing AC arcs during zero-crossing. Accordingly, it's impossible to avoid oxidation, but good thing you can control it easily. As an automotive mechanic blog site, we view the contact dirt and oxidation as a constant reminder of taking care of your vehicle's sensitive electronics.

How to Clean Electrical Contacts for Power Continuity (1)

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Effects of Dirty Electrical Contacts

Allowing electrical contacts to sit with dirt for long is not healthy for your automotive. First, your vehicle might fail to start due to dirty electrical contacts within the system. As a result, you may end up doing a car battery replacement while you only need to clean the terminals.

In other cases, your vehicle's check engine light might be too stubborn to deal with due to contaminated electrical contacts. Cumulatively, contact dirt can affect any electrical circuit within your car, leading to deeper malfunctions. But not to worry, we offer emergency towing services whenever your car malfunctions without notice.

How To Improve Electrical Continuity?

Most importantly, cleaning electrical contacts within your vehicle is the only solution. Acknowledging that some, if not most of us, didn't know of electrical contacts, you'll be forgiven for the large dirt accumulations around electrical contacts. Luckily, no situation is irredeemable as long as there are no burnt circuits or components. Also, if you're unable to tell what the cause of the electrical malfunction is, you can contact a mobile mechanic for a better check.

Subsequently, cleaning as the solution to electrical continuity, you can either use mechanical or chemical approaches. In particular, when using the chemical approach, we will encounter the concept of contact cleaner. Nonetheless, regardless of the cleaning approach, you won't do it daily but occasionally to avoid accumulations.

What is a Contact Cleaner?

A contact cleaner is a decontamination solvent that reacts with the dirt around conductive surfaces to remove it quickly. Ideally, there are different electrical contact cleaners in the market that help in cleaning various electronic devices. Examples of contact cleaners include a battery terminal cleaner and a switch cleaner.

Considering that most contact cleaners come in spray form, it helps mechanics to remove rust in tight areas that cannot fit a hand. Similarly, contact cleaners will help you remove dirt from your car's electrical components. Therefore, having accurate technical information about an electrical cleaner will help you deal with contact contamination.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Contact Cleaner Kit

1. Flammability

Most effective contact cleaners contain hydrocarbon solvents and alcohol components, which are highly flammable. The same components provide optimal performance while dealing with oxidation contamination, but pose a safety hazard. Considering that such components might be inevitable, you should avoid using such cleaners near sparks or open flames. Alternatively, you can opt for a safe cleaner without or least-flammable components.

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High flash (HF) Cleaners

Electrical contact cleaners with the HF feature imply they're combustible, but their vapors won't combust at normal ambient temperatures. To obtain a solvent's HF value, it's heated to its boiling point as the vapors are attempted to be ignited. Therefore, the flashpoint is the time when the vapor lights.

Resultantly, high flash cleaners are safer to use and are also low cost suiting their effectiveness. To further make these solvents have slow evaporation, they are made with citrus-based or terpene-based solvents. Eventually, HF cleaners or solvents are effective in removing contact contaminations.

2. Rubber and Plastic Compatibility

Contact surfaces are often protected by plastic covers and rubber seals from the outside environment, which contributes to rust and oxidation. Accordingly, as you apply cleaners, such housing materials are vulnerable to chemical corrosion. As a result, a harsh solvent on rubber and plastic might embrittle covers causing small cracks. Therefore we recommend, choosing contact solvents that will be friendly to rubber gaskets and plastic housing.

3. Dielectric Strength

Dielectric strength refers to the capability of an electrical material to handle maximum electric field before the degradation of its insulating properties. This feature is applicable as you use contact cleaners when power is on. Ideally, a cleaner with the highest dielectric strength is best to use. Subsequently, it won't cause the target material to break down causing a current flow that might lead to a short circuit.

4. Toxicity

In your search for non-flammable cleaners, you should be careful about the chemicals used to provide this performance. For instance, chemicals like Trichloroethylene (TCE) and -N-Propyl Bromide (nPB) can be found in such solvents but are toxic. As such, these chemicals have been attributed to headaches, dizziness, and even cancer among car users. Consequently, car owners and mechanics should opt for non-toxic cleaners.

5. Environmental Issues

In the recent wake of reducing carbon emissions, it's important to use cleaners that are friendly to the environment. Despite other automotive mechanics sticking to the functionality of these solvents, manufacturers are continually phasing out solvents with Chrolofluorocarbons. Accordingly, you should choose cleaning products that don't have Global Warming Potential (GWP) materials or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Contact Cleaning Solutions

By now, you know the benefits of clean electronics. To further help you do the same cleaning, there are various methods you can use to clean conducting contacts. Primarily, the cleaning products you use will depend on the type of dirt and its accumulation level on a conductive surface.

