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What Metals Rust the Fastest (Steel, Copper, Bronze)



An ongoing discussion from 2003 through 2014; so some of these grammar schoolers are probably working on their Masters by now ...

(2003)

Q. I am 8-years old and I'm doing a science project on,"Which metals rust the fastest (steel,copper,bronze)? I know that steel will rust faster than copper and bronze, but where can I find the comparison for all three. I've read the other questions and none of them compare steel, copper and bronze. Can you please help me with some resources and answers that could support my hypothesis? Again I know steel will rust faster because copper and bronze will tarnish.

Isaiah deleted
student - Charlotte, North Carolina


(2003)

A. You are very young to be considering such a question, Isaiah. Steel is a refined and very useful form of the element 'iron'. Copper is an element, too. Bronze is an alloy of copper and the element 'tin'.

Copper and bronze do not contain any iron, and only iron can rust (because rust is iron oxide); so the answer is that steel will rust the fastest and copper and bronze will never rust.

But, yes, they do tarnish, they do corrode. But bare copper roofs last decades outdoors, and bronze statues last decades outdoors, so it is very difficult to say which of the two corrodes faster, although neither rusts. Good luck.

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

(2007)

Q. I am trying to find the answer to the same question. I am 13-years old. And I need these answers for my science project. I want to know what happens when copper, bronze, and steel rusts? Do they brake or bend easily? Can you clean it up or have to replace it? Also in what kind of machinery are these metals used? Cars?

destinydeleted
- riverside, California


(2007)

A. Hello, Destiny. We will reword it for you to try to make it clearer. Copper is an element (you can look up 'element'). Bronze is an alloy (you can look up 'alloy') of the elements copper and tin. Iron is an element, and steel is a very useful, reasonably pure form of iron.

Rust is iron oxide, the corrosion product of iron. You can only make iron oxide from iron and oxygen; you can't make it out of copper or tin, so copper and bronze can never rust.

Copper and bronze can corrode or tarnish, however. In fact, all metals except precious metals like gold will eventually corrode back to a form very similar to the ores we find in nature. When metals corrode the surface turns to some kind of oxide or corrosion product rather than being metal anymore -- so it no longer performs the functions of metal.

Yes, it's likely to look poor, to be weak, to bend or break more easily, to become perforated with holes. Usually you can clean the metal -- remove the corrosion products -- but there is less metal left and eventually what's left will no longer serve the original function. Cars are made predominantly of steel, but the electrical wiring is copper; there may be some wear surfaces or electrical springs made of bronze.

Good luck with your project.

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

January 6, 2008

Q. I am doing a science fair project on which metals would rust the fastest.I just wanted to know which metal would only rust the fastest between iron,bronze,copper and steel. After that question is asked I would like to know what metal would tarnish the fastest between copper and steel.


Dario Sdeleted
Detroit, Michigan


January 7, 2008

A. Hi, Dario. To keep your project moving forward, please try to express your question in terms of what has already been said. I've already explained why bronze and copper cannot rust but iron and steel can. I'll be happy to explain again if you can tell me what it is that you don't quite understand.

As for whether copper or steel tarnishes fastest, get a piece of each, shine them up with fine sandpaper [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] to remove existing rust or tarnish and get to bright metal, start recording what you see, and have a good science project. Good luck!

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

February 5, 2008

Q. Hi I'm Owen and I'm ten years old and I'm doing a science fair project on metals that rust the fastest in water. This site has been very helpful to me. Would you have any suggestions on how I could get hold of a some metals for my experiment? Is there anything I could use around my house? Also, do you know any good books that could help me? I was at the library and I couldn't find a thing about it? My mum is clueless.

Owen Edeleted
- Alexandria, Virginia


February 9, 2008

A. Plain steel nails would be best, Owen. Masonry nails if you have any (these are flat nails that look like long and thin triangles rather than being round). Use sandpaper to remove plating or paint from whatever nails you have. If you have some painted sheet metal from an old toy or whatever, you can sand the paint off of that -- but first test it with a magnet to make sure it is steel.

Pennies are copper on their surface, and electrical wire and copper piping are pure copper. Good luck.

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


February 15, 2008

Steel rusts faster.

anferneee hdeleted
- Carlina, South Carolina


February 18, 2008

A. Well, yes, Anfernee. In the same sense that fresh cod will turn into rotting fish faster than fresh cabbage or fresh carrots will. Vegetables can rot, but can't become rotting fish. Copper and bronze can corrode, but can't become rust.

