An electrical contact cleaner is a relatively simple product. It is a combination of compressed air and some type of cleaning agent, like isopropyl alcohol. As any electronic repair technician knows, electronics and their components can become dirty easily. This can hinder performance. An electronic contact cleaner can remove food, oil, grease and more from your electronic contacts. It can also help to dislodge any foreign elements.
Oxidation: The Silent Destroyer
While we humans need oxygen to survive, metals do not. In fact, when pure metals come into contact with oxygen, it creates a process known as oxidation. Through oxidation, metal oxides are created. Metal oxides typically have different properties than their pure metal counterparts. In some instances, this can be beneficial. For example, the aluminum oxide that forms on the outside of an aluminum screen door actually makes it less likely to corrode. However, there are certainly instances where metal oxides can be problematic. For example, zinc and copper oxides are much less conductive than their base metals. Brass electrical contacts with oxidation on them will likely have serious problems with electric conductivity.
In addition to oxygen, electrical arcing also causes corrosion and oxidation. In most cases, a direct current (DC) is harder on contacts than an alternating current (AC). This is because when undergoing zero crossing, AC is often self-extinguishing. Not only can the heat created during an arc create oxidation, but it can also generate debris that can further impact conductivity.
Planning for Oxidation
Most professionals will plan for a certain amount of oxidation. After all, we live in a world sustained by oxygen and electronics will have to function in it. In doing this, an expert will engineer a circuit with some ability to handle oxidation. One way of doing this is to use a wetting current. This refers to the minimum current needed to push through a reasonable amount of oxide on the surface of a contact. Snubber capacitors may be used as well if the wetting current is still too low.
Even with the best plan, there will come a time when you will likely need to clean your contacts. Much of this revolves around removing oxidation; however, the removal of dirt, grease, oil and debris is also necessary.
For most laboratory environments, a cleaning solution includes isopropyl alcohol (IPA). However, metal oxides are not very soluble when it comes to alcohols like IPA. Because of this, you may question why an IPA is recommended. As oxidation builds up, parts of it naturally flake off. It is the other grime that actually helps to hold it in place. Dirt, grease, and other gummy debris can hinder this flaking process and create a sticky hold. In that respect, an IPA or similar solvent can dissolve that sticky hold and allow the oxidation to come free. In addition to that, IPA and volatile solvents evaporate quickly and leave little to no residue. This means you clean your contacts and do not leave additional residue or grime behind.
However, not all contacts as simple to clean. In these cases, you will need something a little stronger. This is where some of the top cleaners will stand out. Their unique formulas address the stuck on oxidation and gunk that an IPA is not able to remove.
The Best Electronic Contact Cleaners
Now that you understand why an electronic contact cleaner is important, let us take a look at the top products on Amazon.
CAIG’s DeoxIT is the gold standard when it comes to electrical conduct cleaners. What is in this highly recommended product? That remains a mystery as their unique formula is listed as a “Proprietary Trade Secret.” A propellant and mineral spirit blend is listed as part of the ingredients, however. (There has been an ongoing rumor that CAIG uses an oleic acid. The CAIG adamantly denies this.) DeoxIT is fast-acting. The manufacturer designed it with connectors, contacts, and many other metal surfaces in mind. As a general treatment, not only does it clean contacts, it also acts to chemically improve electrical connections as well.
Not only does DeoxIT clean contacts, it also lubricates and improves conductivity in general. In doing so, this contact cleaner aids in the reduction of intermittent connections, arching and RFI. Users have also noted that it helps to prevent wear and abrasions as well. It is safe on all metal connectors and contacts. Additionally, it will not harm plastics either.
The only real complaint about the DeoxIT is the nozzle and tube design. Some users have noted that the tube is actually too large for the nozzle, which makes it difficult to use and less than precise. A simple replacement with a nozzle from another spray tends to correct this issue.
CRC offers several different contact cleaners. However, the 5103 Quick Dry Electronic Cleaner is perhaps the most popular. As with many of the other products, the CRC 5103 is fast drying and will leave no residue behind. The CRC 5103 contains more ingredients than the others, however. Methylpentane, difluoroethane, petroleum, n-hexane, n-pentane and dimethylbutane all help to make this contact cleaner what it is. It is safe to use on connectors and will not harm your plastics.
Users who need something that dries quickly will appreciate this cleaner. Individuals who work in the automotive industry are particularly fond of the CRC 5103.
While this does dry quickly, a few users actually noted that this can be a bit problematic. In some instances, it dried before they could work sliders or knobs loose. This means you have to use more of it to equally the effects of some of the higher end products. Also of note, while the CRC 5103 lists petroleum as an ingredient, combined with the quick drying, this does not really lubricate your elements.
