Learning how to clean a circuit board is a basic hack that can significantly help you improve the overall efficiency of your device.
The circuit board is at the core of all functionalities of any electronic.
But it’s prone to getting dirty, which will curtail its processing speed and lead to issues such as overheating.
So do you need to be tech-savvy to clean a circuit board?
Not. Here’s how to get your circuit board back in shape.
How Do Circuit Boards Get Dirty?
There are different ways circuit boards get dirty.
All electronic home and industrial equipment primarily have circuit boards; thus, dust, grime, and water can enter the device’s interior during use.
A buildup of these materials will cause the circuit boards to get dirty.
Other ways circuit boards get dirty include the following:
Circuit Board Manufacturing Residues
A dirty electronic circuit board.
Activated rosin-based fluxes are some age-old materials used in circuit board manufacturing.
They have bits of halogen gases, such as chlorine, which are corrosion precursors.
Lately, manufacturers no longer use corrosive materials and instead apply no-clean fluxes.
Nonetheless, the applied solder can cover some flux during soldering, leading to slow decomposition of the soldered parts.
Dirt Resulting from the Working Environment
In the industrial setting of circuit board use, the PCBs can accumulate flux residues resulting from the workers’ negligence.
Moreover, the grime will most likely accumulate on the PCB if the working environment is dusty.
It explains why electronic devices in humid and dusty zones synonymous with dust will likely wear out faster than in cool environments.
Dirt from Improper Equipment Use
A dirty circuit board.
How cautious are you when handling electronic equipment?
Upholding the basic proper equipment use measures and good fabrication can go a long way in keeping dirt at bay.
As a rule of thumb, ensure any PCB is in an enclosure with efficient ventilation featuring fins to block dust from the device’s interior.
Why Clean a Circuit Board?
Regular cleaning of circuit boards is not a practice most companies want to invest in due to the expenses and time use required.
However, cleaning your PCBs is imperative for the reasons we’ll outline.
Boost Circuit Board’s reliability
PCB used in delicate medical applications such as making pacesetters must perform at top efficiency as their failure can be life-threatening.
Hence, there’s a significant need to clean these and other circuit boards for reliability regularly.
Improve PCB’s Aesthetic Appearance
Cleaning a circuit board.
A PCB manufacturer must create clean, attractive, high-quality boards with exquisite responsiveness.
And this is imperative in creating confidence in the product.
A great aesthetic appearance is important in realizing this objective, so cleaning the PCBs is very important.
Hinder circuit board components corrosion.
During manufacturing, flux is one of the components likely to remain on the PCB boards.
This acidic material is likely to draw water from the atmosphere, which causes galvanic corrosion.
Therefore, manufacturers need to clear all flux from PCBs to prevent rusting.
Control Dendritic growth resolution from ionic residues
PCB cleaning and repair.
Flux deposits can also feature ionic particles that, once they contact water/moisture while current flows through the circuit board, lead to a dendritic chain.
This can be fatal to the PCB efficiency as dendritic chains conduct current, thus may lead to leakages.
Prevent Adhesion Problems with PCB Conformal Coating
Lastly, flux on the PCB’s surface can tamper with effective conformal coating.
This, in turn, creates a semi-permeable membrane that allows water to get on the surface between the coating and the flux deposit.
In turn, this encourages corrosion. Therefore, thorough cleaning is imperative to facilitate the adhesion of the coating.
Different Types of Contaminants
A dusty circuit board.
There are two main types of circuit board contaminants:
They include grime, soda, flux, water, and waxy oil.
These are challenging to clean and require a more careful approach to removing.
These include substances available in the air, such as dust and dirt.
Most dry contaminants are easy to clean with simple solutions such as wiping.
Tools for Cleaning Circuit Boards
Use the following cleaning tools to remove the common contaminants from your PCB.
Use Isopropyl Alcohol to clean your circuit board.
Concentrated Isopropyl alcohol (90% and above) effectively breaks down sticky debris on the PCB surface.
We recommend high concentrations as this alcohol easily evaporates after cleaning.
As a precaution, always wear gloves to prevent contaminating the surface and also protect your hands from alcohol.
When dealing with dust on your device’s PCB, use small bursts of compressed air, which is highly effective in dislodging the particles off the surface.
You don’t necessarily need to open the electronics, but if it doesn’t have a gap big enough for the air to penetrate, open it to access the circuit board.
If you note corrosions on your circuit boards, the best cleaning agent is baking soda. It’s very effective in diluting acidic leakages on your boards.
The upside of using baking soda is that it is mild and doesn’t cause further damage to the PCB.
Can you use water to clean contaminants on your PCB?
Yes. But make sure to use deionized water as the ions in hard and tap water can induce corrosion of the metallic parts of the circuit board.
Also, don’t apply a gush of distilled water to the circuit board, which will damage the electronic device.
Instead, gently apply water to a cloth and wipe off the device to dislodge the attached dust.
PCB Ultrasonic Cleaners
An ultrasonic bath.
For small precision equipment that features hard-to-reach areas with the common cleaning methods, use a PCB Ultrasonic Cleaner.
This method is safe and highly successful in removing dirt from the circuit board.
This cleaning solution uses a vapor phase to clean grime on PCB.
Ideally, a vapor phase is a boiled chemical solvent that dislodges dirt on the circuit board through dissolution.
