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topic 25982

Iron Electroplating (Electrodeposition of Iron)

Current question and answers:

March 6, 2021

Q. Hello there - I am an artist in New Zealand working with electroforming in a very experimental way. I have been electroforming with copper very successfully and am now working with iron. I have created a solution with vinegar and am now forming on to copper wire which is going well. My question is: is the gas that is coming off the electroforming object toxic in any way? There is certainly a lot of bubbling. No obvious smell. This forum is a fantastic resource, thank you!

Shelley Simpson
shelleysimpson.co.nz - New Zealand
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March 2021

A. Hi Shelley. No toxicity.

You may want to see our FAQ on Faraday's Law because it explains this a little slower and more carefully, and with graphics, but ...
When you do electroplating or electroforming, electrons are pulled away from the positive pole (anode) and are pumped through the power supply and copper wiring to the cathode. The desirable result of this is changing the neutrally charged metallic copper atoms of the anode into positively charged copper ions which will dissolve into solution and by attracted to the negative pole (cathode); while at the cathode those electrons re-merge with the copper ions to become once again copper metal.

But what the electricity also does is separate some amount of the water, H20, into hydrogen gas which evolves at the cathode and oxygen which evolves at the anode. These are not toxic whatsoever but can produce a champagne or ginger ale effect entraining some of the solution into the air. That entrainment can be an issue when there are toxic materials in the solution, for example chromic acid when doing chrome plating. But when your solution is vinegar the worst that could happen is entrainment of vinegar and some resultant vinegar small.

By the way, although there will always be some bubbling, there should not be a lot. That is an indication that the plating solution can't keep up because you are using too much current.

Luck & Regards,


Previous closely related Q&A's starting in:


Q. We are looking for information regarding "iron plating". Looking for up to date formulations and compatible brighteners. Also would like to find out about how to overcome pitting on the plated parts caused by gassing during the process.

Leo Corbeil
- Canada


A. Good luck, this is a tough one, Leo! I know of at least two manufacturers of soldering iron tips, and two jobshops that have struggled with this one intensely over the past two or three years. And the tendency of the iron to oxidize introduces a continuous problem to be addressed. Successful iron plating techniques tend to be more closely guarded than most other plating techniques. I hope someone here will offer tips, but it won't surprise me if they don't :-)

I think your best bet may be to talk to a process supplier regarding their proprietary iron plating baths, or to retain a consultant on this one. But you may find some general tips with a computerized literature search for 'iron plating' or 'soldering tip plating'.


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


A. I am responding concerning Iron Plating. I am the General Manager of a chrome and iron plating facility in the Dallas, Texas area. Iron Plating is alive and well and we are successfully doing it on a large scale should this person still need answers to their iron plating problems.

Calvin Riggs
Dallas, Texas

thumbs up signHi, Calvin. There are over a hundred interested readers for every writer. So, irrespective of whether Leo has solved his problem or abandoned the project, thousands of readers review these inquiries every day, and any tips that you wish to share on iron plating would be read and appreciated by many. Do you suggest sulfuric based solution, fluoboric, or something else?


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

To minimize search efforts and to offer multiple viewpoints, we combined previously separate threads onto this page. Please forgive any resultant repetition, failures of chronological order, or what may look like readers disrespecting previous responses -- those other responses may not have been on the page at the time :-)

Electroplating (Electrodeposition) of iron deposits


Q. Does anybody electroplate iron deposits?

Derek Vanek
Independence, Ohio


A. Dear Mr. Derek Vanek,

I have some experience of ductile Iron plating. We plate tips of soldering iron tips with iron. The deposits are subjected to high temperature stresses and stress due to differential expansion. At present the job is being done on a lab scale. The deposits are quite successful and users are happy. The same technique should be upgradable for bigger jobs.

- Pune, Maharashtra , India


A. Yes. Currently the only application I have come across is for the plating of soldering iron tips. The iron is plated over copper to enhance the heat "holding" capability of the tip.

At one time, iron plating was very popular for electroforming applications, but with the advent of sulfamate nickel plating, iron was phased out.

Richard Zuendt
- Garfield, New Jersey


Q. I would like to know how to plate with iron, not on iron. I assume it would be called 'electro iron plating'. There are thousands of pages about plating 'on' iron but I can't find any information as I say about plating 'with' iron. I have seen one reference to using Iron Sulfate in solution with no other particulars. I have a situation where I would just like to build up a worn piece of iron (steel), the pivot bearing surface of an old double barrel shotgun. I know I could use say, copper and then nickel, but there should be a way to just plate with the iron I would think. Any help on this would be appreciated.

