I haven’t seen the article yet, but I heard from one of our loyal readers today that a very well known sailing magazine has just published (this month’s issue) some advice in their DIY section that recommends using vinegar to maintain the electrical terminals on such things as anchor windlass connections and bow thruster power terminals and such. Sorry, but this rings wrong to me.
I was trained early on that acid and electrical components just don’t mix too well with the exception being the electrolyte inside a battery. Acid induces corrosion in the marine environment. Now I haven’t seen the article myself as I’m currently traveling in Canada, so I can’t quote the article but I think this advice is at the least potentially dangerous. I’m staying in a hotel that is really near a super market so I just went over and caught a shot of the label on a bottle of generic white vinegar. Check the label here:
The resolution on the label unfortunately is too low to read here, but I can tell you that the stuff is labeled as 5% acetic acid by volume.
OK, I’ll admit that my knowledge of vinegar is limited. I usually mix it with oil and put it on my salad. I vaguely remember using it in science class for some experiments with bases and acids when the teacher was a bit uptight about using strong acids for fear of killing one of us. For sure I’m no vinegar guru. But, one thing I do know is that acid in general is quite corrosive and I really don’t want to do anything to induce corrosion to my electrical system so I personally think this recommendation is risky.
I decided to try and educate myself a bit more about vinegar, realizing my ignorance in these matters, I did a Google search. Guess what, there is a “Vinegar Institute”. Their website can be found at: http://www.versatilevinegar.org/todaysvinegar.html
So, what did I learn about vinegar today? Well, the FDA wants to make sure the stuff is acidic for one thing. Here’s what the institute says about that:
“The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that any product called “vinegar” contain at least 4% acidity. This requirement ensures the minimum strength of the vinegar sold at the retail level. There are currently no standards of identity for vinegar, however FDA has established “Compliance Policy Guides” that the Agency follows regarding labeling of vinegars, such as cider, wine, malt, sugar, spirit and vinegar blends. Other countries, as in Europe, have regional standards for vinegar produced or sold in the area.”
But, what about using vinegar to clean electrical connections? Well the institute says this about that:
“Brass, copper and pewter will shine if cleaned with the following mixture. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of white distilled vinegar and stir in flour until it becomes a paste. Apply paste to the metals and let it stand for about 15 minutes. Rinse with clean warm water and polish until dry.”
Alright, so this sounds like a recipe for making a paste to clean those copper clad pots and pans you may have in your kitchen. But do note, we’re going to add some salt to this mix too. Another favorite around electrical gear on boats.
Folks, feel free to quote Ed Sherman here, he says that the advice in this magazine article is risky at best and very possibly could cause some serious damage to your electrical system. Don’t use vinegar to clean your boat’s electrical contacts.