Mechanical or Manual Contact Cleaning

At first, the dirt accumulated on contacts might be tough to take out, requiring extra labor using a steel brush or a scrubbing tool. Using a brush to remove oxidation is a common method, especially when metal oxides have piled to form a hard accumulation. Not to worry about small spaces; you can find micro brushes of different diameters to suit any small electrical connectors.

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Moreover, a steel brush might be used to soften dirt accumulation for easy use of chemical sprays. Subsequently, you can spray a contact cleaning solution and brush as you ease the contamination. Also, we can not discredit the fact that a brush is a cheaper option than cleaning solutions.

Overall, using a scrubber or a brush saves your risks of dielectric strength, toxicity, plastic compatibility, and flammability. Nevertheless, ensure you wear protective clothing such as gloves to protect your hands as you move your brush back and forth. Also, it's best to disconnect the surface you are cleaning from its power source to avoid sparks and electrical shorts. In the end, scrub or brush gently to avoid damaging the electrical connections in your automotive.

Chemical Electrical Contact Cleaning

Alternatively, you can use an electrical contact cleaner with chemicals that can react with the target contamination for quicker cleaning. Accordingly, the thicker the accumulation the stronger the cleaning solution you will require. Fortunately, recently created cleaners handle a variety of contaminations, including metal oxides, organics, grease, and dust. In most cases, electrical connections are faced with a combination of these contaminants.

Therefore, there are different solvents you can use for contact cleaning. These different forms differ in affordability or availability, and effectiveness. On this account, here are some of the chemical, electrical cleaner options you can use.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol is an effective contact cleaning solution especially for dissolving grime. You just need to rub or spray alcohol on the entire surface of the target contacts. However, before you apply the alcohol, switch off the power to avoid causing shorts.

Ideally, isopropyl alcohol is superior to other forms of alcohol, like rubbing alcohol. This type of alcohol has a more degreasing ability than other alcohol types. It is also safe to apply isopropyl alcohol on electrical surfaces.

Additionally, you can complement your rub or spray with a gentle micro brush over the target surface. Also, it would help if you left the isopropyl alcohol to sit in for a few seconds to dissolve the dirt and grease before scrubbing with the micro-brush. Other forms of alcohol you can use to clean electrical contacts include rubbing alcohol and white spirit. Even so, we recommend against using white spirit since it leaves a residue on electrical contacts.

Can You Clean Electrical Contacts With Vinegar?

Yes, you can use vinegar to clean electrical contacts. Cleaning electrical contact areas is convenient with vinegar since it's locally available even at home. Nonetheless, you should switch off the power source to avoid electrical accidents. After that, you can use a micro brush or cotton to wipe the vinegar and dissolved dirt.

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2. Nail Polish Remover

You can also clean electrical contacts with a nail polish remover. This solvent removes dirt from an electrical device by loosening the grime and oxides for easier removal with a brush. Accordingly, ensure power is first taken off before applying the remover. Finally, scrub gently with a brush to remove the loosened and remaining contact contamination after applying it.

3. Using a Contact Cleaner Kit

Alcohol, vinegar, or nail polish remover are poor choices for some when cleaning conducting surfaces. Alternatively, you can use a contact cleaner kit to handle metal oxides, grime, and dirt effectively. True to their nature, cleaning kits rid contacts of various contaminants faster and easier.

Moreover, as kits, they come with the necessary cleaning equipment such as a precision mini-pipe, a micro brush, and a lint-free cloth. Even more, they come with pressurized solvents that clean electrical contacts easily through spraying. For instance, you can use wd40 to clean electrical contacts on printed circuit boards with higher effectiveness and precision.

4. Hydrogen Peroxide

Chemically, hydrogen peroxide is an effective grease and dirt cleaner, but it's not conducive to electrical connections. Cleaning electrical contacts with hydrogen peroxide leads to the unwanted corrosion of contacts and wires. Therefore, this is the last resort on our list of contact cleaning solutions. Alternatively, you can use Acetone for better oil-handling capabilities without risking corrosion to the electrical system.

How to Prevent Contamination of Contacts

After effectively using an electrical contact cleaner, you must protect electrical connections from contamination. Yes, they eventually get dirt accumulations, but some protection reduces the frequency of accumulations and prevents electrical malfunctions. Fortunately, you can find an electrical contact cleaner with oil components that provide rust protection.

