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Nails rusting science project

A discussion started in 2004 & continuing through 2017



We are doing a project for science fair. We are in the 8th grade at North Marion middle school.

We were wondering what liquid would rust a nail the fastest?

Plus what nails should we use?

thanx ya'll

later (Meg), (Hay), (Ash)

Megan, Hayley, Ashley [last names deleted for privacy by Editor]
students - Donald, Oregon


A. Use the search engine at this site for letters on the subject. It will water your eyes how many times it has been asked. So, do your homework first and then ask some specific questions.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

Earth Science for Every Kid

Kids Guide to Research

Pop Bottle Science

Award Winning Science Fair Projects


Q. I did a science fair project on the effects of rusting nails. I used tap water, salt water, Sprite, and vinegar. after 14 days the tap water had rusted the nail entirely within 10 days. The salt water rusted the nail entirely within 12 days. both the Sprite and vinegar did not cause any rusting on the nail. Also the tap water was first to sprout signs of rusting within 3 hours of the submerging of the nail. Why did the tap water work most effectively?

Ryan C. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Columbia, Pennsylvania


A. Well done, Ryan! Actually, though, vinegar and Sprite are much more corrosive than plain water.

You have probably seen action movies or science fiction movies where acids dissolve metals. But most acid used in the metal industry is actually used to remove rust from metal rather than to dissolve metal. If you put a rusty piece of metal into a strong acid, the rust will disappear almost instantly but it will take quite a long time for the metal to dissolve. So acids are actually used primarily to remove rust not to make rust.

What probably happened is that the vinegar and Sprite dissolve rust because they are mild acids--so if you try to judge the corrosion by the amount of rust that has been formed, rather than the amount of metal that has been removed, the result is misleading. The iron that was dissolved by them stays dissolved in the solution, and invisible rather than precipitating out as rust.

I'll bet that if you spritzed the nails with the four materials each day, instead of immersing them, (so that the liquid, including the dissolved rust, evaporates) you would see more and quicker rust on the vinegar nails and salt water nails.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey


A. In response to your question on nails rusting, I am in yr 8 as well and I am doing the same research... but I am doing an experiment, out of the six containers, tap water, vinegar, metholated spirits, bicarbonate of soda in water, lemonade, and salt water, the tap water over 1 night has significantly rusted the nail. then the salt water. the vinegar has completely cleared the nail of any existing rust, putting all the remaining rust on the top of the nail, which is above the water, the lemonade has corroded the nail above the surface again, the bicarb hasn't done anything and the "metho" hasn't done anything but smell disgusting. it would be a good idea to check these results by doing the experiment yourself, but remember to leave some nail over the water line, and don't use coated nails, because they are designed NOT to rust, so nothing will happen.

Morgan E. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Taree, NSW, Australia


A. I am in the seventh grade and we had a science fair so I decided to do it on ways to cause rust I used:

1. 5 plastic cups or containers
2. 5 nails make sure the steel and can rust
3. 1 cup bleach 1 cup vinegar 1 cup water 1 cup salt water and 1 cup sugar water in both of the sugar and salt water I used 2 tsp of each sugar and salt
4. and 2 days to do this
I put the nails in each cup and let them sit 4 a half an hour the one that had the most affect was the one with the bleach and the tap water. In the end the best way to cause rust is to use Clorox bleach.

Cheir A. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- N.Lauderdale, Florida

sidebar (2005)

To be clear, Cheir is saying that the bleach and vinegar were separate experiments. Never mix bleach with anything! You can generate poisonous chlorine gas.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Q. I am form 2 and am doing a science fair on rusting nails and the water has gone green in the saltwater and orange in the rest. Will it turn to rust or have I failed?

Hanna B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Auckland, New Zealand

Metal Samples


Whoa, Hanna. I think about the orange it is okay, if there is rust on your nails. What type of liquids did you use? I have just started a project on rust, and in less then 12 hours my zinc nail has rusted in the tap water, and the salt water. I have to use 3 different types of metals, but no store had any so all I had was zinc, brass, and aluminum. I know that brass doesn't rust, but I have no clue about aluminum! If I only do one nail that rusts, it will look very lame. Help!