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

September 4, 2008

Q. I am also doing a science project,but mine is steel, copper, aluminum, and brass. I need help! I have looked on the internet on oxidation, but nothing comes up!

Nathan Adeleted
- Bowling Green, Kentucky


September 21, 2008

Q. Yes I am 14-years old and I am also doing a project over what types of metal rusts faster.. And I need help on finding a good Hypothesis! I am a hard working student but I just can't find or think of a good Hypothesis.. (it's for my science project)

Christian Edeleted
Student - little elm, Texas


September 26, 2008

A. Christian, the first principle is writing such a project is that words have meanings, you can't ignore those meanings and keep bulling on :-)
We've already said at least 3 times on this page alone that only steel and iron can rust and explained why:-)

As for your hypothesis, are you sure you know what a hypothesis is. It's a statement that you believe to be true and now want to scientifically test. If you take a quick look at a bowl of M&M's and it strikes you that there are a lot of orange ones, you might form the hypothesis that "M&M puts more orange candies in the bags than any other color". Then you might buy 5 bags and count each color to try to prove or disprove your hypothesis, and follow it up with research and an interview with their marketing department.

For your metal corrosion project, you should pick something that attracts your curiosity and interests you for some particular reason, because that's what makes for a good project. It's hard for someone else to guess what you would be enthusiastic about, but think about it. Maybe you collect bottle caps, or old coins; maybe you're interested in classic cars but frustrated by how corroded all the parts always are; maybe you race model boats whose innards get rusty; maybe you do slot cars racing and your car hangs up due to poor electricity conduction from wear or corrosion; maybe you've built a metal wind chime; maybe when you were in kindergarten you made memorabilia for your mom but now all the gold thumbtacks are rusted and the silver ones aren't.

Find something that interests you and form a hypothesis (i.e., a reasonable guess that you'll try to prove), then ask your teacher, parents, or librarian for help with how you can demonstrate it. Good luck.

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

(for Kindle)
Unforgettable Experiments
that make Science Fun


Earth Science for Every Kid


Kids Guide to Research


October 8, 2008

Q. I'm 16 years old and I want to know if there is any other metal that can rust except iron. Its for a science project.

de-wet Cdeleted
student - P.E., Eastern Province, South Africa


October 8, 2008

A. Hi, de-wet. what exactly do you mean by rust? You should mean "iron oxide", which can only come from the element "iron". But there are various alloys that contain iron, like steel and stainless steel.

Regards,

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

October 16, 2008

A. Hi,
My name is Amy and I am currently studying corrosion at school. Rust is a form of corrosion, that is specific to iron. Iron oxide is rust so no other metal can rust. Metals such as aluminium actually form a surface layer of aluminium oxide which protects the metal from further corrosion. There is a table known as a Standard Reduction Potentials table that lists elements in the most likely to reduce to the least likely to reduce (the least likely to reduce are the most likely to oxidise), so if you wanted to protect something made of iron from corroding (rusting) you need a 'scrap' piece of metal to be sacrificed. this metal needs to be more likely to oxidise because it is at the site of oxidation that corrosion occurs. An example of a metal that could be used is zinc or magnesium.

Amy Sdeleted
student - Perth, WA, Australia


December 20, 2008

A. I'm doing the same thing for my project and I have feeling that steel will rust faster so for your hypothesis you should put: "I think steel will rust faster because ...." -- hope I helped.

p.s.: I'm eleven in the sixth grade.

Jasmine Mdeleted
- Lancaster, California


January 3, 2009

thumbsup2I am 9 and I just completed this project for the science fair. Ted's answers were very specific and helped to explain the process and the reasoning for rusting. Thank you. For my project, I used 5 glass jars, salt and hot water. I tested 5 types of metal for a week. I put one metal in each jar of salt water and waited and recorded the results after a week. I was kind of surprised by what this experiment taught me and in the process of doing this , I learned a ton of information about metals and rusting. I even learned a thing or two about rust removal that my mom was happy to hear about. Try it for yourselves it was very interesting.

