Wetting current

In electrical and electronics engineering, wetting current (sometimes also spelled as whetting current in archaic sources) is the minimum electric current needing to flow through a contact to break through the surface film resistance at a contact.[1] It is typically far below the contact's nominal maximum current rating.[2]

A thin film of oxidation, or an otherwise passivated layer, tends to form in most environments, particularly those with high humidity, and, along with surface roughness, contributes to the contact resistance at an interface.[3] Providing a sufficient amount of wetting current is a crucial step in designing systems that use delicate switches with small contact pressure as sensor inputs. Failing to do this might result in switches remaining electrically "open" when pressed, due to contact oxidation.[4][5]

Capacitor discharge solution

In some low voltage applications, where switching current is below the manufacturer's wetting current specification, a capacitor discharge method may be employed by placing a small capacitor across the switch contacts to boost the current through contact surface upon contact closure.[4][6]

Sealing current

A related term sealing current (aka wetting current or fritt current) is widely used in the telecommunication industry describing a small constant DC current (typically 1-20 mA) in copper wire loops in order to avoid contact oxidation of contacts and splices. It is defined in ITU-T G.992.3 for "all digital mode ADSL" as a current flowing from the ATU-C (ADSL Linecard) via the phone lines to the ATU-R (CPE).[7][8]

Contact cleaner

Contact cleaner can be applied to the contact surfaces to inhibit the formation of resistive surface films and/or to ameliorate existing films.[9]

See also


  1. McMillan, Gregory K., ed. (1999). Process/Industrial Instruments and Controls Handbook (5th ed.). McGraw Hill. p. 7.26. ISBN 0-07-012582-1.
  2. "Switch Contact Design - Switches - Electronics Textbook".
  3. Zhai, C.; Hanaor, D.; Proust, G.; Gan, Y. (2015). "Stress-Dependent Electrical Contact Resistance at Fractal Rough Surfaces" (PDF). Journal of Engineering Mechanics: B4015001. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)EM.1943-7889.0000967.
  4. "Relay contact life" (Application note). Winston-Salem, NC, USA: Tyco Electronics Corporation (TEC), P&B Relays. 13C3236, IH/12-00. Archived from the original on 2018-05-19. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  5. Mairs, William (September 2004). "Keeping in contact" (PDF). NHP Technical News. NHP Electrical Engineering Products Pty. (42). TNL-42 10/04 14M. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-05-19. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  6. Stewart, Anthony (2011). "The Case of the Intermittent Relay". Design News.
  7. Recommendation G.992.3: Asymmetric digital subscriber line transceivers 2 (ADSL2). ITU-T. Archived from the original on 2018-05-19. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  8. Bennett, Brad (1996-12-13). "Sealing current on ISDN loops". comp.dcom.isdn. Retrieved 2018-05-19. […] Wynn Quon: The Bellcore Layer 1 specs talk about "sealing current". This is a low current (1-20mA) DC signal applied to tip and ring. […] It is supposed to reduce oxidation at line splices and it provides a troubleshooting aid in the field. […] Brad Bennett: I was personally the researcher that did the sealing current work while at Bellcore […] sealing current does effectively keep a copper loop intact (through a process called electromigration […] it does work on copper loops which have splices […] for direct copper loops (CO to customer sites) it is ALWAYS suppose to be applied (and is built into the line cards). For other technologies (e.g. BRITE cards), which synthesize ISDN from 3 DS0 circuits at a subscriber loop cabinet (SLC), I am […] not sure it is a requirement. […] other interesting upshots of […] this work, which I am not certain have ever made it to the public. For example there are certain metal pairs [for] which you definitely do NOT want to use sealing current […] or […] run any continuous DC current (e.g. copper and precious metals). Such contacts (splices) are materially designed to fail if current continually flows in the wrong direction. […] on […] copper wires, sealing current helps to maintain good electrical connections […]
  9. "Down and Dirty with Contact Cleaners". 17 February 2017.

Further reading

  • Pitney, Kenneth E. (2014) [1973]. Ney Contact Manual - Electrical Contacts for Low Energy Uses (reprint of 1st ed.). Deringer-Ney, originally JM Ney Co. ASIN B0006CB8BC. (NB. Free download after registration.)
  • Slade, Paul G. (2014-02-12) [1999]. Electrical Contacts: Principles and Applications. Electrical and Computer Engineering. Electrical engineering and electronics. 105 (2 ed.). CRC Press, Taylor & Francis, Inc. ISBN 978-1-43988130-9.
  • Holm, Ragnar; Holm, Else (2013-06-29) [1967]. Williamson, J. B. P. (ed.). Electric Contacts: Theory and Application (reprint of 4th revised ed.). Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-3-540-03875-7. (NB. A rewrite of the earlier "Electric Contacts Handbook".)
  • Holm, Ragnar; Holm, Else (1958). Electric Contacts Handbook (3rd completely rewritten ed.). Berlin / Göttingen / Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-662-23790-8. (NB. A rewrite and translation of the earlier "Die technische Physik der elektrischen Kontakte" (1941) in German language, which is available as reprint under ISBN 978-3-662-42222-9.)
  • Huck, Manfred; Walczuk, Eugeniucz; Buresch, Isabell; Weiser, Josef; Borchert, Lothar; Faber, Manfred; Bahrs, Willy; Saeger, Karl E.; Imm, Reinhard; Behrens, Volker; Heber, Jochen; Großmann, Hermann; Streuli, Max; Schuler, Peter; Heinzel, Helmut; Harmsen, Ulf; Györy, Imre; Ganz, Joachim; Horn, Jochen; Kaspar, Franz; Lindmayer, Manfred; Berger, Frank; Baujan, Guenter; Kriechel, Ralph; Wolf, Johann; Schreiner, Günter; Schröther, Gerhard; Maute, Uwe; Linnemann, Hartmut; Thar, Ralph; Möller, Wolfgang; Rieder, Werner; Kaminski, Jan; Popa, Heinz-Erich; Schneider, Karl-Heinz; Bolz, Jakob; Vermij, L.; Mayer, Ursula (2016) [1984]. Vinaricky, Eduard; Schröder, Karl-Heinz; Weiser, Josef; Keil, Albert; Merl, Wilhelm A.; Meyer, Carl-Ludwig (eds.). Elektrische Kontakte, Werkstoffe und Anwendungen: Grundlagen, Technologien, Prüfverfahren (in German) (3 ed.). Berlin / Heidelberg / New York / Tokyo: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-642-45426-4.
  • Lee, Martin (2016-01-11). "Overcome Wetting Voltage and Current Limitations With an External Wetting Power Supply" (PDF) (Application note). Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL). AN20 16-01. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  • Paton, Kevin (2011). "The Test, Usage and Maintenance of Power Switching Subsystems" (PDF). North Reading, MA, USA: Teradyne, Inc. / IEEE. ISBN 978-1-4244-9363-0. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-09-16. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  • El Mossouess, S.; Benjemâa, N.; Carvou, E.; El Abdi, R.; Benmamas, L.; Doublet, L. (2014), Fretting corrosion in power contacts: Electrical and thermal analysis (PDF), archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-05-21, retrieved 2018-05-21
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