Mon B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Vancouver, BC, Canada


Q. Umm I'm in 8th grade and I had to do a science fair project. my project was too see what liquid rusted a nail the most...I used vinegar, lemon juice, and tap water...tap water does rust it the most....which is kinda odd cuz its not very acidic. and vinegar rusted only the top of the nail in huge chunks..(it was gross)I think you should use non galvanized nails and non galvanized steel bits but its kind of hard to real steel. you could just get it from a hardware store or ask your parents to take you to a like car fixing place and maybe ask them if they have and unused bits of steel that hasn't been coated with anything to protect from rust.

Macy [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Chicago, Illinois


A. Use salt water it rusts the fastest.

Marie S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Palm Beach, Florida


Q. I am in 5th grade and doing an unusual science project. I have searched the web and can't find the answer to these two questions. My project to see what effect different types of salt - such as kosher, pickling, water softener, etc. have on the creation of rust. I have a short time to do this and want to know 2 questions. 1) is it better to use a nail or a steel wool pad as the item to be rusted - which will rust faster? and 2) should I spray the salt solution on the item, immerse it (then remove it), immerse it and keep it in solution - which will cause rust faster? Thank you in advance for helping me, Alyssa H.

Alyssa H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
5th Grade Student at Oakridge - Villa Park, California

A. steel wool [linked by editor to product info at Rockler] will rust faster, Alyssa, because it has more surface area to react with the salt.. It will probably rust fastest if you periodically spray it.

But what you might think about is . . . the point of this effort. I mean suppose you find that Kosher salt rusts steel wool faster or slower than water softener salt -- so what? The reason I ask is not to pooh-pooh the project, of course, but in hopes that you will think about what you are supposed to get from this effort that is valuable.

Here's what I mean. Suppose you have two piles of match sticks with 301 in one pile and 203 in the other. One way to know the total number of match sticks is to memorize a table of every possible 3-digit number added to every other possible 3-digit number -- but to do it that way you would need to memorize one million combinations. But I was able to do this addition in my head, and I think you were too, because we learned useful, flexible concepts in arithmetic class like adding the digits column, then the tens column, then the hundreds column. You should be trying to learn similar important concepts from your science experiments, not just a million individual one-at-a-time facts like whether kosher salt rusts steel wool faster or slower than water softener. So the real question is what are the concepts that you think you are learning from this project :-)

We have an FAQ: What Liquid Cleans Pennies Best; although that question is a little different than what liquid rusts nails best, I think you will find it interesting and helpful for your project because it explains the purpose of these experiments and a standard way to approach them. Good luck.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

(for Kindle)
Unforgettable Experiments
that make Science Fun


Q. I just did an experiment on rusting nails and did salt water and then distilled water. The distilled water rusted the fastest and took off the metal in sheets. Why did the distilled water rust the nail so fast versus the salt water? I would have thought the opposite!

Drew B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Hamburg, New York


Q. Wondering how long naturally it takes to rust nails nailed in wood?

Pammy S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Phoenix, Arizona

A. How old is your house, Pammy? How old is your grandmother's house or the oldest house you know of? What is holding the pieces of wood together in that house? Nails that are nailed into wood last a long time.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Q. Does water make the nail rust more b/c water has more oxygen in it? B/c I learned that iron rusts faster if it is exposed to oxygen, and we all know that water is made of oxygen and hydrogen. So am I right about my theory?

David D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Locust Grove, Georgia

A. Not quite, David. The water helps speed up the rusting because it is electrically conductive, allowing corrosion currents to flow. Although water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, the two elements are bound together in a way that gives water much different properties from hydrogen or oxygen.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

sidebar (2007)

Okay where the hell do I get research for this? I'm doing a science fair project on which substance rust nails the fastest and I can't find anything. I don't know where to get the stupid info! ugh! I HATE science fair! This is my second year doing this and I hate just as much! And my 8th grade science teacher is on my back about this because I'm supposedly her "best student" and she expects me to win the freaking contest! WHAT THE#^%~#%$^&*!

