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Why Copper for Plating?


I am doing a chemistry demonstration for my college course and it involves copper plating. My question regards the copper electrode. Why is it necessary to use the copper rather then a metal such as silver or something else? If a different metal were used, what would be the consequences of the change?

Matthew Phillips
- Worcester, Mass

First of two simultaneous responses -- 2002

Of course it is possible to do silver plating or another plating instead of copper, but there are consequences. First you can't electroplate a metal out of solution until you get the metal into solution; so you may need a very strong and dangerous solvent to dissolve the metal. Virtually all 'real' silver plating is done out of cyanide-based solutions--which is exceptionally hazardous and totally inappropriate for students to work with. Another problem is that, in general, proper electroplating is done out of a solution where the dissolved metal will not spontaneously 'immersion plate'. This issue may be above your grade level, but it limits what metals are practical to electroplate onto what substrates from what kind of solution.

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

Second of two simultaneous responses -- 2002

Generally speaking copper anodes are used in a copper plating bath instead of an electrode of some other metal because the copper provides copper ions to the solution to replace copper plated out at the cathode. Why would you want to use a more expensive metal like silver?

Neil Bell
Red Sky Plating
supporting advertiser
Albuquerque, New Mexico

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