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I have two cheap soldering irons, one of which was given to me. I was also given some solder (of unknown quality), which I recently used up. I bought some cheap solder from Harbor Freight. I've used both a wet sponge and steel wool to clean my soldering iron.

With both soldering irons and both solders my soldering iron tip would slowly be eaten away during use.

Is this normal for soldering iron use in general? Which factors would cause or worsen this?

I'm trying to determine if buying a quality tip and some decent solder would be enough, or if I will need a quality soldering iron to keep this from happening.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can get temperature-controlled irons for as little as $30 these days. Toss them both. \$\endgroup\$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 4 '15 at 4:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you got solder at Harbor Freight, and it's eating your tip, it's probably acid core. Toss the iron, solder, whatever project you used it on, and anything else it came into contact with. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Young Jun 4 '15 at 4:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Eh, I've had rosin core eat a tip. It doesn't happen very quickly, but it will happen. Especially if the iron overheats. \$\endgroup\$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 4 '15 at 4:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Various online retailers have the Elenco SL-75, some for less than $20. I wouldn't call it a great iron, but it's a decent holdout until you can afford a Hakko. \$\endgroup\$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jun 4 '15 at 4:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would be on the steel wool to be eating your tip. It's harder than the copper tip. \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Jun 4 '15 at 4:52
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When you say "cheap soldering irons", you ain't just whistling Dixie. If this happens with rosin-core solder (not acid-core) then your problem is that the tips are not iron-plated. And frankly, I didn't think they made them like that any more.

If you can get a decent tip, this should solve the problem, but ensuring that you've got proper materials is not likely to be easy.

Since you've apparently been using these irons for a while, it seems that you'll be soldering for a while longer. I'd recommend trashing both of them and get a good temperature-controlled iron. And you can keep on using cheap solder, as long as it's not acid-core.

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You should always leave some solder at the tip of your soldering iron when you are not using it. It prevents the tip from getting oxided and old.

I use ERSA soldering iron (a good quality german one) and do this. Still like factory new.

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