Abstract Laboratory experiments were carried out as part of the preparations of an oxygen glow discharge cleaning experiment in ASDEX Upgrade. They aimed at evaluating the effect of mixing the oxygen with helium, the collateral damage caused by the glow discharge, as well as the influence of impurities in the films being eroded. Oxygen concentrations below 20% in helium are sufficient to achieve high erosion rates. The discharge can lead to the formation of oxide layers on surfaces which – as demonstrated for tungsten – can be rapidly reduced by post-treatment in a hydrogen discharge. For carbon, aluminum and iron the physical sputtering yield may become similar to the erosion yield of redeposited layers, but it is by more than one order of magnitude smaller for tungsten. Using a-B:C:H films with varying boron content, it was found that impurities can cause the erosion rate to drop by orders of magnitude.