Electronic Rust Removal

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Electronic (also referred to as "electrolytic") rust removal is a simple and inexpensive process one can do from one's own home to remove rust, corrosion and grease from cast iron and sheet metal using items that are easily accessible such as a battery charger and ordinary household cleaners. The process can help keep everything from a small metal screw to an entire boat hull free from the harmful, destructive effects of oxidation.

Items Needed

  • Make sure you have a bucket made of plastic or some other material that does not conduct electricity. Do not use a metal bucket. You also will need a battery charger; while a larger one is better, one that discharges a minimum of six to 10 amps is sufficient. Additionally, the process requires water, washing soda (such as Arm and Hammer), small C-clamps and a short length of chain for suspending whatever corroded material you are cleaning in the water. Lastly, you will need an electrode such as a concrete reinforcing rod (ideally cut to approximately four inches taller than your bucket) as well as copper wires for connecting the electrodes together.

The Process

  • Fill up the plastic bucket with approximately five gallons of water, then mix in a half cup of the Arm and Hammer washing soda. Do not try and substitute other salts such as caustic soda or table salt, as they can enhance the corrosion and create a toxic chlorine gas.

    Ensure that your electrodes are completely clean and then immerse them in the bucket. Again, they should stand about four inches higher than your bucket. Secure them with small C-clamps so they don't fall into the center of the bucket, as it is crucial that they do not touch whatever it is you're cleaning. Then use your copper wires to tie the two electrodes together. (Old jumper cables will work here as well.)

    Using the small length of chain, suspend whatever it is that needs to be cleaned in the water, but make sure it does not touch the electrodes or the bottom of the bucket. At this point, you are ready to hook up the battery charger. Attach the positive lead to the electrode and the negative lead to the item you want to clean, and then turn on the charger.

    Within a few seconds, tiny bubbles will begin rising from the mixture where the item you're cleaning is suspended, and they will begin gravitating toward the electrodes. The rust removal process has now begun and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours, depending on the amount of rust to be removed.

    Once the cleaned item is removed from the solution, you may notice a slimy black film coating the otherwise rust-free item. This can be removed easily with a brush and soapy water.

Safety Precautions

  • Do not touch the electrodes while the charger is running or you may receive a shock. Make sure to turn off the current before making any adjustments. Also, do not let any spillage reach the charger itself, as electrocution is possible. Additionally, use protective eyewear and gloves when handling the washing soda, as the alkaline content can irritate the skin and eyes.

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