As promised, here’s a brief tutorial on how to clean your shore power plug contacts to help prevent overheating. Note that if the pedestal outlet is already damaged simply cleaning your own plug will do little to prevent damage from overheating. But at least you’ll know that you’ve done everything possible on your end of things. Please don’t be opening up a live campground pedestal and poking around inside as that could get you killed.
The first thing to do is inspect your shore power plug for any obvious signs of overheating. If it resembles anything like this picture, then no amount of cleaning is going to fix it. You’ll simply have to replace the plug itself. More on that in a future article, but let’s see what we can do to keep your plug from getting this hot in the first place.
My theory of failure for these connectors is twofold. First of all, if the plug or outlet contacts are oxidized (corroded) then there will be a voltage drop across the contacts. And that voltage drop will turn into heat. We can, in fact, do something about corrosion as long as things didn’t get too hot.
But if the outlet is so worn that the spring contacts don’t make proper connection, then there’s no amount of cleaning that will correct the problem. The only solution is for the campground to replace the pedestal outlet. And that’s certainly not something you want to do for yourself. However, once a shore power plug has reached the temperature of the one in the picture, it’s a certainty that the pedestal outlet is damaged internally as well and needs to be replaced. Not doing so will cause the next shore power cord plugged into it to have a similar meltdown.
So let’s focus on what you can personally do to keep your shore power plug happy. There’s the gold standard way to do this (but most expensive), and the second best way to do this (for a lot less money). Let’s discuss the gold standard way to do this first.
If your shore power plug shows signs of oxidation (looks brown instead of gold) but the plastic plug isn’t discolored or melted from overheating, a bit of contact abrasion is likely called for. My favorite tool for this is a fingernail emery board. The price is right at less than $4 for a 10-pack and it’s a very fine grit that won’t remove too much metal. But don’t do this every time you plug into a pedestal as you’ll begin to wear down the thickness of the brass contacts. You might need to do this once a season if you didn’t bring your shore power cord in out of the weather (shame on you).
After burnishing it a bit with your emery board, carefully wipe the contacts down with a paper towel to remove any bits of grit. Then get out your can of DeoxIT D5. I would suggest wearing glasses when you do this as these products will really hurt if you catch a spray in your eye (ask me how I know this…). You only need less than a 1-second spritz on each contact, so your $15 can of DeoxIT should last for several seasons. Note that if there’s any oxidation left from your burnishing efforts DeoxIT D5 will remove them as well.
DeoxIT products are non-flammable and non-conductive and dry in a few seconds, so there’s no danger if you accidentally leave the circuit breaker on. So you could just give a little spritz of DeoxIT D5 in the pedestal outlet contacts as well, and then plug in. But if you’re in a very high humidity situation that also includes ocean spray, you’ll probably want to go to the next step which is DeoxIT Shield SN5. Yes, it’s expensive but it will allow your connections to survive even in a marine environment. Again, you don’t have to soak the contacts, but give them a little 1-second burst of Shield SN5 and the brass is protected from further oxidation.
So this is a 3-step procedure. First, you burnish off any severe oxidation on the contacts with a fingernail emery board. Second, you give your plug contacts a little spritz of DeoxIT D5 to blast off any leftover oxidation. Finally, you coat the contacts with DeoxIT Shield SN5 to prevent further corrosion, and a little spritz of D5 in any pedestal you’re plugging into.
Now, like all things in life, you can eat steak or hamburger. And there is a hamburger version of this procedure that will cost a lot less and do basically the same thing. Instead of DeoxIT products, you can substitute CRC products. CRC Electronic Cleaner is available at any auto parts store, is safe on all plastics, and does a pretty good job of cleaning off oxidation. Not as good as DeoxIT D5, but at 1/2 the cost for a bigger can. So, same procedure of using an emery board for the initial burnishing of any oxidized contacts, followed by a spritz of CRC Electronic Cleaner.
Next, follow up with CRC Heavy Duty Silicone spray, also found in any auto parts store. It works much the same way as DeoxIT Shield, but at about 1/4 of the price. Both of these products dry almost instantly and are non-conductive, so it’s safe to use on your shore power plug immediately prior to plugging in. But, as always, make sure the pedestal circuit breakers are off before plugging or unplugging your shore power cord.
Hope this helps. And remember, once your shore power plug shows any signs of overheating it’s time to replace it. And the same goes for any pedestal outlet that’s been overheated. There’s no way to fix the spring contacts once they’ve been overheated and lost their grip.
Let’s stay heart safe out there…
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
Email me at mike (at) noshockzone.org with your questions.
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