21 July 2017

Rust Removal: Electrolysis


The process of removing rust with electricity is fairly simple and can be achieved with minimal cost and effort


What is electrolysis?

Electrolysis removes rust from metallic objects. During electrolysis, an electrical current will flow through a liquid, such as a molten ionic compound or aqueous solution. Atoms are rearranged, causing irreversible changes in chemical composition.

Adding conductors, often in the form of copper wire (which has a higher melting point), to the liquid and connecting the conductors to a power supply creates an electrical current.

Electrons in a metallic structure flow towards the positive terminal of the power supply. This causes one of the electrodes (conductors) to become positively charged and the other to become negatively charged. The positive ions (cations) in the liquid attract to the negative electrode and the negative ions (anions) are attracted to the positive electrode. At this stage electron exchange occurs, creating a chemical reaction.

The process of removing rust using electrolysis

Please take great care if you attempt to remove rust from an object via electrolysis.

To remove rust by electrolysis you will require:

  • A large plastic tub or container
  • Battery charger
  • Your rusty object
  • A piece of steel
  • Water
  • Sodium carbonate substance

The process of removing rust with electricity is fairly simple and can be achieved with minimal cost and effort

  • Fill the container with enough water to fully submerge the rusty object.
  • To create an aqueous solution, you will need to add a sodium carbonate substance such as washing soda or soda crystals to the water.
  • Connect the negative terminal of the battery charger to the rusty object and fully submerge it in the aqueous solution.
  • Half-submerge the piece of steel in the solution, making sure to leave some of it out of the water. This piece of steel will be sacrificed, as it will attract the iron atoms that are removed from the rusty object.
  • Connect the positive terminal of the battery charger to the piece of steel that is not in the solution.
  • Turn the battery on and wait for the reaction to occur.

During the process, you will see that the iron particles begin to shift from the rusty object towards the piece of steel. This is because the negatively charged particles are attracted to the positive charge.

The process is finalized when all of the rust particles have shifted from the rusty object and are settled on the steel piece. At this stage, you can switch off the battery charger and remove the now cleaned object from the solution (use a mild abrasive technique to remove the remaining loose rust particles from the object before wiping it off and drying it completely).

For alternative rust removal methods, see NCH Asia’s range of rust removal solutions available for industrial applications.


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