How to clean electrical connectors

Written by g.k. bayne
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Electrical connections, especially those exposed to the outdoor elements, can be prone to corrosion. The corrosion can impede the flow of electricity and cause failure to the device that is being powered. Most often a basic cleaning on the male and female parts can remedy the dirty situation. Generally the male parts are pins or metal probes that fit into a female socket. Most outdoor electrical connectors are small and may require a small diameter metal brush. By following a basic method you can remove the corrosion and improve the connection.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Clean rag
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Toothbrush
  • Electrical contact cleaner
  • Vinegar
  • Electrical contact lubricant
  • One-sixteenth-inch (or smaller) diameter steel brush

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    Male Connectors

  1. 1

    Remove all electrical power from the circuit in both sections of the following instructions. Never attempt to clean any connector or device while it is under operation or power.

  2. 2

    Wipe the connector free of any dirt or debris using the clean rag. Pull the connector apart exposing the female socket and the male probes or pins. Observe the condition of the male pins. A green or whitish powder on the pins indicates a corrosion problem. If the metal appears rusted and broken the entire plug assembly may have to be replaced.

  3. 3

    Tear a small piece of the fine sandpaper, approximately one inch wide by two inches long. Buff or rub the pins with the sandpaper to remove the discolouration of the metal. You can wrap the small piece of sandpaper around the pin. Rotate the paper until a clean or shiny metal surface appears.

  4. 4

    Brush the metal pins with the toothbrush. Apply a quick spray of the electrical contact cleaner to remove any dry dust or corrosion. Use vinegar to clean the pins if contact cleaner is not available. Brush the pins again to remove any left over debris.

  5. 5

    Apply a spray coating of the contact lubricant. This will aid in keeping the corrosion at bay and increase the conductivity of the connector.

    Female Connectors

  1. 1

    Spray the contact cleaner into the female socket. Use vinegar if no cleaner is available.

  2. 2

    Insert the small diameter steel brush into the socket. Rotate the brush in a clockwise direction.

  3. 3

    Continue to rotate the brush and then quickly pull the brush from the socket. This action will remove any debris in the orifice.

  4. 4

    Continue with the process in step 2 and 3 with each individual pin socket. Keep the sockets wet with cleaner or vinegar as you are cleaning them out. You can simply dip the brush in vinegar every time you clean a socket hole.

  5. 5

    Spray a generous amount, one to two seconds of pressing the spray button, of the contact lubricant into the socket. Reassemble the connector.

Tips and warnings

  • If the connector must be replaced, observe that the wires do not have any migrating corrosion embedded in the copper strands. The corrosion will make a soldered connection very difficult to hold.
  • Clean wires embedded with a heavy white or green powder by dipping them in vinegar. Brush the surface with the toothbrush.
  • The corrosion can migrate the entire length of the wire. If this is the case, the entire wire may need to be replaced.

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