Thank you,

Robert Lowe
hobbyist - Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA

affil. link
"THE" brush plating book:
Electrochemical Metallizing

by Marv Rubinstein
from Abe Books

see our Review


A. Hi Robert. Yes it is possible to do iron plating. To the best of my knowledge all soldering iron tips are iron plated (that's just one layer of their plating though). A few other things are iron plated, but it's not one of the really popular processes. The subject is covered in the Metal Finishing Guidebook (any year but 2004).

However, iron is rather difficult to plate because of the multiple oxidation states of iron which interferes with solution life, requires filtration, etc. Do you have a lot of prior electroplating experience that you can bring to bear on taming this tricky process? Further, it is probably not the right material for this application. You probably actually need to do nickel plating for integrity of the coating.

Indispensable for your situation is Marv Rubinstein's Electrochemical Metallizing, the authoritative text on brush plating repairs. Good luck.

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


thumbs up signI was the one that asked about the iron plating ... Thanks Ted.

Robert Lowe [returning]
hobbyist - Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA


A. Iron plating solution (19th century):
40 gm iron sulphate
200 gm potassium-sodium tartrate
0,6 lit water
0,4 lit ammonia(25%)
iron anode

Goran Budija
- Zagreb,Croatia


thumbs up signHi - I just found out about the additional reply to my letter on iron plating. Thanks to Goran Budija.

Robert Lowe [returning]
hobbyist - Pagosa Springs, Colorado, USA

Iron plating onto copper base


Q. Sir,

I'll make a soldering iron with copper base. The lead must bond to the iron when it is dipped.
We tried some iron plating but it won't work. Maybe there are other chemical additives for the iron plating?

Thank you very much.

Ronald Almazora
fabrication co. - Philippines


A. There is a well used commercial iron plating solution based on ferrous chloride, hydrochloric acid and calcium chloride. It has been used for nearly a century, obviously with some success. From my experience, iron plating is very inefficient and not very easy to get a good deposit. As far as additives and formulations are concerned, it would be helpful if you told everyone what you were using, how you are running the bath and what sort of results you are getting.

trevor crichton
Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK


A. Also, iron plating is one of the baths where air agitation must not be used because it oxidizes the iron. Mechanical agitation only.

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

June 7, 2015 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I would like to know how to plate steel onto copper wire. It's my understanding that soldering gun tips are steel over copper. My hunch is that ferric II acetate would be the solution? But I am no chemist.

And I imagine an appropriate applied voltage would be about 1 volt?

I use #12 copper wire to make my own tips, but the copper seems to dissolve away, presumably into the solder...

Looking at the problems of power supplies, by the way, a small battery charger with the 118 VAC input controlled by a dimmer from home depot? Just a thought - have not built it.

George Yerkes
- red bluff California usa

June 8, 2015

A. Surely it is an iron deposit and not a steel deposit.

With a Manual type battery charger plugged into a Variac, you can control the DC output fairly well. Automatic battery chargers don't work well at all for this.

Read this

To iron plate (or to do any other type of plating), you generally desire a deposit that is smooth, hard, and adherent (doesn't peel off).

This is easier said than done, especially when you're making things up as you go along. I don't think you know enough yet to make any decisions as to how to do this and you don't know what questions to ask. Searching (and studying) this forum for "iron plating" will get you there much faster.

If you really want to do this, do it right. You first need to find a professional formula for an iron plating bath, preferably found on finishing.com - not on youtube; not on one of those how-to-do-it sites; not one using common household chemicals. Most of these don't produce hard, smooth, adherent deposits. If possible, pick one that operates at room temperature. Order all of the chemicals in the formula (eBay is about the cheapest)and buy a scale. Make up the bath as per the formula.

Now the hard part. You must learn how to best clean the copper so it will accept the iron deposit. Peeling's not good. You must learn how to select the proper amperage. What type metal will you use as the anode? When the bath chemicals get out of kilter and starts producing lousy plating, what do you do? These are only the tip of the iceberg. Read. Read. Read. Study.

Chris Owen
Precious Metals Refining Consultant - Nevada, Missouri, USA

August 16, 2020

A. I would suggest closed loop argon agitation with exhausted gas going through a condenser/filter/separator before reentering the loop. This has improved on my copper and nickel plating.

Sam Blakesley
- Sulpher Springs Texas

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