Jonathan Sdeleted
- Ecorse, Michigan


January 15, 2009

Q. I have a science fair project and if I leave a nail in cold water and hot water will that effect the rate of rust?

Ty Jdeleted
Student - Warrensburg, Missouri


January 15, 2009

A. Yes, Ty, that sounds like a good topic for a science fair project. Keeping the water hot can be problematic though. Any idea how you are going to do that? Another student opted to do refrigerator temperature vs. room temperature because refrigerator temperature seemed easier to maintain than a heated temperature. But maybe your mother or father could help you put your experiment dish on top of the hot water heater? Or maybe you have an aquarium with warm water in it that you could float your experiment dish on?
Let us know how your experiment comes out. Good luck.

Regards,

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

January 15, 2009

Q. We are both fifth graders and are required to enter the science fair at our school. We are partners. Anyway we want to know which type of metal will rust the fastest and if it will rust within one month and a half due to our science fair is in March. We will be trying to make the rust go away with ten types of different chemicals such as bleach, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and nail polish remover.

We thank you for your support.

cassidi & rachel ndeleted
student academics - valley springs, California


January 18, 2009

A. Hi. Soap-free steel wool [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] rusts quickly because it is steel and it has a huge surface area.

Regards,

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

April 6, 2009

Q. Hi I'm kyana and I'm 12 and I want to know when rust occurs on metals does it effect its structure/shape and also I know rust effects the appearance of a metal but why when metals rust they turn into a brownish color?

kyana bdeleted
- New York


April 8, 2009

A. Hi, Kyana. Rust is iron oxide, a reaction product that is generated by iron combining with oxygen. Where does the iron come from? It comes from the piece that is rusting. So the piece that is rusting is losing some of itself. The area turns brownish because rust is brownish. Good luck.

Regards,

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

June 3, 2009

A. Hey,
I hate to tell you this but only steel and iron rust. everything else has to be called corrosion.

Madeleine Leung
- Adelaide, SA, Australia


September 24, 2009

A. I think the science project questions are a study on oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction involving Oxygen.
Rust is the common name for ferric oxide, but is also (incorrectly) used to refer to other type of oxidation/corrosion. As Ted stated only ferrous metals (those which contain iron) can rust. But nearly everything oxidizes... striking a match causes rapid oxidation of the chemicals in the match head.
Experiments involving water and metals should also take into account that tap water is never pure water (H2O), distilled water (from the store) is closer. Other chemicals present in tap water can cause widely varying results in your experiments depending on where in the world you are and how the water is treated to kill bacteria and other micro-organisms.
Footnote: Pure water will not cause oxidation (by transfer of electrons-the chemical process) because PURE water will not conduct electricity. It takes very little contamination to change this.

Hope this helped.

"Common knowledge" is what we assume the everyone else knows

Jim Bus
- Washington C.H., Ohio


October 26, 2009

Q. I'm a sixth grader searching for an answer! My teacher wanted me to look up distilled water and I am not really sure what contents of distilled water can make metal rust, where am I going to find it, and can it really make metal and copper rust! Also, I had to take out a material for a science fair project because I don't know what type of common items are made of bronze besides statues! Can you help me?

Ellesia Turner
- Jersey City, New Jersey


October 2009

A. Hi, Ellesia. Distilled water is water that has been distilled. What that means is that regular water was put into a pot and boiled away, but the steam that it turned into was captured and cooled and condensed back to water in a fresh clean pot. Any dirt or salt or other contaminants that were in the regular water remained in the original pot, and the distilled water is now pure water.

The bronze age preceded the iron age, so there was a time when all sorts of things were made from bronze: pots and pans, plates, drinking vessels, helmets, shields, swords, tools, cell phones, and coins.

Today we have many choices for materials, and there are only a few things where bronze is a likely choice: statuary and knick-knacks, certain kinds of bearings, door hardware like knobs and knockers, cleats on ships, etc.

Regards,

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

April 14, 2010

Q. Hi
my school has a science fair in seven weeks and me and my partner are wondering what the quickest way to rust aluminum, copper, steel, terne and zinc. The results have to be in 4 weeks from now. thank-you for your help.

Kind Regards,

Kyla B and Jasmin P
student - Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia


April 15, 2010

A. Now, girls: this is a discussion group, not a service that does your homework for you :-)

It's already been said more than a dozen times on this one page alone that only iron and steel can rust. Is it really appropriate to post the question that you did, rather than reword it a bit? :-)

I would suggest either immersing your metals in bowls of common household chemicals like vinegar, water, bleach, and coke or spritzing the metals with those liquids on a regular and controlled basis.

