Electronics corrosion almost always involves some type of damage to printed circuit boards (or PCBs). These are the foundational building block of most modern electronics. One might consist of a single, layered board used in a remote garage door opener, or it might be a complex, high-density, multi-layer circuit board powering a super computer. These intricate systems of diodes, resistors, connectors, semiconductors and radio devices are made to “talk” to one another, and the mechanical-electrical components make them the optimal archetype for a broad range of applications in our day-to-day use devices. You’ll find them in computers, integrated circuits, and microchips. But there is one major risk that can impact them all: PCB corrosion.
PCB corrosion – or just electronics corrosion in general – can occur for a number of reasons. Most of these stem from environmental triggers, like:
- Exposure to moisture and humidity.
- Proximity to reactive metals and other materials.
- Electrolytic damage, occurring when surrounding ions are contaminated, impacting the voltage between two metal components.
Environmental contaminants, such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfates, chlorides, and ammonium, are surprisingly common in many environments, and can do considerable damage to PCBs. Dramatic swings in temperature can contribute to corrosion.
Sometimes, though, electronics corrosion is tough to test for. Devices may be written off as duds, when the reality is they were affected by PCB corrosion. Beyond being an expensive issue, it’s a potential dangerous one that carries the possibility of legal liability if failure results in injury or loss of critical data. The scope of the problem has been the subject of extensive research in recent years.
Can I Clean PCB Corrosion?
Although it is possible to clean PCB corrosion off of an electronics device, the better solution – if possible – is to stop it before it starts.
Regular, careful cleaning of your circuit boards can help reduce the risk of corrosion buildup in the first place. If it’s already there, you might try tackling it with:
- Compressed air. This is one of the most common, safest methods for routine cleaning circuit boards. Devices deliver short bursts of of air to the ventilation ports of your circuit board. If you’re trying to tackle corrosion that has already developed, you may want to open the electronic device so you can deliver the burst of air straight to the source.
- Baking soda. Check with the manufacturer first, but baking soda can be effective in removing PCB corrosion in some cases. It’s mildly abrasive, so it can be used to remove corrosion that doesn’t come off easily with compressed air. Just be gentle in using it.
- Brush. A toothbrush or paintbrush – something small, with soft bristles, can help you scrub some of the smaller spaces. Microfiber cloths might also work, assuming they are lint-free.
Again, the exact cleaning method will depend on the type of device and corrosion with which you’re dealing. Ideally, your focus should be on PCB corrosion prevention.
Zerust Products to Prevent Corrosion of Printed Circuit Boards
The most simple, effective, and inexpensive way to prevent PCB corrosion is by using vapor corrosion inhibitors, better known as VCIs.
All Zerust VCI products – from the plastabs to capsules to drawer liners – use this modern technology. It involves the use of a protective, molecular-level compound that settles on all metal surfaces, forming an ultra-thin shield that blocks the electrochemical reactions that cause corrosion on metal materials. It doesn’t damage the metal surface or impact the electrical function of your device (except to improve it by preventing damage). Store your item in a closed drawer with a tool liner, a container with a plastab, or some other enclosed space with an adhesive-backed vapor capsule nearby, and the VCI will do all the work. When you open the enclosed area, the vapor dissipates harmlessly into the air.
If you have questions about which Zerust products are ideal to protect your valuable electronics, our rust prevention specialists can help.
Corrosion in Electronics, James A. Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland
More Blog Entries:
Prevent PCB Corrosion of Electronics With Anti-Tarnish Vapor Capsules, Dec. 15, 2020, Zerust Rust Prevention Blog