Also, you can use a deep-penetrating lubricant to get rid of moisture within electrical areas while preventing oxidation. Moreover, you can use a dry lubricant to provide long-lasting protection against corrosion. At best, a dry lube doesn't attract dirt quickly and effectively stops oxidation. Nonetheless, you should replace dry lubricants after some time since they will have accumulated oil and dust.

Frequently Asked Question on Electrical Contact Cleaners

1. Should I turn off the power before cleaning contacts?

We strongly recommend shutting down your power to prevent harmful electrical conductivity as you clean contacts. Subsequently, this precaution prevents discharges, electrical shorts, and sparks that may cause harm to you and the electrical components of your car. Alternatively, you can use a non-flammable contact cleaner with a dielectric strength above 30 kV to prevent any fire or electrical accidents.

2. Is WD-40 good for cleaning electrical contacts?

Yes, it effectively cleans contacts by removing over 95% of common contact contaminants. Additionally, it dries faster and is safe for most car electrical surfaces, including switches, battery terminals, and circuit boards. Ultimately, it's the best contact cleaner you can use without struggling to go over safety features and conditions.

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How do you clean electrical contacts? ›

I start out with isopropyl alcohol and scrub the connector with the micro brush. After that I use

Does WD 40 clean electrical contacts? ›

The terminals and electrical connectors can be treated with a spray of WD-40® Specialist® Fast Drying Contact Cleaner which eliminates various types of residue and condensation on electrical or electronic equipment, including delicate materials.

What works for electrical contact cleaner? ›

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.

Can you clean electrical contacts with alcohol? ›

The 100% alcohol would be considered as the ideal material to clean any electronic contacts as they evaporate quickly and leave no residue behind.

Can acetone clean electrical contacts? ›

Acetone. Acetone, commonly known as nail polish remover, is an extremely powerful solvent that makes for an excellent electrical contact cleaner. As with pure isopropyl alcohol, it quickly dissolves much of the grime that accumulates on guitars during use, and it dries even faster leaving no residue.

Can I use vinegar to clean electrical contacts? ›

It can be difficult to directly clean all the tight areas of electrical connectors and switches, so you may need to use some kind of chemical method. On the mild side, a mild acid like vinegar can be used, and other agents are offered for battery terminal cleaning, such as baking soda.

Can hydrogen peroxide clean electrical contacts? ›

Chemically, hydrogen peroxide is an effective grease and dirt cleaner, but it's not conducive to electrical connections. Cleaning electrical contacts with hydrogen peroxide leads to the unwanted corrosion of contacts and wires.

Is silicone spray good for electrical connections? ›

DO NOT USE SILICONE SPRAY ON ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS, SWITCHES, RELAYS, ETC. There have been numerous reports that silicone spray can cause contact problems in switches, noted in multiple posts regarding automotive problems.

What is a good electrical contact grease? ›

Because of its high electrical conductivity, low cost, and ease of use, 846 is an ideal electritions grease. It can be used for electrical connections in applications like RV house battery terminals.

How do you make contact cleaner? ›

A simple 1:1 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and distilled water! It should be noted I actually do use the vinegar and water solution when cleaning the surfaces of plastic cased electronics, because alcohol over time can cause yellowing on certain white or lighter plastic surfaces.

Can I use WD-40 instead of contact cleaner? ›

We don't recommend using any WD-40 product as a contact cleaner apart from our Fast Drying Contact Cleaner. Our specialist contact spray is designed to remove residue, condensation and dirt from electrical equipment with pinpoint precision.

How do you clean an oxidized electrical connector? ›

How to Easily Clean Corroded Electrical Connections & Apply ...

Is WD-40 a dielectric? ›

With a dielectric strength of 35KV, WD-40 can restore electrical connections, protect components from moisture and even rescue flooded equipment.

Is dielectric grease good for electrical connections? ›

Dielectric grease ensures longevity of your connection points and creates a proper seal. Dielectric grease helps create extra insulation for electrical connectors, prevents arcing and is ideal for any electrical connections with rubber gaskets.

How do you clean oxidized copper electrical contacts? ›

how to clean copper contacts. remove oxidation from copper ... - YouTube

How do you clean corroded car electrical connectors? ›

How to Easily Clean Corroded Electrical Connections & Apply ...

Which alcohol is best for cleaning electronics? ›

Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) is the more common choice for cleaning electronics because it evaporates more rapidly than ethanol and also because it does not leave any traces of oils upon evaporation.

Can I use hydrogen peroxide on electronics? ›

Other cleaning chemicals are very harsh and will damage surfaces. Avoid using any of the following chemicals or products containing these chemicals: Any chlorine-based cleaner, such as bleach. Peroxides (including hydrogen peroxide)


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