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Brass electroplating for amateurs and students

Q. Hi guys,

Amateur hobbyist, chemistry fan and amateur learning electro plating. So I decide to through some pieces of brass in a vinegar solution as an anode, after a while it turn light green and I left it outside of a couple of days and when I went to finish the filtering, it was solid orange Gatorade looking color. After doing some research I discovered u can electroplate with brass like copper, nickel or zinc. So I was just curious if any had any ideas of why it turned orange color?


Blake Gale
- North salt lake, utah
July 28, 2023

A. Hi Blake. I'm not sure why the solution is orangish-brown; perhaps if you used finer filter paper that color will be removed.

I would suggest that you try copper plating or zinc plating, both of which are do-able by amateurs. Unfortunately you will find brass plating impossible. The reason is that brass is an alloy/mixture of zinc and copper and what will happen when you try to plate it out (if it works at all) is that you will plate out only copper. No zinc will plate out as long as there is any copper in the solution. Read on for more info about why this is so.
Luck & Regards,

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

↓ Closely related postings, oldest first ↓

Q. I am a chemistry teacher and I have a student who is interested in electroplating brass. This student makes miniature furniture and is trying to make miniature firearms and then finish them with brass. We have tried a solution of muriatic acid [affil link] but the finish wipes off. Can anyone help us out? Thank you for your help and consideration.

Linda Young

A. Dear Linda:

Commercial brass plating processes are based on cyanide and as such should not be performed in a hobby or school environment both from a personal safety point of view and potential environmental impact.

There are reports of a commercial non-cyanide process being available, however I have no information regarding source.

To achieve a "brass like" appearance it would be more advisable to contact one of the lacquer suppliers listed in the supplier section of finishing.com. I believe some of them have products which can produce a simulated brass appearance.

Ken Lemke
Ken Lemke
Burlington, Ontario, Canada

A. Hi Linda. If possible, see if you can talk the student into a different type of plating like maybe nickel, or zinc, or copper. Brass is a special problem because it's an alloy of two metals, copper and zinc. You may have done 'lemon batteries' in class where you put pennies (copper) and galvanized nails (zinc) into a lemon and see that it generates more than a full volt of electricity; the copper wants to plate out and the zinc wants to become/remain dissolved and it won't plate out, more copper plates out instead.


The way professionals get the zinc to deposit is to "tie up" the copper with poisonous cyanide. Although proprietary non-cyanide complexers may exist, I'm not sure if the vendors will offer it to students and amateurs, and they're probably very tricky to successfully operate.

As Ken says, if the aim is decorative, your student can apply a brass-toned lacquer which is actually done on furniture and lamps as a replacement for brass plating; if the aim is education and practice in electroplating, there's plenty to be learned from plating one of those other metals I mentioned which don't require cyanide.

One other possibility would be to plate copper onto the item first, then plate it with zinc --OR-- plate zinc onto it first, then plate it with copper, and then to heat it over a bunsen burner to see if you can get the zinc and copper to diffuse together into brass. I have heard of students making brass colored pennies by zinc plating them and then diffusing the copper and zinc with a bunsen burner or torch.

Luck & Regards,

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

Q. Yes, this is just what I was looking for, but I need more details. I race motorcycles and in this corrosive environment, nuts and bolts need some form of protection. I was thinking of brass plating all the exposed parts. I need to know what chemicals, concentration and current requirements are needed to accomplish this task. I realize that brass does tarnish, but that is preferable to rust and corrosion.

Anyone out there that can provide more detailed information, it would be appreciated. Please reply. Thanks a lot.

Craig Harms

A. Hello Craig.

The best plan of course would be to get preplated parts. If the parts do not need to be highly decorative, and are not special high-strength steel, zinc plated nuts and bolts are available at the hardware store. If they need to be decorative, I have seen nickel-chrome plated nuts at motorcycle stores, and brass ones may be available as well.

If you want special parts plated, jobshops offer that service, and they are equipped and operated by trained employees--so that would be the second choice.

Yes, it is possible to electroplate yourself, but it can be complicated, and it has safety and environmental implications -- especially in the case of brass plating (the solution is almost always cyanide based), or chrome plating (which involves carcinogenic and tightly regulated hexavalent chromium. Further if those bolts are high strength steel, electroplating will cause hydrogen embrittlement, which means they can fail like brittle glass unless you also employ the proper baking procedures to relieve the embrittlement.

