[RFI] LED Christmas Light RFI -> LED lead corrosion

Jeff Blaine jeff at ac0c.com
Mon Dec 2 20:43:14 EST 2013

Gary is on the money, you could say.

Those little generic T5 LEDs have a manufacturer's side cost basis in the 
1-2 cents range.  And the price competition is murderous.  The hang-up to 
cost reduction is the packing materials cost - not the actual LED chip cost.


-----Original Message----- 
From: Gary K9GS
Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2013 10:17 AM
To: rfi at contesting.com
Subject: Re: [RFI] LED Christmas Light RFI -> LED lead corrosion

Welcome to the world of low-cost consumer electronics.  I would imagine
the LEDs used in Christmas lights are about the cheapest ones
available.  I just did a quick check.  A 60 LED string of lights can be
bought at Target for $7.  That works out to ~$0.12 per LED.

The low cost consumer LEDs used in these types of products are likely
using steel in the leads to save cost.  That's why they are so cheap.
One other possibility is if the leads were gold plated. You cannot
electroplate gold directly on to copper.  You have to use an
intermediate metal on the copper and then plate the gold on to the
intermediate metal.  Typically, the intermediate metal is nickel which
IS slightly magnetic.  But I highly doubt that's what we're talking
about here :)

Remember, these types of LEDs with leads are designed to be indicators.
They're not designed for lighting applications like you'd find in high
performance lighting applications.  Those types of LEDs are usually
surface mount parts and are MUCH brighter.  But for illuminating things
like meters in amplifiers what you're using are perfect.

On 12/1/2013 9:58 PM, Kim Elmore wrote:
> Now THIS is interesting. Up until now, I have used the classic series 
> strings and have always suspected that corrosion occurred during storage. 
> Yet, I could never find much evidence of corrosion because the lamp leads 
> are copper and the socket material is brass.
> I recently replaced incandescent lamps in my amplifier meters with white 
> LEDs. As I was cleaning up, I noticed to my astonishment that the clipped 
> parts of the LED leads are magnetic. I remembered thinking that whatever 
> they were, they sure were surprisingly tough to cut... If the leads are 
> some sort of ferrous material (likely mild steel) that has been copper 
> plated and then tinned to make soldering easier, the corrosion you see is 
> easily explained.
> It's also interesing that they depend on the (poor) PIV ratings of the LED 
> series string for string AC operation. If this is how they manage the LED 
> strings, then these will be very RF quiet though they may not last long as 
> outdoor lights if this is the common construction practice.
> Kim N5OP
> On 12/1/2013 6:30 PM, John DeGood wrote:
>> My father-in-law WA3GNU has 3 strings of LED holiday lights at his QTH.
>> They consist of 60 LEDs per string: each string is divided into 2 halves
>> with each half consisting of 30 LEDs in series with 3 x 735 ohm
>> resistors (sealed in heatshrink tubing) connected directly across the
>> 120 VAC line and protected by a pair of fuses in the plug. Given this
>> circuit topology, I would not expect RFI problems and WA3GNU has not
>> noticed any.
>> When we took them down last year they were all working, but all 6 halves
>> of the 3 strings were dark when we attempted to return them to a third
>> season of service this week. Troubleshooting, I discovered that
>> approximately 25% of the LED lamps had suffered corrosion failure in
>> which one lead was broken due to corrosion. Many of the remaining LEDs
>> with both leads still intact showed obvious evidence of serious
>> corrosion in progress.
>> These LED lamp strings are constructed identically to miniature
>> incandescent holiday lamp strings, with the LED leads simply inserted
>> through a pair of holes in a small keyed plastic base and then bent back
>> against opposite sides of the plastic base to serve as the contacts. The
>> plastic base is then inserted into a keyed plastic socket such that the
>> LED leads press against a pair of flat contacts which appear to be made
>> of brass or a similar metal.
>> I hypothesize the corrosion resulted from the combined effects of
>> moisture, dissimilar metals (LED leads vs. socket contacts), and DC
>> current (the series LED string acts as a rectifier). A few of the LED
>> lamps showed no evidence of corrosion: I hypothesize they might by
>> chance have been positioned such that they did not get wet. Thus, this
>> corrosion failure mode might not occur in a dry indoor environment.
>> John NU3E
>> On 12/1/2013 3:51 PM, Kim Elmore wrote:
>>> Does anyone have experience with RFI from LED Christmas lights? Are some 
>>> better than others? All bad? No problems?
>>> Kim N5OP
>>> "People that make music together cannot be enemies, at least as long as 
>>> the music lasts." -- Paul Hindemith
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Gary K9GS

Greater Milwaukee DX Association: http://www.gmdxa.org
Society of Midwest Contesters: http://www.w9smc.com
CW Ops #1032   http://www.cwops.org


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