Regards,

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

April 24, 2010

Q. Is there any other metals that have iron in it other than steel? By the way I am 10 in 5th grade

Missa M.
student - Maple Valley, Washington


April 26, 2010

A. Hi, Missa. Cast iron, wrought iron, malleable iron, stainless steel, Invar, Kovar. . .

Good luck.

Regards,

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

May 15, 2010

thumbsup2Greetings. I've really enjoyed the banter so far on this subject of rust/corrosion. I co-designed a chromatic harmonica of a very high quality and price ($4000) which employed a stainless steel body produced by end milling, and later, by EDM (electro-discharge-machining). My partner (now deceased) and I ran into many unexpected problems regarding the stainless steel (SS), but also the other metals involved as well.

My partner Douglas, a classical musician and mechanical engineer, was a strong advocate of using SS for his own instruments, and first built them for himself and others in the later 1960's to early 70's based on current wood body designs. Once we partnered to build our own design, we were startled to learn SS is not as 'rustproof' as either of us expected! And oddly, it exhibited more proclivities to rust under EDM processing than the usual mechanical end milling process!

It seems that regular end milling removes SS in stages, yet basically leaves amalgamated SS surfaces intact. But EDM processing remove ANY surface particles in order to leave an exceptionally smooth surface. Both surface types have shown rust ability, but differently. The end milled bodies had tiny rust areas develop in corners where moisture could collect. The EDM body rusted areas were sort of spotted all over, as well as in corner surfaces.

We were alarmed, to speak, and through research with our EDM operator, found that the surfaces would benefit from a process called passivation, which reduces the corrosion possibility of the general surface. As best I understand it (so far), this would mean removal of exposed particles of iron on the surface, thus inhibiting rust of the exposed surface in general.

Naturally, this process would have to take place after the EDM cutting of the form, but would obviously not completely inhibit SS rust forever.

It was quite a learning experience for us, I must say. For more information, see below:

http://www.gordonengland.co.uk/glossary.htm#P

Passivation
The process in metal corrosion by which metals become passive.

Passivator
A type of inhibitor which appreciably changes the potential of a metal to a more noble (positive) value.

Passive
The state of a metal surface characterized by low corrosion rates in a potential region that is strongly oxidising for the metal.

Thanks to Ted and contributors for a thoughtful discussion.
Bobbie

Bobbie Giordano
- Tallahassee, Florida


August 10, 2010

Q. Hi there, I am producing a keychain that will be used on boats and I need to make sure that the metals won't rust. The factory says the lobster claw attachment and split ring are made from Zinc Alloy. Does Zinc Alloy rust?

Zoe Friedman
- New York, New York, USA


August 10, 2010

A. Hi, Zoe. As we've said more than a dozen times now, only iron and steel can rust but that doesn't mean that the zinc alloy won't corrode. But I would be very surprised if the information you've given us -- that the split ring is zinc alloy -- is correct though.
Regards,

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

October 10, 2010

Q. We are trying to find the answer of that question, the answer is: 1st steel, 2nd copper, 3rd bronze. that's all, but please help me cause its our project also,
thank you.

fatma Mdeleted
- philippines

November 1, 2010

Q. Hello,
I am 9 years old,in fourth grade, and I am doing a science fair project to find out which type of bolt corrodes the fastest; zinc plated, brass, normal, or stainless steel. I was planning on putting them in salt water to make them corrode faster. Do you think that would work or would it be better to place them in something else? I understand that these will not rust because they are not all iron, but what should I look for with corrosion?

Daniel Cdeleted
Odessa, Florida


November 1, 2010

A. Hi, Daniel

It would be best to pick something real and repeatable to expose them to, like sea water. If you can't conveniently get real sea water, then look up the concentration of salt in average sea water and make a solution with that much salt in it.

A "normal" bolt would probably be plain steel, and you should call it "steel" rather than "normal". Stainless steel bolts are made of steel with other metals like nickel and chromium added to them to make them more corrosion resistant, so you should probably expect it to be so.

When zinc plating corrodes, the corrosion product is white. When the zinc is all gone, there is a steel bolt underneath, so it will rust. When brass corrodes it can be dark brown to black or it can be green. I would probably expect green when exposed to salt water.

The steel bolt will corrode noticeably in under a week, but I don't know if your experiment will last long enough for you to see significant corrosion on the other bolts. Good luck.

