Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts Hot video

Although it's fairly routine for the gold-plated contacts on your pinball game to require cleaning, there is probably no more contentious issue than how, and with what, they should be cleaned.  You will find post after post that states categorically that you should never use contact cleaner on switches. 

That's just not true.  Like any other repair, you need to select the right product (see Image 1) and use it properly.

Plus contact cleaner will remove oxidation better than other methods.  See Image 5 where I first cleaned the contacts with a matchbook cover as recommended on many of the forums and then cleaned them again with a contact cleaner.  You can see where the contact cleaner removed a lot more oxidation.

The first reason given for not using contact cleaner is that it is flammable.  In fact there are videos on the Internet showing a flame shooting out of a can of contact cleaner.  While this may be dramatic, if you put a match to your wife's hairspray the same thing will happen.  This is nothing more than the solvent, which will evaporate in a few seconds anyway, burning off.

There's also a story on the Internet about a bowler burning up after the tech used contact cleaner.  Most likely related to the tech shorting a wire while cleaning the contacts, but it's a great urban myth.

Image Gallery

Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts
Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts
Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts
Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts
Cleaning Gold-Plated Contacts

Any high quality contact cleaner will become non-flammable after drying (10 seconds).  If you're still worried there are also types available that are completely non-flammable (see related articles).

The second reason given is that contact cleaner will melt plastics.  Any high quality contact cleaner will be plastic safe (although most say to be careful around aged ABS plastic).  In any case, just don't spray the contact cleaner on your valuable plastics.  You can also purchase the product recommended below in a wipes version, which will control where the cleaner goes.

Note: Do not use a burnishing tool or anything abrasive (i.e. - sandpaper) on gold-plated contacts.

Personally I prefer the DeoxIT brand of products (see references after the article).  You will also need a non-glossy business card or a chamois swab; the preferred method.   If you're going to spray the contact cleaner directly on the contacts some paper towels will also come in handy.

See Image 2 for the contacts prior to cleaning.

The first method is to spray some of the DeoxIT cleaner on the chamois swab or business card.  Place the card/swab between the two gold-plated contacts and then hold the contacts closed with two fingers while sliding the card/swab in and out (see Image 3).

Repeat as necessary and then wipe off any excess cleaner.

The second method is to spray the cleaner directly on the contacts using a paper towel around the switch to catch any over-spray.  Always use the small tube that comes with the DeoxIT in order to minimize over-spray.

Wait a few seconds and then use a dry card/swab as described above.  Repeat as necessary and wipe off any excess cleaner.  See Image 4 for the contacts after cleaning.

Because the gold-plated contact is rounded on top you will just get a small circle, rather than the entire contact, cleaned.  This is fine since you've cleaned the surface area that is doing all the work.

The chamois swab will clean a larger area than a business card, so I highly recommend using one.  If you want to get all of the oxidation off, just let the cleaner soak overnight.  With either method it helps to remove the switch's mounting screws before cleaning and while your at it you can adjust the gap between the contacts.

At this point you can apply the DeoxIT enhancer and protector for gold-plated contacts.  I always do, but it's up to you.

Note: DeoxIT also packages their products in small wipes which can be used instead of the spray (see related articles).