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Effects of vinegar or muriatic acid on steel and on copper and zinc plating


Q. My most recent project is a table set which consists of square steel tubing and ornaments which have been roughly plated with either copper or bronze. I have had excellent luck oxidizing mild steel with a vinegar water solution. What effect will a diluted muriatic acidamazoninfo solution have on the copper and bronze.

Bud Morgan
fabrication - Goodyear, Arizona

A. Bud,
Dilute muriatic (hydrochloric) acid would temporarily give a shine to the brass deposit, albeit a somewhat "matte" one. Once you applied it, however, there would be no way of getting ALL of the muriatic out of the brass pores. You said it was plated onto a steel base-alloy, therefore, the acid chlorides would eventually start to leach iron from the steel base toward the surface. You would end up with a nice greenish hue on your brass deposit. I would stick with the vinegar (acetate) solution, followed by hand-buffing.

Randy Fowler
Cleveland, Tennessee, USA

Q. Hi,

I see you are talking about the effect acid has on metal. I also have a question about this. I'm active in a living history group and have therefore made a chainmail hauberk for myself. I used galvanized wire for this purpose. But after completing the hauberk I realized that galvanized wire wasn't very authentic. So now I want to use acid to strip the hauberk of its zinc layer. What kind of acid should I use to do so and at the same time not damage the wire itself?


Bertus Brokamp
- Utrecht, the Netherlands


A. Hydrochloric acid will attack zinc very rapidly (almost instantly) and steel much more slowly. If you can obtain "inhibited" hydrochloric acid, which is designed to lessen the attack on steel, the results will be even better.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 24, 2009

A. The galvanised (zinc) coating will prevent any signs of corrosion and keep your chainmail looking good. But, that said, as mentioned above, inhibited hydrochloric acid (which is used to remove deposits in boilers and water heaters) will remove the zinc readily and should have a negligible effect on the underlying steel. But you must then attempt to keep the chainmail as dry as possible to prevent corrosion as it will no longer have any protection against rusting. But a little rusting may add to the authenticity of the armor.
Make sure that you get the inhibited acid - most water treatment companies can supply it.

Barry Eslick
- Centurion, Gauteng, South Africa

November 15, 2009

A. Regarding the possible rusting of chainmail, one method of removing rust in the "olden days" involved placing the item in a wooden barrel with a quantity of sand, putting on a lid of sorts, then rolling the barrel across the ground for a time.

I've not yet put this to practice, but when the time comes, I have ideas for a contraption similar to a hobbyist's rock tumbler, but on a larger scale.

Ernest Hubbard
- Cloquet, Minnesota

May 20, 2014

The easy way to tumble is to get a cheap cement mixer (Harbor Freight), take the internal blades out, chuck in the sand and chainmail (or whatever), and let it run.

Robert Schulke
- South San Francisco, California USA

Rock Tumbler

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