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How can zinc plating be safely removed from copper?

Q. How can zinc plating be safely removed from copper?

Steve Valdez
- Modesto, California

A. Hi, Steve.

What do you mean by "safely" . . . Do you mean "without affecting the surface finish of the copper"? Or do you mean "without the need to wear personal protective equipment"? Are these small pieces that will be processed in a plating barrel in a plating shop, or do you want to remove the zinc from a copper roof?

I'm afraid that your question is a bit too abstract to be answerable. Can you please explain your situation? Thanks!

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

Q. We are living overseas and have purchased old zinc-plated copper pitchers and pots. We wish to remove the zinc coating to display the copper without damaging it. What can we use? Any info would be greatly appreciated.

Christine Simmons
- Yerevan, Armenia

A. Hi, Christine.

Diluted muriatic acid [affil links] (hydrochloric) will very quickly dissolve zinc with little effect on copper (in this context and if quickly rinsed), but it is a hazardous material requiring goggles and gloves at the very least.

Metal finishing operations like these are rarely appropriate for the inexperienced though, because of toxicity and various dangers, the need for proper disposal, and the fact that a person with no experience may not even know what they are dealing with. For example, while I suppose it's not impossible that these items are zinc plated copper, it sounds very unlikely to me; I'd bet that these pitchers and pots are tinned copper, or possibly they are nickel plated.

Good luck.

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

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