Essential Steps to Clean Your PCB Board Without Damaging It

Clean PCB Board

At first glance, cleaning a printed circuit board is a tricky task to handle since PCBs do get dirty over time. Different elements would build up on the surface of these circuit boards, and if left unwatched, they could pose a big problem for the PCB and the device it is integrated into. In this article, we’ll learn the essential steps to clean a PCB without damaging it.

Why does cleaning your PCB matter?

Be aware that after a PCB has been manufactured successfully, you will need to clean it down to the last speck of taint present on it. That’s because a clean PCB ensures the smooth operation of the device that it is integrated into. Failure to clean a PCB can lead to harmful effects that could affect the PCB’s lifespan within the device in which it operates.

Neglecting to clean the PCBs could bring negative effects that can range from the following:

  • Reduced efficacy of the device it is integrated into
  • The device using the dirty PCB could break down or become non-functional
  • Additional expenses in response to replacement and repair

PCB Board Cleaning

The procedures for cleaning your PCB without damaging it

Now that you clearly understand why it is important to clean a PCB, let’s get to the main focus of this article, which is the procedures needed to clean your PCB. Listed in this section are the steps you’ll need to follow about how to clean PCB and to ensure that your printed circuit board will become squeaky clean and function like it is brand new without damaging any key components.

1. Inspect and make the cleaning solution.

Assess the PCB’s surface first and see which spots require the most cleaning. Also, try to check for areas that have corrosion on the surface of the PCB. Once you have determined the spots that require cleanup, you will need to prepare a cleaning solution for use in removing the taint present on the PCB’s surface.

The best cleaning solution is ready-made isopropyl alcohol (IPA) which is specially designed for PCB cleaning. But you also get the solution by yourself. Use ¼ cup of baking soda and a tablespoon of water to make a cleaning solution. Place the cleaning solution inside a spray bottle or a container for later use.

On a side note, you must prepare a phosphate-free cleaner, such as Lysol. You will need that phosphate-free cleaning liquid in the later steps of cleaning your printed circuit board.

Also read: Advanced Techniques for Salvaging and Repairing Damaged PCB Boards

2. Take an image of the circuit board’s setup and disconnect parts.

Now that you’ve prepared the cleaning solution, you’d want to make preparations for disconnecting all parts of the circuit board. However, before doing so, you would want to take a picture of the circuit board’s setup. You will need a reference image of the configuration post-cleaning so you can easily reconnect and reassemble all parts.

With the reference image captured, you can begin disconnecting and disassembling your printed circuit board.

3. Dip the brush and scrub with care.

Use a small, fine-bristled brush and dip it in the cleaning solution you’ve created earlier. Softly but thoroughly scrub the board’s surface so you can loosen the foundation of stains and corrosion present on the PCB. You do not want to accidentally damage any sections of the printed circuit board as you scrub.

4. Leave the boards to dry.

Once you are done applying the cleaning solution to the printed circuit board thoroughly to all unclean areas, let the PCB sit out for up to 30 minutes to dry. Make the baking soda-based cleaning solution dry out so it can be easier to remove later.

Clean A PCB Board

5. Remove the baking soda mixture.

The next step in ensuring a clean PCB is to remove the cleaning solution after drying it for up to half an hour. Use distilled water to remove the dried baking soda. Make sure to have a secondary wet brush with you for this step in case there are any spots of baking soda on the PCB that are too stubborn to be removed with water alone.

6. Spray, scrub, and rinse.

The next thing you’ll need to do to clean a PCB is to apply the phosphate-free cleaning spray to its surface. Spray the entire surface with the cleaning liquid and leave the printed circuit board to dry for around 15 seconds. Once the surface is dry, give it a good and thorough scrubbing with a clean toothbrush.

Rinse the circuit board again with distilled water. To dry the PCB after rinsing, you will need to use a clean towel. Dab the towel on the circuit board’s surface instead of wiping it to prevent any damage to important sections of the board.

7. Preheat, dry, and reassemble.

The last few things you’ll need to do in cleaning your PCB are the final drying and re-assembling of your circuit board. To start, preheat your oven to around 100 to 150 degrees Celsius. Keep in mind that the materials used in its construction and components will play into the required temperature to dry it.

Once the oven is preheated, turn it off and place the circuit board inside it. The time you wait for the PCB to fully dry is around two hours at the minimum and four hours at its longest. Check the PCB and see whether there is still moisture present on it. If you’re sure that the boards are fully dry, re-assemble your circuit according to the reference configuration you’ve captured earlier and run tests to see if it is still functioning post-cleaning.

Also read: The Beginner’s Guide to Soldering PCB Boards: Essential Tools and Techniques

A cleaned PCB ensures it will last and work longer

This concludes the steps on how to clean PCB board. Now that you are oriented on the steps you’ll need to take in maintaining your printed circuit board’s cleanliness, turn it into a routine from time to time. Regularly inspect your PCBs to see whether they are starting to build up corrosions, specks of dust, or any filth as they could negatively impact your circuit board if left unwatched.

With the steps we’ve covered, the cleaning tools, and the right brush for the job, you can ensure that your PCB will last and operate longer in your hands.

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