Regards,

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

November 2, 2010

Q. I am doing a project on which metal rust the fastest. I am using a key, a can tab, and a a piece of a can. do you have any advice for me?

keanu ldeleted
- laural maryland

November 2, 2010

A. Hi, Keanu. Somehow you have to determine what metals these three objects are made out of. The key may be brass (is it yellowish and not attracted to a magnet?). The can tab is probably aluminum. The piece of a can could be aluminum or tin-plated steel.

Regards,

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

November 1, 2010

Q. Hello,
I am 9 years old,in fourth grade, and I am doing a science fair project to find out which type of bolt corrodes the fastest; zinc plated, brass, normal, or stainless steel. I was planning on putting them in salt water to make them corrode faster. Do you think that would work or would it be better to place them in something else? I understand that these will not rust because they are not all iron, but what should I look for with corrosion?

Daniel C.deleted
student - Odessa, Florida, USA

November 22, 2010

Q. I am 12 and I'm doing a science fair project and I don't know if copper, steel, or aluminum in water or salt water. My big brother did this last year but I don't know what the answer is and he is not allowed to help me. I thought copper rusts faster but I read the other questions and I'm confused. I also need names of books I can use for research.

Please anwser back,

Faith Bdeleted
student - Jacksonville, Florida USA

November 23, 2010

A. Hi, Faith. An important part of your project is clear thinking, and very clearly formulating what you are trying to do. Unfortunately you made a typo in phrasing your question, so we don't know if your thinking is clear or not.

Please ask your librarian what books to use for research. S/he went to school to learn how to help people with things like this; we didn't. She knows what books the library has; we don't. She understands your reading level; we don't. She has surely seen the same question asked by other Jacksonville school system students; we haven't. Not trying to blow you off, but a very important part of your assignment is to practice how to do research, and asking strangers on the internet what books to read is bad practice; asking your librarian is very good practice. Good luck.

Regards,

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

December 6, 2010

Q. My son is doing a science project and it's about rust ... he is doing it with water, coke and orange juice ... one is a quarter a screw and a paper clip....does it matter about how much of the liquid we put and what kind of container they are in? I thought a glass jar, empty can of corn, and a plastic one will those be ok.....my son is in 6th grade and he is 12

Noah huerta-fuller
student - Alpine, Texas

December 6, 2010

A. Hi, Noah

I wouldn't use an empty can of corn since it may be metal and, if so, would corrupt your experiments by involving another metal. How much extra liquid is used probably doesn't matter, but the object must be completely immersed for consistent results. To do it really right, I would suggest having 6 of each object, and 18 small disposable plastic cups or glass dessert bowls, etc. Put water in 6 cups, coke in 6 cups, OJ in 6 cups. Put one quarter in each of two cups of water, one quarter in each of two cups of coke, etc.

Regards,

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

July 21, 2011

Q. Science project: if I put an iron nail in a cup containing water, what will happen to it after 5 days.

Ipshita P.deleted
student - Quwahati, Assam, India

July 22, 2011

A. Yes, Ipshita, that does sound like a good science project. But don't just check after five days -- try to observe and record the results every 12 hours for the five days. Good luck.

Regards,

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


September 12, 2011

! ! WHAT IF YOUR ANSWERS ARE WRONG HUH?

DOMINIQUE P
STUDENT - MIAMI, Florida

September 13, 2011

A. Hi, Dominique.

I was just about to answer your question when my aunt came into the room (I usually pronounce it 'ant', but we're in public, so 'aunt'). She has asked for the keyboard, so I must give it to her. Bye .... Ted

- - - - - - -

Dear Ms. Dominique P.:

Should you discover that a stranger's advice incorporates an error, you may gently make a suggestion in that direction, but only after opening your correspondence with the usual correct salutation and prefix of "Dear xxxxx, Thank you so much for your efforts...."

Very Truly Yours,
E. Van Post Mooney



September 12, 2011

Q. Hi I'm Nishat and for my 8th grade science fair project, I'm wanting to see what type of metal can last the longest in salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or tap water (control) before corroding; steel, iron, copper, or bronze. I'm wondering where to get small samples of those metals for my experiment so if anyone could list off a few locations, it would help me tons. Thanks in advance! :)

Nishat Jdeleted
Student - Tucson, Arizona, USA

September 13, 2011

A. Hi, Nishat.

Carolina Biological Supply has a "metal strips set" that includes aluminum, brass, copper, steel, and zinc.

