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"Electroplating for a school science project"


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A discussion started in 1996 and continuing through 2013 so far.
Adding your Q. / A. or Comment will restore it to our busy Current Topics page


1998

Q. I have always been intrigued by electrochemistry. I am an electronics engineer in communications and have a broad understanding of electronics. In looking for simple experiments I found your site.

I have been using and experimenting with a mixture of Baking Soda and distilled water to plate iron with copper. The results are good but I have no idea what is happening chemically.

After plating I end up with blue/green mixture and a milky, heavier substance that is granular. Is this toxic? What gasses are released?

I don't dump it in the drain, but what is the best way to dispose of it? I do siphon off the clear blue/green from the milky and reuse it. It works fine.

I use a voltage, but do I need it? Also I have been able to plate copper onto chrome with good results.

Sorry to sound like an inquisitive kid with a thousand questions, but I live a sheltered life.
Thanks for any help.

Anthony Harris
^


1998

Q. Could someone help me out? I did this cool thing in chemistry class. We popped some pennies into a beaker filled with sodium hydroxide and some mossy zinc. Well, they turned silver after a while, and then we took a silver penny and burned it and it turned into gold. Anyway, I need to find a site on the reason why it happened. Could you help me out? Just an example or two of the questions:

"The chemical process you performed in class was called 'plating'. Explain this process as it applied to your experiment."

or …

"What was the alloy produced?"

So, that's about it. I tried using search engines, but they didn't work. Or maybe I'm using them wrong. Anyway, PLEASE HELP!

William J.
^


1999

Q. I have a boy that is doing a copper plating experiment. He is doing 2 studies with different volts of batteries. One is a 4.5 volt and the other 6 volt. The solution has vinegar and salt. There are copper strips added and brass keys are copper plated. When the process is done with the connection by copper wire the 6 volt battery solution turns green? Why is that? It also doesn't seem to copper plate the key evenly. Why is that? He is also supposed to copper plate plastic charms that have graphics on them attached by water downed glue. This does not work. Why not?

Rob Kanallakan
^


1999

It is not a good idea to use table salt (sodium chloride) in home experiments like this because of the possibility of releasing chlorine gas if the voltage gets too high. I have generated it with a 12-volt battery charger, but I don't know whether it will be released at 6 volts under different conditions. I'd suggest epsom salts instead. The green color you are seeing, though, is probably copper salts, not chlorine; the green color just means that the solution has copper in it, which it should.

6 volts is probably too high a voltage for your conditions, with the result that the deposit is 'burning' (releasing hydrogen gas and/or chlorine gas instead of just copper ions).

I can't guess why the plastic is not plating; it may not even be conductive.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


affil. link
"Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes: Unforgettable Experiments that Make Science Fun"
by Steve Spangler
from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon

1999

Ted, Like many other letters my child and I are doing a science fair experiment. In spite of your sensible cautions and reluctance your letter 196 is the most informative source we have found yet. My daughter's experiment comes from "Electrical Experiments You Can Do" [affil. link to book on Amazon] from the diary of Michael Faraday, by the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation (undated but I have had it for twenty year)s.

It specifies a D cell, vinegar w/salt to the point of saturation a copper strip and a key, all set up and wired in a milk carton bottom. It works too well, the resulting plate is very crumbly and black, gives off smelly gas just as you caution. Simone wants to try plating different metals.

It has however been very educational for her to figure out what is going on by reading about the electrolysis process. Your tips on prep and rinsing are helpful and explanation of what happens the best. She is going to use the hints throughout the various letters and your prep/rinse advice to fine tune it. Keep the site plain. Thanks.

Steven Monrad
- Angelus
^


1999

I planning on doing two electro-plating experiments.

1) Copper plating of nickels, dimes, & quarters. Would it be important to use pre 1984 pennies? (Solid copper as opposed to copper plated zinc).

2) Removal of copper plating from the newer pennies to leave just the zinc.

Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. my plan was to use copper sulphate pentachloride

Tom C.
- Atlanta, Georgia
^


1999

I have a important test coming up in June for a job in a big company. One of the questions for the oral exam will be to explain in detail the gold electroplating process. HELP? I have looked in every book I could find but nothing. THANKS!