The plating process usually includes:

Stripping off the old nickel plating with cyanide-based strippers or Metalx (Ronatec.us) [a finishing.com supporting advertiser] proprietary nickel strippers (although sometimes it can be sandblasted off). Then, mechanical polishing and buffing (if the surface is not smooth and free of fine scratches, electroplating will not make it so!). It takes a lot of experience to get good at buffing, but is certainly something you can learn. Next the parts are electrolytically cleaned to a waterbreak-free degree with proprietary mixtures of strong lye and detergent. Then the surface oxides are removed with hydrochloric acid. Now the parts are electroplated: sometimes with copper and buffed again, but always with nickel--sometimes two or three different proprietary layers. Then you apply the final plating, be it brass, chrome, or gold. Brass, gold, and chrome will not

I would suggest either buying the parts plated, finding a plating job shop to do them, or perhaps painting them. If you want to learn electroplating for yourself, it is doable, I certainly don't want to discourage you -- it's just not easy, there are safety issues (especially for cyanide-based platings like brass) and there might be environmental issues. If you're determined to practice, do nickel plating first. Good luck!

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

"THE" brush plating book:
Electrochemical Metallizing

by Marv Rubinstein
from Abe Books
or Amazon
[affil links]

Q. What is your opinion of brush plating? I am interested in plating an old trumpet I found. The thing is I find it difficult to believe that I would not be able to plate things myself, since electroplating is a process that has been around for thousands of years, e.g. The Baghdad Battery (http://sophia.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/battery2.html). What did the ancients do to electroplate, and why can't I do the same? Is it possible to manually scrape off the old layers of silver to prepare the surface for plating?

Matthew T. Marchione
Belmont Technical College, Building Preservation Dept. - St. Clairsville, Ohio


A. Hi Matthew. Please remember that the Baghdad Battery is a blue-sky theory, is is not a device! According to the Discovery Channel, a stopper made of cork and a few shards of a pot were found (as in all digs); but in reasonable proximity some copper and iron fragments were also found that truly don't look like much :-)

But in wild speculation for TV, scientists used those tiny shards of pottery and blobs of metal to arrive at a battery theory ... then they made computer images of what they guessed it could have looked like IF it existed.

Many archeologists feel that these fragments were just miscellaneous ceremonial knick-knacks that happened to found near each other, and that it's a disservice to history to present crazy computer graphics in such a fashion as to imply that anything even remotely resembling those computerized conjecture images was actually ever found, that it's total nonsense!

This is NOT to say there absolutely was not a Baghdad Battery! It's only to say that the evidence for a battery seems very very thin to date, and the pictures you've seen are only computer-generated wild speculation -- using those computer graphics speculations to jump to the conclusion that the ancients must have known electroplating is not well founded.

My personal belief is that, because hydrogen gas is always generated when electroplating is attempted, and because mankind has always desperately wanted to fly, that if the Baghdad Battery actually existed, hydrogen would surely have been collected and investigated, and we'd have had people riding in hydrogen balloons thousands of years ago.

You can surely do plating yourself; we have an FAQ showing elementary school children how to do it. The question is whether you can do truly useful plating yourself. And the answer to that is that silver probably can't be safely and robustly electroplated by an individual without significant experience. However, there are simple "wipe-on" silvering solutions that may suffice. Please see our FAQ: "Silver Plating at Home". Good luck!

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

Q. Another idea on the topic ... Do you think it would be possible to sandblast the silver off the piece, buff it smooth, clean it with a strong solvent, such as acetone [affil link on Ebay & Amazon] and detergents, and then plate it?

Matthew T. Marchione [returning]
Belmont Technical College, Building Preservation Dept. - St. Clairsville, Ohio

A. A fascinating page at Smith College, thank you for that link. But "A recipe no more makes a cook than sermons make a saint". And you only have a recipe for making a battery, we need a lot more information to see if the ancients really plated gold onto silver with any success. I don't doubt it, I just don't know how they did it.

Brush plating kits are a proven technology. How you apply it depends upon your skill and training. Most people (including me) would say that brush plating of a car emblem or touching up a small (1 square centimeter) of a car molding is a more realistic task than brush plating a trumpet.

Good Luck!

tom & pooky   toms signature
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania

A. I would add that gold plating a car emblem usually involves just stripping off a very thin layer of chromium, and electroplating gold onto the beautiful OEM-prepared high quality multi-layer nickel plated emblem. The trumpet is not only much bigger, but is a mix of oxidized brass and worn silver; further, silver electroplating requires cyanide based solutions whereas gold doesn't. It's a much bigger job. Please try the "wipe-on" silvering first, and only move on if it doesn't work to your satisfaction. Good luck.


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

A. Years have passed since the last post but I found this page in searching for a way to electroplate brass on my own. New developments in the sciences have come to the rescue for those who are hobbyists and wish to do their own electroplating, anodizing and metal finishing. I have no affiliation with companies producing the kits for these purposes, however, I have tried some of their products and they work. The skill required is no more than that required of a decent handy person. If you have skill in welding, fixing wiring or any number of routine skilled jobs, you can do your own electroplating. If you have two left thumbs and can't start a balky lawnmower, don't waste your time.

Complete kits are available for the hobbyist that do not involve cyanide or other deadly chemicals. Are they as good as the results of a professional plating shop? Maybe, maybe not. You judge. I'm happy with my results.

