Cleaning Pots & Switches, Or Not

I've often heard people who dabble a bit with amplifiers and the like, recommend giving all the pots, switches and connectors a squirt with some switch cleaner, or even WD40. I'm also often asked by clients if I will do this too while checking out their equipment. I get eyed a little suspiciously sometimes when I recommend otherwise.

Unless a control is showing signs of problems, it really is a bad idea. If there is nothing actually wrong with the control, you stand a good chance of reducing it's life.

Sliders, rotary pots and switches have appropriate lubricants in key places already. Flushing them through with a solvent/fine lubricant mix will wash this out. Not only that, but the lubricant you've just used will now be coating potentiometer tracks too. While this in itself doesn't usually stop things from working, it will encourage dust to stick here in future, making something like a grinding paste to be wiped back and forth as you operate the control in use. The common cleaner Servisol 10 leaves a very fine residue of lubricant, while WD40 leaves quite a substantial oily layer.

There are exceptions to this. Connectors generally can be cleaned, though if they're causing problems, like some switching jacks can, they will need more careful attention than just a squirt of cleaner.

Another exception is where a control is causing a problem with noise or intermittent operation. Then some cleaner can work wonders, though sometimes only for a while. If repeated cleaning becomes necessary then the control is worn and a replacement will be required.

Conclusion

Cleaning pots and switches has it's uses, but it really shouldn't be done as a matter of course.