Deb B.
^


"Gold Plating Technology"
by Reid & Goldie
from Abe Books
or

(affil. link)

1999

Deb: Your problem is that the books you could find so far are not the right books. Look at our list of books and see if any are available at your library or by interlibrary loan. A general explanation of plating is in our FAQ on the subject.

What differs in gold plating is that the anodes are not made of gold, but of some inert material like platinized titanium. Thus the gold has to come from additions of plating salts rather than from an equilibrium system of dissolution of the anodes into solution. We'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out why gold plating tanks use these insoluble anodes instead of employing a few dozen gold anodes, each weighing several hundred pounds :-)

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


1999

Dear finishing.com

For my 7th Form (grade 13) Practical Science Assignment I am required to conduct a set of experiments that investigate a certain topic. For my investigation I wish to investigate Electroplating; I am looking for suggestions on what part of this topic to study, and where to start. Thanks,

Reg Orton
Westlake Boys High School - Auckland, New Zealand
^



1999

Dear Reg:

Why not waste treatment/pollution control?

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


affil. link
"Earth Science for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work"
by Janice VanCleave
from Abe Books
or
info on Amazon

1999

thumbsdownBoy, there are some secretive industries in this world but Electroplating would have to take the cake. Such a simple process and yet surrounded by so much purposeful confusion. If you read between the lines this is because it is a high profitability alchemy process. A dollar of materials is worth hundreds of dollars on the finished product. A good book on the subject is US $450 and more. Not everyone is a lowly serf incapable of handling the materials required to perform the electro and electroless plating process. Smoking and drinking are, in fact, far more dangerous.

This is truly a profit driven industry and not one of free information. Perhaps that will change.

Does anyone else agree?

Siiman Owfski
Sydney, Australia
^


1999

A. I could not disagree more strongly, Mr. Owski. This thread has a lot of info about plating, and it is but one of over 50,000 threads available to you, all for free, on this website alone! You are welcome, as a guest, to attend American Electroplaters & Surface Finishers Society meetings free of charge.

Please point out an example of purposeful confusion in these letters and we will be happy to correct it.

Yes, some plating books cost $450. The cost of books isn't in the paper, but in compensating the author by dividing his payment by the number of copies sold. Plating books are often a person's life's work and sell but a few hundred copies because the market is so small. If you worked for your whole lifetime on a book for a total pay of ten thousand dollars, I think you would see it very differently. But there are also wonderful plating books such as the 363-page Garden State Branch AESF "Electroplating Course Manual" available for $30 (the actual cost of printing at 8 ¢ a page) because dozens of people volunteered their knowledge to write the chapters, the editor volunteered man-months to compile and edit it, and I paid my administrative assistant for the man-weeks of typing it all up.

Please tell the widows and children of the seven men who died of cyanide poisoning at Bastion Plating in Indiana in July 1984 that the materials are not really that dangerous. Or become a pen pal to the owner and general manager of Film Recovery Systems in Chicago who are serving life sentences for first degree murder because they were too cavalier about safety and one of their employees died of cyanide poisoning.

I know that you are from a different continent than I, but here in the U.S. electroplating was the very first EPA-regulated industry. Dozens of people from plating shops are currently serving penitentiary time for improper waste disposal. It is only appropriate that we tell people that attention to safety and waste disposal are crucial and they should not mess with the chemicals until they understand those matters.

Here in the U.S. we are charged with cradle-to-grave responsibility for hazardous waste, and all electroplating waste is categorically 'hazardous waste' as a matter of law. This means: you created those waste products so you are responsible for those waste products FOREVER, no matter how much you pay anybody to take them off your hands. This is why we urge people NOT to buy the chemicals until they know what they are doing -- how on earth is money made rather than lost when we say this?

I don't mean to argue with you personally, Mr. Owski, but a lot of hobbyists share your opinions and I wanted to present the other side of it. Any of you are welcome at Electroplaters Society meetings, of course. Thanks for your input.

Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


affil. link
"Kids Guide to Research"
from Abe Books

or

1999

A. I have donated hundreds of hours of time answering questions at this site and two others.

Far too many people are not willing to make the capital investment that it takes to set up a plating line.

Few want to spend the $300.00 per drum to dispose of non cyanide haz waste.

Few can understand the confusing USEPA regulations.

Few want to attend the mandatory Haz waste classes and the DOT hazardous material shipping cases. (About $500.00 each for the cheap versions)

Few want to understand that simple cleaning compounds work as well as proprietary cleaning compounds; Few want to understand that proprietary plating solutions work better than home-brew.

Finally, do not bitch at an industry that follows the regulations not wanting to aid and abet those that very probably will not. Also, you have not done your homework, or you would have bought a copy of Metal Finishing Guide Book which has lots of articles and numerous formulas for home brews.

People in the USA pay the local garage $45-50 per hour for a mechanic, yet complain madly about paying $50 for a part to be plated that may take 8 hours to do counting the bake time but leaving off all of the administrative time.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida
^


1999

thumbs up signA quick apology for some of the questions/comments emanating from Australia. I don't know of any industry not geared to some extent around profit making, more simply put, making a living.

I find finishing dot com is entirely generous in its supply of information. Most of us involved in plating at any level greatly appreciate it (even in Australia!).

Kids will be kids, at least their inquiries show they are attempting homework! However, I have to agree with Ted, most of their info should come from texts (though this site does present a great opportunity to give them a little insight into the practicalities of plating).

On science teachers, I too am a little worried at some of the cavalier attitudes displayed here; I am reminded of my high school chem teacher, who burnt his eyes and suffered extreme jaundice whilst performing a supposedly simple textbook demonstration of polymerisation reaction in hot alkaline conditions. The reaction was only slightly exothermic, wrong concentration and a couple of degrees too high was enough, we all know caustic and eyes don't mix.

Terry Roberts
- Australia
^


1999

Q. Finishing a die cast part in gold and silver may be done by using Gold leaf application after silver plating, or is there a "silver leaf" product out there that will work, Both are malleable metals?

S. Murdock
- St. Catharines, Canada
^


1999

A. Sorry, I know nothing about silver leafing, and little about gold leafing -- but there are degrees to malleability and I suspect that silver does not offer enough malleability for leafing.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


2000

Q. Dear helper; I read through most of the above notes. I must have missed the main answer I was looking for, but did learn a lot (especially about waste concerns w/ plating).

My just-13-year-old spent his birthday last weekend trying the simple copper plating over iron, with pennies in a vinegar/salt solution. It worked, but we had to take the nail out in the bright sun to see copper on it. what I would like him to find is the chemical formula for this, including the chemical name for vinegar if there is one.

Is there a good book that might be in a library for him to review this and include it on the presentation board for his project? Also, since he's 13, this seem like it might be a little bit elementary, any suggestions to make it a little more interesting. Is the bronze plating not recommended? Is there a problem pouring the vinegar/salt solution down the drain? We will discuss some of the waste aspects of plating and will include some on that. thanks for any recommendations.

Kathryn Heires
- omaha, Nebraska
^


2000

A. I wouldn't use pennies as a source for copper, Kathryn, since after 1982 they are actually zinc with only a thin copper plating on them; I'd use copper wire, which is always very very pure copper because it wouldn't carry electricity well if it wasn't.

Vinegar is dilute acetic acid, C2H4O2.

Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper, and is difficult for even an experienced professional to plate because the copper wants to preferentially plate out. It requires cyanide, so is out of the question for a science project or school/residential experiment.

Millions of people doubtless polish their copper clad pots with vinegar and salt, so I wouldn't worry too much about the spent vinegar and copper from cleaning a few pennies, but if you put a wad of 0000 steel wool [affil. link to info/product at Rockler] in the solution when you are done with it, the copper will spontaneously plate out onto it as metal. Metallic copper is not a contaminant like dissolved copper.

Sorry, books for 13-year-olds are not something I know about; I think the only things that will hold the attention of 13-year-old boys are video games, action movies, and 13-year-old girls smiley.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^


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