Ken Kreager
- Platteville, Colorado, USA

thumbs up sign Thanks Ken. Many of the world's bench jewelers fancy themselves platers but scoff at platers fancying themselves jewelers -- and so it goes :-)
If the substrate is a very easy one, as jewelry usually is, and there is no mass production, then plating can be very easy. Gold plating of car emblems is similar -- the OEM did 99% of the work, and all the hobbyist needs to do is strip off a few millionths of chrome, and put gold in its place on top of a perfectly prepared, corrosion resistant, shiny, bright nickel plated item.

Still, the EPA chose electroplating to be the very first "categorically regulated" industry in America. With slight simplification, this means if any liquid was used in an electroplating business, it is regulated waste. "New developments in science" make no difference because it's based on the 'category' of electroplating. Every bucket of water, every drop of hose water that splashes on the floor is regulated. It's not a matter of whether I want you to electroplate, it's a matter of what the US government wants, so look up EPA 40 CFR 433 (it's on the net).

If you do electroplating well, you may eventually charge people for the parts or the service. Once you do, you've become part of an industry that is subject to complex permitting rules. Odds are strong that small outfits won't be caught, and if caught won't be prosecuted, but I personally know a man who served penitentiary time after plating in his attached garage, getting sucked in by degrees, and got caught illegally disposing of wastes when he found that legal disposal would have meant telling his wife and family that they were losing their house.

If hobbyists want to electroplate, they need to realize its hazards, environmental impact, and their own usual lack of training; but most importantly they must realize that on the day it goes from hobby to small business they've become subject to aggressively enforced regulations that have ensnared others. Good luck.

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

Q. Before reading the great posts on this site, I had no idea that electroplating was so complicated and skill-intensive. I just want to get a key back plate for my door to look bright and brassy shiny. Evidently hooking it up to a battery in a solution like I saw in high school applied science isn't going to cut it, eh?!

So one of the posts hints that there are more "convenient" ways of getting a metallic-like finish on dulled metal, but with no link. Can anyone suggest a really environmentally safe (and human safe) spray or application of some sort that will give a bright metallic-like finish without bringing down the weight of the entire federal government on me?

Thanks. If anyone cares, please post personal experiences with something like this. Or...recommend a good metal shop that would do simple one piece work. My experience here is the guy who wants to cook a souffle but hasn't a clue how to boil water.

Frank Noel
- Brooklyn New York USA
October 30, 2011

A. Hi, Frank. Plating is drop-dead easy, but useful & robust plating can be harder :-)

But it depends on what you want to do. Brass plating without deadly cyanide, or chrome plating without toxic hexavalent chrome is tough to do; but zinc plating, copper plating, nickel plating, gold plating, rhodium plating, etc., are all safer and have less environmental impact.

What I would probably do is polish the existing backplate with rubbing compound , metal polish, or a more powerful buffing compound and a buffing pad on some sort of power tool (Dremel or electric drill). My bet is that it is either solid brass, which will polish, or that there is bright nickel plating underneath that brass and that, with care, there is a good chance of polishing down to the bright nickel plating. Then I would apply a brass-toned lacquer. It will cost very little, you'll learn something hands-on, and if it doesn't satisfy you can send it to a plating shop.

Good luck.


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

February 12, 2015

A. For small parts you could try using an old blacksmith technique - mechanical peening with supplied heat energy to help the process along.

See this video …


Jon Light
- Saltum Denmark

Brass plating of motorcycle parts

Q. I am working on a project where I would like to get an antique type of brass finish plated onto my parts. The parts consist of various aluminum castings, steel hardware (spokes and nipples, nuts and bolts). Some of the parts are already chrome plated, some are natural aluminum castings, which have a clearcoat on them. Ultimately I would like to finishes to generally look the same (to a point) when finished.

So here's my questions:
1) am I crazy to think that I can have a supplier Brass plate over chrome plating that already exists on an aluminum casting?
2) same thing for the steel parts?
3) next question has to do with the clearcoat that exists on the parts: will the etch process that occurs in the plating process remove the old clearcoat?
4) the spokes are steel with what looks like a chrome finish, can I brass plate over that?

I appreciate the help

Pete Daly
Motorcycle project - Yorktown Hgts, New York, USA
June 26, 2015

A. Hi Pete.

1. Decorative chrome plating is actually a very heavy layer of bright nickel plating followed by a very thin layer of chrome plating (see our Introduction to Chrome Plating), so it's relatively easy to strip the chrome but not the nickel, and then brass plate it. But what might be better is to just apply a brass-tone lacquer.

2. Brass plating over steel will be quite matte. The usual technique is to plate the steel with bright nickel first.

3. Stripping the clearcoat will depend on what it is. Brass lacquer is easily removed with lacquer thinner [affil link] , but tougher clear coats may require toxic methylene chloride or boiling hot caustic.

4. Answer 4 is the same as answer 1.

Luck & Regards,

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

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