Science Kit has something called "Metal Electrode Set" that includes Aluminum, Copper, Iron, Lead, Zinc, and Brass -- but they will only sell it to registered educational institutions. You can ask your teacher to get it for you, I suppose, unless you're home-schooled.

Amazon has a set of samples of aluminum, brass, copper, iron, lead, and zinc =>

Regards,

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

Metal Samples


November 1, 2011

Q. So to clarify, the iron substance must be completely submerged to consistently rust? Would measuring the mass of the substance every week be a good way to measure the amount of rust? (i have a month for the project)? If we were to use different types of coke (coke zero, diet, cherry) what in these would affect the amount of rust? Thank You for your help!!

Jim H
- Tuscon, Arizona, USA

December 28, 2011

Q. Ok, so I know that this has been repeated many, many, many, times- but hey, I'm only 12 in seventh grade and I have to write a whole paper for my science fair. So, I'm just asking on advice or feedback because I learned that gold, silver, and I think copper can't rust. So I changed my science fair question which is " Which metal TARNISHES faster out of gold, silver, and copper. Do you have any advice that can help me, or a correction to my question?

Nyla G
- New York, New York, USA

December 29, 2011

Q. Hi, Nyla. The question is fine, except that you usually need/want to conduct an experiment, and you may find it hard to locate gold and silver to play around with. I'll give you a couple of pieces of food for thought that you can research and see where it takes you.

Most metals are found in nature as ores rather than as metal. The ores or rocks are actually oxidized/tarnished/ corroded reaction products of the metal and oxygen. To make iron and other metals usually requires melting the ore at very high temperature while removing the oxygen so it can turn back to metal.

You have probably heard that you must never burn charcoal indoors because you can die from carbon monoxide poisoning. That is, when charcoal burns, it tends to steal all the oxygen from the air. So making metals often involves coal or charcoal, not just for the heat, but also as a scavenger that removes oxygen so the ore can turn back to metal.

Metal plus oxygen equals metal oxides (corrosion, tarnish, rust, ore). Corrosion/tarnish/rust/ore minus oxygen equals metal. You might find it interesting that metals very slowly "burn". They slowly react with oxygen in the air, releasing a small amount of heat over a very long time, and leave tarnish/corrosion products behind. Because they release heat, the corroded form is more stable than the metal. You have to add energy (heat) to get from ore to metal.

Gold is one of very few metals that we find in nature as a metal. The reason we do find it in nature is that pure gold does not tarnish or corrode, because it does not "burn" in this way. Rather, gold does not release energy when it corrodes. Most jewelry is not pure gold, but an alloy of gold mixed with other metals like copper and silver, and then it can tarnish.

Good luck.

Regards,

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

May 17, 2012

Q. I am 12, my name is Christian and I am doing a experiment for a science fair using steel aluminum and copper. What do you think vinegar will do to a pop tab and what to it and PS Any ideas for the poster board?

Christian Mdeleted
- USA


October 7, 2012appended

Q. I am 11 years old and I have a science paper due and I need to know what makes bronze rust the fastest.

Lainie Sdeleted
- Youngstown, Ohio, USA


October 8, 2012

A. Hi Lainie.

We appended your question onto a thread that already answers it: nothing can make bronze "rust" because rust is iron oxide and there is no iron in bronze. But bronze, like just about anything else, can corrode. Any acid, including vinegar or lemon juice, will accelerate the corrosion of bronze. If you add a little salt, it should be quite corrosive.

Regards,

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

October 8, 2012

Q. Hi I'm Finn, I'm 12 and I'm in a gifted program at school. I was just wondering if you knew a way to measure rust growth on steel, it would be great to know a good way to measure.

thanks
-finn

Finn Hdeleted
- Lewisville, North Carolina, United States


October 8, 2012

A. Hi Finn. The way it's actually done in industry is by weight loss. You make sure the item is dry, then you weigh the steel item before you start the test. Then you do whatever it is you do to make it rust. Then you use a stripping compound that will remove rust without causing any further rusting of the steel. Then you dry it and weight it again to determine the weight loss. You could try CLR for removing the rust =>

If you don't have an accurate scale and a chemical that will remove the rust, you can pour the rusty liquid that you created by immersing the steel in water or whatever through a coffee filter and rub any rust that is on the piece onto the coffee filter, and display the filter as a qualitative indication of the amount of rust. Good luck.

Regards,

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

CLR

Electronic scale


November 16, 2012

Q. What metal corrodes faster, copper or aluminum? I am doing a science fair project and was wondering if this would be a good project.

