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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).

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(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.

Additional guides:

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you tell me how you use tip tinners? Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Also, for mixed plating, my tip seems to have it. Only small area of the tip's tip seems to be working part and it looks different than the rest of the tip. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 12 '10 at 21:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, my cleaner says: Sn96.5Ag3.5 which seems to be strange to me. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 12 '10 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should not use tip tinners unless necessary. They will erode the tip plating incredibly fast if used often (meaning any more than once or twice a day). Ideally, you should never use them, as you would maintain a small amount of solder on the tip at all times to prevent oxidation of the bare tip metal. The world isn't perfect though, and sometimes you can't, so they can get you out of that bind. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Oct 12 '10 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nick T I understand that I should have some solder on the tip in order to protect it (and have always left part of the tip which would get wet covered in solder) and so on and that I should avoid using the cleaners, but how are they used? I thought that tip should just be dipped into the cleaner and that's it. Is there anything else? \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 12 '10 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Assuming your tip tinner is the solid variety, the Sn/Ag is just the alloy it contains. It's just some solder alloy it coats the tip with. -- Yeah, you should just have to stab it into the tinner and promptly wipe it off with a sponge or metal sponge. If the oxidation is being really stubborn, the tip might be gone. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Oct 12 '10 at 21:18
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Well, the solution to my problem turned out to be both very simple and very unexpected.

I decided to buy a real stand for my soldering iron and the one I got came with its own sponge. It did a great job cleaning the tip and the tip looks like brand new now!

The sponge itself as a spare part is just about 2.5€, so the moral of my story is don't try to save money on the sponge! Buy a high quality sponge and save yourself lots of headache!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you using a brass sponge (my personal preference) or a porous one? \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Jul 18 '11 at 4:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin Vermeer The porous one. I can't find a real brass one and various replacements didn't work well for me. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Jul 18 '11 at 16:11
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Cheap soldering irons (the unregulated kind that run at 10-25W and the power cord goes straight into the handle) have a lot more problems with corrosion than the nicer regulated irons. It doesn't matter too much if it's ugly, as long as you can get a nice shiny bit right at the tip. Dedicated tip cleaning mesh is the best thing I've found for that, but the traditional damp sponge works fairly well. Just try to wipe it off after every 4-5 solder joints.

Don't worry too much if the whole tip isn't nicely covered in solder. You only need the last 5 mm or so - the part that comes in contact with the parts you are soldering.

As a last ditch kind of thing, I've been known to go after a badly corroded tip using a metal file. I'd only do this on a really cheap iron, but I had one where the tip had been eaten away in an irregular pattern and I was able to reshape it and get some more use out of it with the metal file. Do not try this with a fancy iron like a Weller or Hakko that has a ceramic tip.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How more is that a lot more? I used it maybe 5 times and that's why it's looking strange to me. I'm trying to avoid the file because I'm afraid I'll remove the iron plating and expose copper core of the tip. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 14 '10 at 9:58
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Sal ammoniac. Comes in a block and you can buy it at Delphi Glass for about six bucks. I have used one block to clean the worst on my irons over the years as I forget to shut them off when I get busy or to add solder before shutting them off. I still have the block I started with 20 years ago so it is a bargain. The block creates a smoke when you are cleaning, but it dissipates very quickly. I agree with the others, don't scrub your tips or file them if you can help it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also tasty - we eat that stuff up here in Scandinavia. Didn't know you could clean the soldering iron on it as well. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Sep 26 '16 at 16:22
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I've always used this stuff:

https://www.digikey.com/catalog/en/partgroup/ttc-lf-mm01921-lead-free-tip-tinner-cleaner/64996

It doesn't work forever, and of course you must take good care of your tips. It can't repair all tips, but it does a pretty good job on ones which are slightly oxidised. I haven't found it gets stuck on the tip; just melt some solder on it after wiping the iron through the stuff to tin it again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, they do not ship to my country. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 12 '10 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can probably find some where you live. Where do you live? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas O Oct 12 '10 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm in Serbia, as it is written in my profile. I'll take another look through stuff available in local stores here. Maybe there is something similar available. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Oct 12 '10 at 21:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ That link appears to not work as you intended anymore. Can you provide the relevant information in the answer itself? \$\endgroup\$ – a CVn May 15 '17 at 19:48
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Have you tried a tip polish to remove the black oxidized parts of the tip? It's fairly inexpensive so it may be a good thing to try. Plus it doesn't hurt to have it around to clean future tips.http://www.gotopac.com/FS100_01_Tip_Polish_p/fs100-01-hak.htm. That may work. If it doesn't I would suggest just replacing the tip. Most tips are not very expensive and depending on what kind of solder iron you have, can be fairly easy to find. Just make sure you tin the new tip right away before using it for any soldering. Hope that helps.

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Because @nick t said that a solution is mildly acidic I used distilled vinegar as a quick test. Seemed to work wonders and so now i am going to try to keep the tip tinned as this was not something I used to do.

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