Its fundamental upsides include excellent results, and it also allows the recycling of the solvent by eliminating the dissolved solutes.
But the rule of thumb when using the vapor phase is to settle for a specific solvent for removing the dirt you’re dealing with.
Also, the technique is imperative in cleaning closely packed circuit boards thanks to its capability to penetrate even the parts inaccessible via other cleaning techniques.
Microfiber cloths are also ideal for a quick cleaning/wiping off the dirt from the PCB.
PCB Cleaning Brushes
Using a PCB cleaning brush.
These are special types of brushes customized for cleaning PCBs with tiny assemblies.
Their cardinal feature is the soft bristles that can reach all parts of the board.
Alternatively, you can use a toothbrush if you can’t access the PCB cleaning brush.
Blow Dryer/ Oven
So far, the listed cleaning techniques effectively remove solid dirt on the PCB.
But a blow dryer would be highly effective for wet contaminants such as water or waxy oil.
In the past, we used phosphates as circuit board cleaning agents as they effectively curtailed corrosion.
But recently, there have been concerns about their use in polluting the surrounding; thus, we no longer use them.
The solution- Use phosphate-free household cleaners for your circuit boards as they are equally effective in removing dirt and dust from the circuit board.
How To Clean Dust from Circuit Boards
Dust on PCB.
Circuit boards are likely to accumulate dust during use from the surroundings.
When in excess, the dust can significantly curtail the PCB’s responsiveness and affect the cooling.
When dealing with dust, use compressed air or a brush to clean it off the PCB surface.
But it would be best to refrain from frequently using compressed air as extensive use can damage the PCB components.
How To Clean Grime from Circuit Boards
The cleaning procedure for grime from a circuit board is similar to cleaning flux, oil, or any other sticky substance.
There are three main options for removing grime that include the following:
Use Isopropyl Alcohol
Dampen a soft cloth/ cotton wool with isopropyl alcohol (90% concentration and above).
Use the cotton to gently wipe your circuit board’s surface without tampering with the electronic components.
Finally, allow the alcohol to dry off.
Use Demineralized Water
It is a viable alternative to Isopropyl alcohol.
Nonetheless, dab the cotton wool with very little demineralized water, as using it in excess can cause further damage to the circuit board.
Also, it would be best to dry the PCB properly, as water can encourage corrosion.
Specialty cleaning agents
Lastly, try the various cleaning agents to wash off the grime on your PCB.
How To Clean a Circuit Board That Got Wet
Illustrating the circuit board cleaning process.
If your electronic device circuit board gets wet, here are the first steps before following a rigorous drying procedure.
- Disconnect the electrical device from the power source.
- Gently shake it to expel any moisture trapped inside.
- Remove the device’s battery and also consider loosening it to allow the liquid to flow out of the device.
Your device should easily dry off if it doesn’t have a lot of liquid in it. However, in extreme cases where further drying is necessary, take the following measures.
- Assemble the drying agents and tools you need for this exercise. You will need Isopropyl alcohol or deionized water, a blow dryer, a large container to hold the circuit board, and a soft brush.
- Next, disassemble the electrical device to reach the circuit board and remove all parts, such as cables, that connect to the PCB.
- Fill a dish with 90% isopropyl alcohol and immerse the PCB into the container with the solvent. Ensure that it is fully submerged. Alternatively, you can use deionized or distilled water, but the best option is concentrated isopropyl alcohol.
- Now using the soft brush, remove any grime attached to the PCB. Do this gently, as the grime is already soaked, and it’ll easily come off. Also, remember to brush the hard-to-reach areas, such as the connectors.
- Next, dry it under a hairdryer to remove the drying solution from the surface. Once dry, check out if everything is okay. The parts to pay attention to include the Logic board, battery, and LCD, which are quite delicate and usually fail when exposed to liquids.
How To Clean Solder Flux off PCB
Flux residues on a circuit board.
Soldering is a critical process in circuit board assembly.
However, one of the byproducts of the process is solder flux which, if left on the board, can encourage corrosion.
Thus, removing it is imperative.
You will need a soft brush, concentrated Isopropyl alcohol, and a lint-free towel.
Dip your brush in Isopropyl alcohol, then gently use it to dislodge the flux.
The alcohol will dissolve the flux from the PCB’s surface.
Next, use a lint-free cloth to wipe off the flux from the circuit board.
How To Clean PCB Corrosion
Corrosion on a PCB.
Lastly, your circuit board surface can corrode due to moisture accumulation.
Also, if your device draws power from rechargeable batteries, their acidic fluids will likely cause corrosion.
When dealing with corrosion, isopropyl alcohol alone may not be the best solution.
Instead, mix baking soda with deionized water to create a paste.
Next, apply this paste to the circuit board parts with corrosion and allow it to dry for about a day.
Next, soak a lint-free cloth in isopropyl alcohol to wipe the baking soda and the rust off the PCB’s surface.
Regularly cleaning your circuit board is one of the ways to increase its longevity and overall performance.
Above, we have explored the different ways to tackle different forms of dirt on the circuit board.
Choose the technique that best suits the case you’re dealing with and give your PCB a chance to perform at optimal conditions.
Thanks for your time, and all the best as you solve your PCB dirt problem.