Benny deleted
- Chicago, Illinois, USA


November 19, 2012

A. Hi, Benny. If I were to tell you that I was planning a science project to determine whether a Corvette or a Kenworth truck is a better vehicle, you would tell me that I need to narrow it down into categories like fastest, best cornering ability, able to haul heavier freight, able to traverse a deeper puddle, etc.

Your question is not a bad project idea, but you probably need to narrow it down a little bit by asking which one corrodes faster under specific conditions, such as when immersed in salt water, or fresh water, or bleach, or vinegar ... because one metal might not be most corrosion resistant under all circumstances, just as a Corvette might not be better than a Kenworth for every situation. And one other thing ... do you have a reason to care which is more corrosion resistant? If you find a topic that you care about, that's always best. Good luck.

Regards,

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

December 15, 2012

Q. Hi! I am doing a research project regarding rust... what is the fastest way to let a metal rust? I soak the metal in seawater already... is there any other way? The faster and the better ways to gain more rust! Thanks and God bless!

John
- Philippines


December 17, 2012

A. Hi John.

Any acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar) will dissolve some metals to some extent. Adding some salt will speed it up. But you must let the acid dry up or it will keep the rust as well as the metal dissolved. So repeatedly spritz the items with a solution of vinegar and salt, preferably out in the warm sunlight.

Regards,

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

January 31, 2013

Q. I need this answer. I am doing a science experiment with copper, steel, iron, brass, stainless steel, silver,aluminum, and bronze. Which one rusts fastest, and how fast do they all rust?

Gwen deleted

- Missoula, Montana, US


January 31, 2013

A. Hi Gwen. As mentioned several times on this page, rust is iron oxide, which comes from iron reacting with oxygen, so only materials which contain iron can rust. On your list only steel, iron, and stainless steel contain iron, so only they can actually rust (although the other materials can corrode).

Other than that, your experiment should be okay. Tell us you results after you do the experiment. You certainly don't want to know the answer before you do the experiment because then the experiment would be a complete waste of time, plus you probably wouldn't believe the results that you determined if they were contrary to what you expected. Good luck, and get back to us with your on-going results.

Regards,

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

February 13, 2013

Q. Hi, I'm doing a project about steel nails and I'm wondering if you can tell me which liquid will make my nails --
a) rust the most
b) rust the fastest
c) makes nails rust
It would be very helpful to my project.

Seth [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Surrey, BC, Canada


February 16, 2013

A. Hi Seth. Are you asking which liquid out of all of the liquids in the world will cause nails to rust the most and the fastest? I'm not trying to give you a hard time, but I am reminding you that it is your project and you will benefit from it in direct proportion to how long and how hard you think about it.

Household bleach is quite good at making nails rust. Has your teacher given you safety instructions for this project? Are your parents helping you, reminding you to wear goggles? If not, read the instructions on the label and take them very seriously when they tell you not to mix bleach with anything. Good luck with the project.

Regards,

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

February 19, 2013

Q. Hi
I have to do a science experiment, "Which metal corrodes the fastest in water"
Do you have any tips on how I could do this? Or which metals I could use? Any tips/ information will be greatly appreciated.
I am going to test them in tap water in an indoor shaded environment, in containers of equal sizes and capacity of water. I don't think it is feasible to make this large amount of distilled water and purchasing it in my area is quite costly (unfortunately).
Lastly: should I use plates or wires? I think I should use wires but please tell me the better one.
Thank you :)

Osama deleted
- Sydney, NSW, Australia


April 21, 2013

Q. Hello,
I am going to be doing a 10th grade chemistry experiment with a partner that has to do along the lines with:
-What metal rusts easily
-What can easily remove the rust and the amount of metal composition that has been removed during the rust removing process
-What solution/chemical composition has retarded/sped up the renewal of rust on the metal
I know what exactly my partner and I are going to use and what we to do but the question is what metal do we use to easily demonstrate the easiness/hardness of removing rusts with different chemical compositions/solutions. Do you have any idea that help us bring our science project "to life" as you may. Any ideas will be very helpful in this.