As a brand, WD-40 is well known among those in the electronics industry. After more than 60 years or production, the WD-40 Company is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to support their customers’ needs. The WD-40 Specialists Electrical Contact Cleaner is a blend of n-Hexane, IPA, and difluoroethane. The exact blend, while proprietary, is quick drying and residue-free. It is safe for use on all metals and will not harm any plastic or rubber it should come in contact with.
WD-40 is a popular product for a reason. Not only can you pick up a can of it almost anywhere, it is affordable. Plenty of users have pointed out that it cleans off even some of the most stuck on gunk quickly.
The WD-40 Specialist Electrical Contact Cleaner claims to also provide lubrication. However, many users pointed out that this is not the case. Not only is a lubricant not listed on the ingredient list, users have reported that this particular feature is non-existent. Some users have also noted that it does not dry as quickly as they had thought it would.
There are various Man Professional cleaning sprays available for use with electronics. However, the 2015 Contact Cleaner is safe on plastics, which is ideal. (Be advised, cleaners that do not specifically state that they are safe for use with plastics may cause problems. These cleaners are actually so strong that they can melt your plastics and create additional problems.) Max Professional markets this product for use on circuit boards, power tools, batteries and other electronics. As with the others, the Max Professional 2015 Contact Cleaner is quick drying and will leave little to no residue after use. Max Professional 2015 Contact Cleaner is made of a blend of IPA, petroleum hydrocarbon and n-hexane.
Users that do try the Max Professional 2015 Contact Cleaner have given it high ratings. While it is certainly not as great as the higher end cleaners, like the DeoxIT products, it will clean your contacts.
The petroleum hydrocarbon is misleading. The Max Professional 2015 Contact Cleaner does not lubricate your components well enough if you are relying on it to do so. You will need to invest in a separate lubricant if necessary.
As with the DeoxIT spray, the CAIG DeoxIT Wipes is another highly recommended product. These small wipes clean your contacts and help to reduce intermittent connections, arcing and RFI. Because they are infused with the same proprietary blend, they lubricate your components and help to reduce wear and abrasions. The DeoxIT Wipes is safe to use on metals and will not damage plastics it comes into contact with. (In case you are wondering, CAIG also have a DeoxIT Pen availabl
The DeoxIT wipes are great for easy to access areas. Battery terminals, large circuit boards, and other such items will benefit from these wipes. The wipes also conveniently remove the dirt without the help of an additional microfiber towel.
The wipes can be a bit inconvenient for those hard to reach places. While a spray nozzle can be inserted into most spaces, the wipes can be a bit more limited.
MG Chemicals’ Super Contact Cleaner is another product that claims to have a lubrication feature. The polyphenyl ether (PPE) provides an electronic-safe lubricant that will help to reduce wear and tear on your components. This product is also safe on plastics. MG Chemicals also claims this contact cleaner will protect gold for life. (MG Chemicals also offers a purely IPA cleaner, as well as a contact cleaner solution with silicones in place of the PPE.)
Guitar players really seem to favor the MG Chemicals Super Contact Cleaner. From amps to studio equipment, musicians are highly recommending this product.
Some users have noted that the MG Chemicals Super Contact Cleaner with PPE does not provide a long lasting solution to oxidation. In fact, one user stated that the cleaner did remove gunk when first applied. However, when they looked the next day, the oxidation build up had already started to return.
Permatex is not as well known as several of the other brands on this list. However, it offers the same quick drying, residue-free application. However, Permatex markets itself as a more environmentally friendly cleaner, specifically citing that it has no ozone-depleting chemicals in its formula.
Most users have reported that this contact cleaner works as well as many of the others, despite the less toxic chemicals being used. For those who are environmentally conscious, the Permatex 82588 Electrical Contact and Parts Cleaner makes an ideal solution to oxidation.
The Permatex 82588 Electrical Contact and Parts Cleaner does not include a lubricating feature. However, it carries a similar price tag to the solutions that do.
As an electrical repair technician, hobbyist, or just someone looking to fix their phone – cleaning your contacts and connectors is one of your first steps. After all, sometimes, the only real problem is a layer of oxidation too thick for a current to penetrate. With products like DeoxIT on the market, you get a cleaner that also doubles as a lubricant. However, a cheaper product, like WD-40, CRC or Max Professional certainly can clean your contacts as well. Depending on your requirement and use, any of the products on this list can ensure your contacts are clear of oxidation, dirt, grime and debris.
It is important to remember, nonetheless, that there are stronger cleaners available on the market. For those who work on phones, amps, or other items that may include plastic parts, however, finding a cleaner that is safe to use with plastics is important. Fixing the contact, but damaging the plastic on a client’s device is less than ideal.
Make sure you do your homework. While this list contains several great products we highly recommend, there are others on the market. User reviews can give you specifics that are directly related to your individual intended use that we cannot.