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How to clean electrical contacts (5 simple methods)

The car is subject to a lot of abuse, so it is not surprising that the electrical contacts become dirty over time. Learning how to clean electrical contacts can ensure everything maintains a good connection for optimal performance.

You can remove corrosion, rust, dirt, and grease with a mixture of baking soda and water. Additionally, compressed air is good for removing dirt. You may also consider using isopropyl alcohol, sandpaper, or one of the special cleaners available.

In this guide, we look at why you want your electrical connectors to stay clean. We also evaluate the best ways to remove dirt and corrosion from these critical connections. Finally, we quickly look at some common automotive problems caused by dirty electrical contacts.

Your car is made up of many electrical connections that allow essential systems to function as intended. Whether it’s the car battery or the audio system, electrical connections make everything work. Over time, dirt will build up on the surfaces, making it difficult to get a solid connection.

Since the connection is blocked, random failures may occur. For example, a dirty connector could cause engine starting problems, while a contaminated wiring harness could prevent you from operating your trailer lights. The magnitude of the problems corresponds to the dirt of the connectors and the affected parts.

If the connectors are not kept clean, dirt can begin to accumulate. Over time, the contacts may become more difficult to clean. That is why regular maintenance is more important. If you stay on top of cleaning, there is less chance that you will encounter a malfunction.

RELATED: Causes of Battery Terminal Corrosion (How to Fix and Prevent It)

1. Special cleaners

There are several special cleaners that can keep contacts clean and free of residue. You want to choose a brand that is reliable and proven to be safe. Additionally, it is essential that you follow the recommended instructions to ensure that the components are protected.

A popular option is WD-40 electrical contact cleaner. This substance cleans areas regularly exposed to water and debris. Because it penetrates stubborn corrosion, it is ideal to use if nothing else seems to be working. Plus, a handy nozzle is included, ensuring you reach the toughest areas. Below is where you can find it on Amazon. This is an affiliate link and we may receive a small commission on qualifying purchases.

With products like this, you can help restore electrical conductivity. In addition, it reduces the risk of short circuit. Thanks to the non-conductive and fast-evaporating formula, nothing is left behind, so rubber, plastic and metal surfaces can always be kept intact.

2. Baking soda or water

Baking soda and water are commonly used to clean battery terminals and contacts. It’s easy to make and couldn’t be easier to use. Although it can be used with other electrical contacts, let’s look at the best way to use it with battery terminals and connectors.

  1. Loosen the screws holding the cables to the posts. You will need pliers or a wrench.
  2. First, remove the negative cable. This cable is black and is indicated with a – sign.
  3. Then remove the positive wire. This wire is usually red and is indicated with a + sign.
  4. You can premix baking soda and water or apply it directly to the terminals. Sprinkle baking soda on the terminals and connectors. Apply a small amount of water to the baking soda until it begins to bubble.
  5. Using a stiff brush, scrub the posts and connectors. Make sure your hands are protected with gloves to avoid irritation.
  6. Apply more baking soda and water as needed.
  7. Rinse the cleaned area with distilled water.
  8. Dry the area with a clean microfiber towel.
  9. With everything dry, connect the electrical cables to the appropriate battery terminals. Be sure to work upside down with the red positive wire connected first.
  10. Tighten the connectors.

The baking soda and water solution works great in other areas of the car. Not only can it be used to clean and freshen the interior, but it is also useful for cleaning carbon deposits from various engine components.

Don’t forget to add dielectric grease after cleaning!

RELATED: Which Battery Cable Should Be Removed First, But Installed Last?

3. Compressed air

If the contacts are full of debris, compressed air may work better. You can use cans of compressed air or use your air tank at home to blow away the dirt.

Compressed air is also helpful when trying many of the other methods. For any steps that require wetting the area, compressed air can be used to dry the surface before reconnecting the contacts.

4. Isopropyl alcohol

You can use a small amount of alcohol on the electrical contacts to remove dirt and debris. It works similarly to acetone, which can also remove contamination from connectors.

Alcohol and acetone easily remove residue, carbon and oil. Some people use brake cleaner in the same way, but this should not be used. It can be damaging to electrical connectors and crack plastic components it comes into contact with.

5. sandpaper

Using a small section of fine sandpaper, you can rub the connector pins to remove debris and imperfections. You don’t need a piece larger than 1″ x 2″. Some people also use a pencil eraser, which works the same way. If you do it right, the contact will look clean and shiny.

After using the sandpaper, you should gently brush the connector with a toothbrush or other abrasive. This step helps you remove sanding residue. You can also use a cleaner, such as alcohol or vinegar, to finish the job. Just make sure the connectors are dry before replacing the components.

Dirty or corroded electrical contacts can cause more problems than you think. Many novice mechanics will replace parts when a simple cleaning would have been sufficient. For example, if the car has trouble starting, the problem could be corrosion of the battery connectors rather than a dead battery or faulty alternator. It would be important to try to clean the terminals before making replacements.

Dirty connections can also impede the flow of electricity to the car’s vital systems. With every electrical installation there are aspects such as sensors, relays, fuses and switches. If a part becomes dirty or contaminated, the transmission can break down, causing problems that make you think a part is defective.

Even exterior lighting parts can have dirty contacts, causing intermittent visibility problems. If your headlights, fog lights, brake lights, or turn signals are working erratically, it might be time to check the connector for signs of dirt and debris. Cleaning the connector would be easier and cheaper than replacing the bulb or assembly.

A good rule of thumb is to examine any defective parts before replacing them. If you notice dirt or residue, try cleaning it with a suitable solution before purchasing a new one. In the best case, you won’t have to replace the part in the end.


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