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I’ve been soldering (amateur level) for about 2 years now and a common issue I keep facing is the tip always gets oxidised.

I recently bought a new tip and I’ve used it 4 times. The first three times I got it to work fantastically, but the last time I used it, the tip got oxidised really bad.

I didn’t really do anything differently, I set the temperature to around 300 C, tin the tip with solder, use flux, and regularly clean my tip with a damp sponge, with the occasional steel wool.

Here’s what my tip looks like right now. enter image description here

Is there any way to save this tip?

Also, I would love some good advice on how to use my soldering iron properly so that I can prevent the tip from getting oxidised again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see any solder at all on that tip. How did you use it without getting solder on the metal? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7 at 2:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ At the start it was completely tinned and shiny, but with time (around 15 minutes!) it all just turns dark and then the tip stops accepting solder. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7 at 4:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ What you write that you use flux (presumably in addition to whatever is already in the solder), are you sure that it's electronics soldering flux and not plumbing or some other more aggressive flux? \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    Feb 7 at 10:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SyedZainAli " but with time (around 15 minutes!) it all just turns dark and then the tip stops accepting solder" Two quick swipes across a damp sponge before soldering the next joint fixes that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Feb 7 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't believe the "300" unless you've checked it, and I offer my suggestions for soldering. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8 at 16:30

6 Answers 6

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with the occasional steel wool

Don't do that! It's likely what's killing your tips. Anything that might scratch the surface should not be used. That includes steel wool, sandpaper, files etc.

Is there any way to save this tip?

Looks like you've killed it with steel wool. Get a new one.

You can use a damp sponge or a brass sponge to remove solder from the tip during soldering. To remove oxidation, it is usually sufficient to bathe the tip in (rosin core) solder.

For the occasional deep cleaning of a badly oxidized tip (or in case you've made a mess by getting melted plastic on the tip etc), you could use something called tip activator. You just dip the heated tip in it, works nicely.

As mentioned in another answer, you can increase the the tip life by covering the entire tip in excessive amounts of solder just before turning the iron off. This prevents oxidation.

I set the temperature to around 300 C

Not a problem. 350° is the recommended professional setting. Depending on how bad your iron is to transfer the set heat to the actual tip, you could turn it up to hotter temperatures still. I have to do this on bad Hakko irons for example. Whereas a premium iron transfers heat faster and better to the tip and you actually get the temperature you have set.

Since lots of answers here seem confused:

Do not mistake the solder melting point temperature (~180°C leaded, ~220°C RoHS) for the temperature of the solder iron. You aren't supposed to melt the solder with the tip. You are supposed to melt the solder with the heated metal surfaces where the joint should be formed. Therefore the tip needs to be significantly hotter than the solder melting point temperature or it would take forever for the surfaces to reach that melting point.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This guy solders. \$\endgroup\$
    – earl
    Feb 7 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ "You aren't supposed to melt the solder with the tip" - I'm not the only one who finds it useful to melt a little bit of solder directly on the tip to help with heat conduction to the joint, right? \$\endgroup\$
    – user253751
    Feb 8 at 23:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user253751 No, most people "cheat" and do that, especially for SMD. And for tiny stuff <0603 it becomes impossible to avoid. But for components like coax connectors or various solder cup connectors, you simply cannot do that - touching the solder with the tip will create a mess which is almost impossible to clean up. So it matters a lot which parts you are trying to solder together. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Feb 9 at 7:28
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To keep the tip from getting oxidized, melt a little solder on your tip (cover it on both sides with solder) before turning off your soldering iron. The solder will harden and prevent oxygen from getting to the tip and oxidizing it.

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and regularly clean my tip with a damp sponge, with the occasional steel wool.

I think this might be a common beginner's mistake.

The stuff on your tip is mostly solder and flux residue. Neither is actually bad for the tip, it protects it from oxygen.

The stuff is bad for your solder joints though. So the only time you should clean the tip is directly before making a joint. Don't wipe the tip clean after soldering, and especially don't wipe it clean before turning the iron off. On the contrary, you should apply copious solder when you turn it off.

And don't leave it on for any length of time while you don't use it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And if you're actually using steel wool rather than brass wool, stop it! \$\endgroup\$
    – hobbs
    Feb 7 at 6:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or wipe, tin, turn off, which often gives a nicer, more even coating than relying on residual solder \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Feb 7 at 13:14
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Brass sponges are better for tip cleaning during soldering, as they don't cool down the tip while you are soldering. 300C is quite hot for most solder, 60/40 leaded solder melts at around 188C while lead-free (Sn 98, flux 2) solder melts at around 217-240C. Tinning the tip before you turn the iron off also helps prevent oxidation during storage, and so does tinning it during the job.

Keep in mind lead-free solders oxidize faster than lead-based ones, frequent cleaning with a brass sponge is a good idea for good solder joints.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "300C is quite hot for most solder" You aren't supposed to melt the solder with the tip. You are supposed to melt the solder with the heated metal surfaces where the joint should be formed. Therefore the tip needs to be significantly hotter than the melting point temperature or it would take forever for the surfaces to reach the melting point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Feb 7 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Brass sponges are better for tip cleaning during soldering, as they don't cool down the tip while you are soldering." -- Brass generally has better thermal conductivity than steel, so by material choice, it should cool the tip down faster. It's probably not a problem because the wool wires are thin and spaced. Rather, I think the reason to prefer brass is because it's not as hard as steel, so there's less chance to scratch the tip. \$\endgroup\$
    – JoL
    Feb 9 at 3:52
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Yes there is, there is a product called deoxIT that can remove oxygen. I've used it to clean soldering tips and remove the oxide layer. It won't get the tips completely clean but it can restore most types to 90%.

I usually let the tip soak for a day or two.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "I usually let the tip soak for a day or two" Yikes - ever tried "tip activators" as sold by many solder tool vendors? It's pretty much instant cleaning. I posted a link to one in my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Feb 7 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I've used those and they don't come close to deoxit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Voltage Spike
    Feb 7 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ They make it sufficiently clean at least, it doesn't need to be sparkling and shining. Waiting 2 days is a long time though. Usually you realize that the tip needs cleaning at the point where you haven't used the iron for a long time but like to do so right now. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Feb 8 at 7:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is what I usually do to get fine tips clean after a few years of use and the oxide layer and other impurities are so thick that the tip activators and brass sponges and flux don't work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Voltage Spike
    Feb 8 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Depending on how much you solder and what brand you use, tips won't last for years. Although on my old Metcal iron I had one tip which just kept going even though I was far from kind to it. Lasted some 5+ years and I didn't do anything special to clean it even. On my present Hakko iron you need to change tips as often as you change socks... Almost as if their business is to sell cheap irons then make all the actual profit on selling tips. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Feb 9 at 10:12
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ALWAYS wipe it on the slightly wet sponge before turning off. After wiping, coat it in solder and turn it off. Even with that, the newer Weller tips will eventually oxidize.

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