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Rusting nails experiment

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Q. I am doing an experiment on which set of nails will rust faster. One's in salt water and the other is in tap water. The one in salt water is actually rusting slower and less. Why is this so because the titanic is in salt water and look at it?

Taylor S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Franklin, Tennessee


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A. Salt water is more corrosive than fresh water, so your result is hard to understand. But I don't know what you are trying to say about the Titanic -- sure, it's rusty, but it's been a hundred years!

Ted Mooney
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Titanic Coal


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A. Actually I did this same experiment in school with increments of 5 g of salt with 5 bottles and 100 ml of water and iron nails. The salt seems to protect the nail from rusting but I don't know why (probably because I didn't research anything) but the salt (table salt) does indeed preserve the iron nail.

Chris W [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada



(2006)

Q. I am currently doing an experiment on 'the rusting process needs oxygen'. This experiment includes the use of steel wool, water, oxygen and so forth. I wish to make this experiment a little more complex by proving this as well as varying the type of water used, to see what effect it has on rusting. I wish to use sea water, tap water and mineral water. Could you please enlighten me on any results or information you have on this experiment?

Reeshavia [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa


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A. Considering the name of your experiment, Reeshavia, and that you want to make it more complex, why not try something nobody has done on these pages yet: use an aquarium bubbler to make sure one of the trials has plenty of oxygen, and boil the water in the other, then let it cool, to try to minimize the oxygen in the other. But just use one type of water rather than confusing the issue.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


September 24, 2008

A. I am doing this right now but the salt one is rusting faster

Zach P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Powell,Tennessee

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December 28, 2008

Q. I am making a hypothesis for my project based on information I know. Which kind of liquid is usually better at rusting nails - water, vinegar, coke, or orange juice?

Amber M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
6th grade student - Tamarac, Florida


December 29, 2008

A. Hi, Amber. I'd say water. But the real issue here is carefully defining and understanding what the words you are using mean.

If one of those liquids dissolved the nails pretty rapidly but it did not cause a rusty brown color, would you call it better at rusting nails? If one of those liquids caused a lot of rustiness when you spritzed the nails with it and let it dry, but it did not cause rustiness while the nail sat in it, would you call it better at rusting nails?

It is quite hard, but very important, for you to have a complete understanding of what you mean when you claim something for your science experiment :-)

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Pop Bottle Science



February 27, 2009

Q. I'm currently investigating corrosion of steel nails for a class project. I must find protective substances, such as paint and oil, that will protect the nails.
Does anyone have any unusual or lesser known methods of preventing the oxygen and moisture from coming in contact with the steel?
Thanks.

Treasa N [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Kilgarvan, Kerry, Ireland


March 3, 2009

Q. I'm a Junior Certificate student in Ireland. I'm currently investigating various science experiments as part of the science course, and I'm currently trying to find some substances that prevent corrosion of steel/iron.
As you may know, when iron and/or steel are exposed to water and oxygen, they rust. I'm looking for various substances that prevent either oxygen or water (or both) from coming into contact with the steel/iron, thus preventing corrosion, e.g. vegetable oil.
If anyone has any suggestions, please answer quickly, as my time is somewhat limited, and I would like to begin the experiments soon.
Thank you.

Treasa N [returning]
student - Kilgarvan, Kerry, Ireland


March 4, 2009

A. Hi, Treasa, you're doing fine. You can try paints, oils, waxes of various types, lipstick, chapstick. Include vaseline petroleum jelly and read up on the use of Cosmoline during WWII.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Earth Science for Every Kid


March 6, 2009

Q. Thank you very much for the reply. It certainly helped and I now have a few more ideas for my project.
Another thing I'm curious about:- How long would zinc foil prevent a nail from rusting, on average? How long would corrosion of the nail be prevented, if I placed a negative charge (or positive) in the water? Would there be any effect?
Thanks again!

