Cleaning electrical contacts with Everclear

When I was 19 or 20, I paid a visit to my old grade school to do some computer repair. My fifth-grade teacher dropped in, saw me cleaning up the contacts on a circuit board, and asked why I wasn’t using Everclear. Cleaning electrical contacts with Everclear is, at least, a practice people talk about a lot.

Well, I couldn’t legally buy Everclear yet, for one thing. But let’s talk about why Everclear is good for cleaning electrical contacts but there are other things that can be better.

Why Everclear is good for cleaning electronics

Everclear is 190 proof, which means it’s 95% alcohol. As such, it will leave less residue than rubbing alcohol, which is either 70 or 91% alcohol.

So if you need to clean up some electrical connections (such as old circuit boards, or old video game cartridges like Atari or Nintendo cartridges) and you happen to have Everclear on hand, using a little bit of it to clean them up isn’t a bad idea. It doesn’t help me much though. I don’t drink alcohol, for a variety of personal reasons. So Everclear isn’t something I keep on hand.

What’s better than Everclear for cleaning electronics

There are several things you can pick up at a decent hardware or home-improvement store that will clean electronics as well as Everclear, if not better. They’re also cheaper and legal to buy even if you’re still a teenager. The best is electrical contact cleaner, but you can also use denatured alcohol or mineral spirits.

Cleaning a reverse unit with a dollar bill
In this photo, I’m cleaning a set of copper electrical contacts in a vintage toy train with a dollar bill. The copper finger above the bill touches a set of copper contacts on a plastic drum underneath the bill.

I’ve also been known to rub down the contacts with a dollar bill. U.S. money is just abrasive enough to thoroughly clean dirt and corrosion off the contacts without removing metal. I’ll frequently follow up with a solvent, but often rubbing the contacts down with a dollar bill does a good enough job–and the solvent won’t remove the oxidation. So the solvent only handles half of the problem. You can’t beat the dollar bill trick for cost effectiveness. The bill may be a bit dirty afterward but it’s still perfectly spendable.

Sometimes I’ll use Nevr Dull on contacts as well, usually in between the dollar bill and a solvent. Nevr Dull will make the copper gleam and look brand new. It’s not strictly necessary, but if I want to thoroughly clean a game cartridge without disassembling it, adding Nevr Dull to the sequence helps. I also use it on motor commutators when I want the commutator to stay clean a very long time.

Here’s the bottom line. A clean electrical contact is a reliable one. And you can get a clean-enough one with a variety of things, but frequently it will take more than just a solvent to get there. In the end almost every solvent I mention here can get it clean enough. That said, a lower-residue solvent will require less effort to get it there.

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