I’m disassembling and reconfiguring part of my hydronic heating system and I want to re-use several high quality 1” brass sweat-connected ball valves that would cost about $30 each to replace. (I have more time than money.) The heating system is about 15 years old but the valves are in good shape. They were originally assembled with lead solder.

I’ve already reclaimed one of them after removal by reheating the cup till the solder melts, then wiping inside the cup with a wad of fine steel wool, which seems to attract excess solder pretty well and leaves a smooth surface that will accept a piece of new pipe without interference. I’m protecting the valve body from overheating with wet rags.

Is there a better way? Something that works better than steel wool? Add a little flux? Any tips would be appreciated.

  • I'm not certain if it will work for lead solder for plumbing, but for electronics, solder-wick is used to get rid of it when desoldering parts.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 29, 2020 at 19:21
  • @FreeMan A good thought but not practical due to the large size of plumbing fittings vs the tiny size of PCB solder pads.
    – MTA
    Jul 29, 2020 at 19:27
  • Hence a comment, not an answer... ;)
    – FreeMan
    Jul 29, 2020 at 19:32
  • They make pretty big solder wick. Jul 29, 2020 at 19:52
  • When I first saw the title I assumed you were looking to re-use the solder.
    – psaxton
    Jul 30, 2020 at 3:31

1 Answer 1


What you're doing is what I've found to be most effective also. Don't add any flux to the fittings, however, add some to the steel wool since you want the solder to cling to it and not the pipe fittings.

Keep in mind that you're not going to want to reuse these for any sort of drinking water use since they were originally soldered with lead-based solder and it's nearly impossible to get it all off. But for your heating system use or other non-potable water use, no problem as long as they are in good shape.

  • Yes, these are all for re-use in the heating system, good point.
    – MTA
    Jul 29, 2020 at 19:22
  • 2
    Microscopic amounts of lead won’t hurt. It’s lead, not plutonium. Jul 29, 2020 at 19:53
  • 1
    Steel wool + flux is solder wick, just made of steel instead of copper.
    – SiHa
    Jul 29, 2020 at 20:23
  • love your comment Harp! Let's not over-react to a tiny bit of lead. Reacting to another comment: I thought flux was to prevent oxidation of the copper while heating so I see no need to use it when cleaning up previously soldered fittings. I think what the OP is doing using steel wool is about as good as it gets. Jul 29, 2020 at 20:33
  • Thank you Harper. People don't realize how many lead joints and possibly even lead pipes their water has passed through before it gets to their home. And no-one died.
    – psaxton
    Jul 30, 2020 at 3:35

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