Treasa N [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Kilgarvan, Kerry, Ireland


March 12, 2009

A. Making the nail cathodic (-) should stop corrosion indefinitely. Connecting it to zinc foil should do the same until the zinc dissolved away. Steel hulled ships use zinc anodes which dissolve away in lieu of the hull rusting away.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Kids Guide to Research



September 9, 2009

Q. Hi, I attend a regional selective high school, in Australia, Gosford. I am in yr 10. I currently have finished doing my experiment, which included me submerging 23 iron nails, in 23 different solutions, weighing them before hand and then weighing them after. I have recorded all my results and figures, but now I am up to writing my discussion and conclusion. I have researched on the internet why certain liquids corrode nails, and why some don't, but I am unable to find any and I am wondering if you would be able to explain some properties of why the following solutions corrode and don't corrode iron nails

*olive oil (did not corrode the nail)-
*bleach (corroded the nail)-
*rum (corroded the nail)-
*vinegar(corroded the nail)-
*coke (slightly corroded nail)-
*milk (didn't corroded much)-
*real orange juice (some corrosion)-
*cows blood (some corrosion)-

thank you,

Piero C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Gosford, NSW, Australia


January 2015

Hi Piero. Olive oil is not water-based, it is oil; and like other oils, it does not corrode iron. If you have studied ionization, oils don't ionize and don't have ions in them that will attack iron.

Vinegar is an acid;

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



November 11, 2009

Q. I did my science project about nail rusting . the nail rusted in the water in 7 days.My question is what should I write in my DAILY LOG? Because the six days nothing happened. So what should I write? Please HELP ME ... I am in third grade.

tej P [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - titusville. florida


November 11, 2009

A. Hi, Tej. Suppose you went to your school boys' room and found it to be dirty all week, and you saw one of those tags that says "Cleaned and Inspected by" and the lines had no entries for the whole week ... then you went in the next day and the card was all filled out with initials and dates for each day of the previous week? You'd say that's wrong, somebody is not being honest.

Actually you're not supposed to write anything in that old daily log now, because it was supposed to be written at the time, not later :-)

So if you have enough time, start the experiment over again and write what you see each day, even if it is "no change observed".

If you're not going to do that, a "mental reservation" is better than a lie. "No changes recorded" may imply that you observed it and there was no change and you wrote that down at the time, but it can also mean that no observation was recorded :-)

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


December 8, 2009

Q. We did an experiment with uncoated steel nails and different types of liquids like coke, orange juice, milk, tea, gatorade, lemonade, etc. the only liquid showing red rust was water. The rest of the nails turn the shiny light grey nail either dark grey or black. what is the dark grey or black? Rust? Corrosion or something else?

nancy d [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- phila, Pennsylvania


December 9, 2009

A. Hi, Nancy. I think the first thing to do when an experiment yields surprising results is to challenge your assumptions and experimental procedure.

I would double check the label on the nails, not go by hearsay. Then I would check them with a magnet to make sure they were steel. Then I would sand them with sandpaper, and scrub them with detergent and a toothbrush while wearing gloves, and then rinse them well to make absolutely sure they were clean bare steel. Then I would repeat the immersions in the various liquids.

And I would make sure these efforts were recorded in my report, and expect an A for the careful effort and triple checking :-)

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


March 15, 2010

Q. I'm really eager to know that in the rusting process, the nails in the salt water rusts the first or the nails placed in the normal tap water rusts the first, if they are placed in the same amount of liquid and at the same time also?

Priyal P.
student - Sydney, Australia


March 16, 2010

A. Hi, Priyal. Your teacher is eager for you to do the experiment and find out. Keep a good log book and you'll be able to answer every question!

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


September 16, 2012

Q. Hi everyone,
I would reallllyyy appreciate it if you could spare a few moments to help me with this question for my technology homework: What can you protect mild steel with?It's the only one I'm stuck on so far and it all goes towards my gcse's, as I am in year 9! would really really appreciate some help.
Thanks so much,
Charlie

Charlie [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- London, England

September 16, 2012

A. Hi Charlie. See my response to Treasa, March 2, 2009. There's also electroplating with a bunch of different possible metals, galvanizing, powder coating, salt bath nitriding, painting, sacrificial anodes ...

Your librarian can direct you to an age-appropriate book on corrosion. Good luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


January 20, 2015

Q. Hi, me and my groupmates are conducting an experiment on nails. We have 3 chosen solutions: Epoxy, Enamel, & Red Oxide. Which of these coatings can make the nail maintain its form and not rust? We will test it also on 3 types of water. Tap, Sea and our "improvised acid rain" which of them can make the nail rust faster?

jubill roe trance
- iloilo city. Philippines

January 2015

A. Hi Jubill. Be careful that you understand and explain exactly what you mean by "maintain its form and not rust" and "make the nail rust faster". And maintain a good "Lab book" as you set up the experiment and as you take readings.

Yes, it sounds like an excellent experiment. Let us know which coating protects best, and which type of water makes the nail rust faster. Good luck.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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