Edward [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- North Hollywood, California, United States


April 22, 2013

A. Hi. You bring a project to life by picking something that already fascinates you. If you pick something that hasn't grabbed your interest by 10th grade (metal rusting ... ho hum), it probably won't now; and if you're not interested, it's hard to interest others. Try to think of all your past or present hobbies, interests, models, etc., and how rust might have surprised, interested, confused, or inconvenienced you. Maybe your interest was bottle caps, model boats, electric trains, old cars, yard art, antiques, old computers, political buttons, musical instruments, magic tricks, or whatever. You can't convincingly feign enthusiasm. Think hard about what already interests you and how rust might impact it. Good luck.

Regards,

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

October 3, 2013

Q. I have the same project. But I will test steel and iron but what other metal should I use?

Grant Miller
- Danielsville, Georgia, U.S.


November 9, 2013

Q. How long does it take for iron or steel to rust?

Bobby Tulusa
- Washington, DC USA


November 11, 2013

A. Hi Bobby. The Iron Bridge crossing the River Severn in Shropshire, England has been standing since 1781. But steel and iron can flash rust in 15 minutes -- so it depends on a lot of things.

But if you are asking how long it will take a plain iron or steel nail to rust when immersed in water for a science project, I think you'll see rust in one to two days. Good luck.

Regards,

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

January 10, 2014

Q. I've read this entire thread and really appreciate all the information. For my son's science project he tested how long it takes for a bronze coated steel fishhook to rust. The liquids he used were saltwater, fresh water, coke, gatorade, and apple juice. Only the salt & fresh water hooks rusted; the others all showed signs of corrosion (black spots on the bronze finish). I'm trying to help him determine what would cause the salt and fresh water hooks to rust since we know (after reading the posts) that bronze does not rust. Why would the bronze finish break-down allowing the steel hook to rust? Would greatly appreciate some insight. Thanks!

Malynda Vassallo
- Diamondhead, Mississippi, USA


January 2014

A. Hi Malyda. Although the ancients used bronze fish hooks, you are correct that today's "bronze" hooks are made of steel and are merely the color of bronze. I suspect that bronze hooks are not electroplated with bronze, but simply dipped in a bronze colored lacquer, but would appreciate if someone who works at a fishing tackle company would weigh in on this.

The sentiment on a number of fishing forums is that bronze hooks are the cheapest and least durable of any common finish. A Maryland DNR study found that no fish hooks dissolve away in a practical time period, but that bronze lacquer hooks may be the safest for fish, but probably not by a statistically provable margin (articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-03-20/sports/1991079022_1_barbless-hooks-hook-styles-smaller-fish)

This bronze lacquer is apparently not very impermeable, and does permit the underlying steel hook to pretty rapidly rust, so that's why they are rusting.

Coke, Gatorade, and Apple Juice are all mild acids (www.21stcenturydental.com/smith/education/pH_drinks.html). Rust is more soluble in acids than steel is, with the result that things may not look rusty even if they are corroding faster than they are corroding in water because the rust is dissolved and not visible. When the Coke, Gatorade, and Apple Juice eventually evaporate away, you should see significant rust in the residue.

Regards,

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


June 5, 2014

Q. Hi my name is Bianca and I am a little flummoxed as to where to start on my 15 year old nephew's science project. We need all the help we can get because it is detrimental for his school certificate. It's about testing a factor that may affect the reaction rate of a metal/acid reaction. Which would be easier to choose and how do I begin?
1. Concentration of the acid: more concentrated acids increase the reaction rate.
2. Surface area of the metal: a larger surface area increases reaction rate.
3. The type of acid: more active acids increase the reaction rate.
4. The type of metal: more active metals increase the reaction rate.

PLEASE HELP.

Bianca Vitty
- Sydney, NSW, Australia


June 2014

A. Hi Bianca. You have not been attending science class all year, covering the subject in school, and receiving little hints from the teacher, so I would expect you to be having a lot more difficulty with it than the students in your nephew's class :-)

First things first, are you sure he 100% understands the question? It's great to ask a question you don't know the answer to, but it only adds still more confusion to ask for an answer to a question that you don't understand.

Assuming he's past that hurdle, it looks like he's been offered the option to demonstrate any of four factors that affect the reaction rate. I can easily think of two more factors: temperature and agitation. So after he picks one, he has to make sure he can hold the other factors constant, because if they vary they may screw up the results.

Do any of the 4 factors interest him? Interest is key to a good project. Most kids are more interested in "3." & "4." than the others, so that's the project you'd better do for him. You can read on this page some of the great approaches to doing "3"or "4.", or combining them, by kids his age and even younger. Good luck!

Regards,

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