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How to accelerate rust on steel

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Q. Hi there,

I'm currently doing thesis research in thermal imaging through Brooks Institute of Photography. For my thesis I have to replicate rust damage to automotive body panels like you would see in an older car's rear quarter panel (rusted through holes with flaky edges). I've tried accelerating rust/corrosion by stripping the raw steel and predrilling small starter holes, then using salt water, vinegar and even heating the panel in the oven. I'm getting a nice rusty surface coating, but not the penetrating rust I'm looking for.

My questions are as follows:

1. Is there an acid that I can use to accelerate the spreading of the hole diameter to produce a non-uniform area?

2. Is there an acid or other substance that I can use to really get this rust to eat away the steel? It's an 18 gauge panel, so it's relatively thick.

Thank you very much for any help provided!

Ryan Weber
Master's Student - Visalia, California, USA

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A. Vinegar and salt are reducers (they slowly dissolve metal). Try an oxidizing agent instead, like diluted nitric acid, but be very careful as it is very aggressive to all forms of life. Dispose accordingly.

Guillermo Marrufo
Monterrey, NL, Mexico


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A. Try soaking your material in a large quantity of hydrogen peroxideamazoninfo (the 3% grade sold commercially works) and a bit of salt. It'll corrode iron and steel right quick.

Philip Lam
- Bellevue, Washington, USA


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A. I've gotten a few results using Bleach as my oxidizer. I'm currently looking for my own way to get deep rusting effects for the sake of art.

Neil Simkanin
- Lock Haven, Pennsylvania


April 23, 2009

A. Try vinegar and bleach. This will accelerate the rusting process. Vinegar will strip the coating and the bleach will keep it wet and make rust.

E'Kaira Thornton
- Quincy, Florida

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Ed. note: The bleach bottle will tell you not to add acids like vinegar to bleach because it will evolve copious amounts of poisonous chlorine gas. If you're going to do it anyway, stand upwind outside.



September 28, 2009

A. I haven't tried this yet but am about to because I have the same need for some art stuff. Hydrogen Peroxide, the great oxygenator, is found in a dry form in products such as Oxi Clean. When requiring large amounts of Hydrogen Peroxide, I often buy the store brand powders and just add it to my water. Plants love it, by the way, so no need to worry about your pour-off. I understand it also has a by- product of soda ash. Be forewarned, it will stain your clothing in heavy quantities...

Lisa Mack
- Spring Branch, Texas, USA


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Q. Once rust has been accelerated, say with Hydrogen Peroxide, what is the best way to stop it? Can I apply with a brush?

Joseph Worley
- Aukland, New Zealand


April 6, 2013

Not to be simplistic but if you want an old rusty car, try a junk yard? Find a car with a few days/ years/weeks or whatever and tow it to your site. For imagery testing, thermal; sorry you guys may be over thinking stuff.

Q. I have a different problem in that I have to make an instant antique replica.

Richard Powellu
- San Diego, California

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