Essential Characteristics of Electric Contact Cleaners and their Applications in Electric Equipment

13 Jul 2022

Metal electrical contacts are an essential part of the electrical equipment that helps transmit energy from the utility line to the equipment's electrical operating system. The equipment would immediately stop working if the contacts were taken out.

Electrical equipment can also be sabotaged if the electrical connections are improperly maintained. Although the electrical equipment will still function, its efficiency will reduce significantly. Electrical contact cleaners are essential for various company operations, businesses, and organizations to maintain the efficiency of electrical contacts in long-lasting equipment.

Electrical contact cleaners are used to remove contaminations such as dirt, grease, oil, and corrosion/rust from the battery terminals, switches, circuit boards, connections, and other electrical contacts. The market for electrical contact cleaners is driven by the strong demand from major end-use industries such as maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO), automotive, and consumer electronics. 


Additionally, the average age of the fleet of vehicles is rising, which has increased the demand for electrical contact cleaners to clean the electrical contacts in older cars. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), the average age of passenger cars in Europe is 11.8 years as compared to 14.1 years for trucks and 12.8 years for buses. The market for electrical contact cleaners is expanding since older automobiles need more maintenance and repair than newer ones.

According to the BIS Research analysis, the global electrical contact cleaner market was valued at $561.41 million in 2021, and it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.45% and reach $1.21 billion by 2031. 

The rising safety risks brought on by electrical resistance on contact surfaces due to dirt, grease, oil, and other substances are anticipated to fuel the expansion of the global electrical contact cleaner market. 

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However, the stringent regulations regarding the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) in electrical contact cleansers have posed a substantial barrier for businesses competing in this industry. The lack of qualified workers in end-use sectors, the ongoing container crisis, supply chain issues, growing prices, and market volatility are also creating serious obstacles to the expansion of the electrical contact cleaner industry.

Characteristics of Electric Contact Cleaners

There are many contact cleaners available in the market. However, a lot of products contain hazardous properties that might not be suitable for cleaning electrical contacts. A few essential properties of efficient electric contacts are discussed as follows: 

1.    Flammability: Numerous contact cleansers sold commercially include highly flammable alcohols and hydrocarbon solvents. They are inexpensive and typically efficient cleansers, but they can be dangerous if there are open flames, sparks from a welding process, or hot surfaces nearby and there is not enough ventilation. Thus, one could opt for non-flammable contact cleansers to avoid these safety concerns; however, they could come at a premium price. Non-flammable electrical contact cleaners pose no risk as the formulation of these electrical contact cleaners has a flash point above 100-degree Fahrenheit, which is non-flammable and non-conductive. Moreover, these electrical contact cleaners are non-corrosive, and they dry up very quickly, leaving no stains behind.  

2.    Dielectric strength: The highest electric field that a material can withstand before losing its insulating qualities is known as dielectric strength. Thus, if the dielectric strength is low, then there is a greater chance that the electric equipment would fail and permit electricity to pass through it, resulting in a short circuit and/or a serious safety concern. 

A cleaner with the highest dielectric strength is more suitable to clean connections while the power is on or can be switched on before the solvent has completely evaporated. Before spraying anything onto a circuit that is being cleaned, it is essential to always check the amperage and voltage of the circuits and determine whether the cleaner is appropriate for the application. 

3.    Rubber-plastic compatibility: Although connection contact surfaces are made of metal, they are frequently enclosed in plastic and sealed with rubber gaskets. A contact cleaner's solvent may develop minute fractures, embrittle, or soften plastic if it is incompatible with the substance. If rubber seals are subjected to a strong solvent, they may bloat, shrink, or even dissolve. It is essential to test the rubber-plastic compatibility of the solvent before using a new contact cleaner extensively on the expensive new equipment.

4.    Toxicity of the cleaner: Toxic substances such as N-Propyl Bromide (nPB), Trichloroethylene (TCE), and Perchloroethylene (Perc) are frequently utilized in contact cleansers to give cleaning efficacy in a non-flammable formulation. When exposed to high doses of these substances, workers working with the electric contact cleaners might develop serious health conditions. They might experience serious health problems such as headaches, vertigo, and even lose entire body control. 

Additional research has revealed a potential connection between cancer and reproductive issues. Due to these dangers, maintenance facilities have had to reconsider their solvent selections, particularly for manual cleaning, where exposure to toxic substances is typically higher than more automated cleaning procedures. 

5.    Environmental concerns: When contact cleansers contained hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), such as AK-225 and the old-fashioned Freon, ozone depletion was a worry. Since these solvents are no longer used commercially in North America, concerns have changed to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), smog-producing solvents, or solvents with a high potential to cause global warming (GWP). 

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs are those organic compounds that exert a high vapor pressure and offer low solubility to water. The presence of these volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere may cause numerous harmful effects to the environment, such as ozone depletion, global warming, and smog formation, because these compounds photochemically react with sunlight. The EPA regulates the production criteria of electric contact cleaners containing VOC chemicals under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Therefore, the electrical contact cleaner market may be affected due to government regulations. Contact cleaners containing CFCs and HCFCs such as Freon and AK-225, respectively, are no longer available in the commercial market of North America as these solvents did not qualify the EPA regulations. Furthermore, the use of high VOC or high GWP compounds is restricted by some states, municipal, and even industry-specific rules, for instance, CARB (the California Air Review Board).

Conclusion

Electric contact cleaners are lifesavers for electrical and electronic appliances. After long-time use of electrical and electronic components, dust, dirt, grease, and oxidation contaminations can get collected on contact surfaces, which might result in increased electrical resistance in contact areas. This necessitates the application of electric contact cleaners to maintain the efficiency of equipment for a long time. 

 
 

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