Kristin B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Cape Coral, Florida

thumbs up signMaybe your teacher feels that you would be wise to hone your science skills for success in life, Kristin. I can't imagine why she might think your people skills aren't sufficient to get you by though :-)

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey


thumbs up sign I'm a 10th grade girl doing a project on which nail will rust the fastest in coke, water and tea. It takes about 3 hours and it"s fun so do it and see the results.
You need:
3 cups
3 rustable nails
and TIME!

sophie ann [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
designer - lake charles, Louisiana


Q. I did all of the above and I wrote it on a piece of paper but I lost it and I've got to put it on a poster board. My teacher is asking what the independent variable is and what the dependent variable is and I forgot; can anyone help me?

Christina [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Florida

Try to understand (rather than memorize) the difference, Christina. A 'variable' is something that changes or varies. And you know the meaning of dependence and independence. So an independent variable is something you choose to change, and a dependent variable is the consequence.

If you decide to skip breakfast, you're likely to be hungry in school. "Skipping breakfast" is one of the variables and "being hungry" is the other. Which of the two variables was an independent choice and which was the dependent consequence? Good luck!

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

February 8, 2008

Q. Hello

I'm in grade 8 now

I have a question about rust

Does rust weigh more than metal? because I couldn't find any answers on the internet

Please reply within 1-3 days

Thank you!

Andrea T [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sydney, NSW, Australia

February 9, 2008

A. You may be young to fully understand the answer, Andrea. But rust is iron oxide, a compound that is the reaction product of iron and oxygen. So, if the iron is only one of the two components in the compound, the compound is going to weigh more than one of its two components.

If you are still not quite following this, imagine that you want to decorate for Christmas and you start out with a bowl of green jelly beans. Then you decide that you don't like it all green, so for each green jelly bean in the bowl, you're going to add a red one too. Which weighs more, the green jelly beans (iron) you started with, or all of the jelly beans (iron oxide) in the bowl?

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

February 25, 2008

Q. I'm doing a science project on rusting a nail and I was wondering why bleach has a very high affect on the speed of rusting an iron nail

mathew w [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - federal way, Washington

February 27, 2008

You don't say what grade you are in, Mathew, so I don't know what chemistry concepts you understand yet. Rust is an electrochemical reaction between iron and oxygen. Bleach is sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl, dissolved in a highly conductive mixture of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and water. The oxygen and chlorine are 'just barely' dissolved, and want to come out as gases, so bleach provides plenty of oxygen for rapid rusting, plus corrosive chlorine, while also providing a very highly conductive path for the corrosion currents to take.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 29, 2008

Q. Hey I'm in yr 9 and I was wondering if anyone could help me on a rough method for "which substance rusts a nail quickest" for an assignment

ashlee [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- new south wales, Australia

April 2008

A. Hi, Ashlee. We don't have an FAQ about this rusting nail project, but we do have an FAQ: What Liquid Cleans Pennies Best; although that question is a little bit different, I think you will find it interesting and helpful for your project. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 13, 2008

Q. Hi, I'm inquiring on an experiment I have to conduct for my year 9 science assignment. I have to see what types of things effect iron nails, but the thing is there are different ways to do the experiment. By temperature, or like liquids. I'm not sure which one would be most effective and the fastest result is best suitable. Anyone please help ASAP!

Thank you

Mary A [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Australia

A. Hi, Mary. We're always happy to try to help. But it seems that what you need this time is proper interaction with your science teacher :-)

You don't convey that you have any idea whatsoever of what science lesson the experiment is supposed to teach you or, even in the most general way how to even begin, either with a how or a why. To just give you rote instructions to follow would make this bad situation even worse. Go to your science teacher and tell him/her that you simply have no idea what you are supposed to be doing or why or what you are supposed to learn from it. S/he will probably be glad to get the feedback and to get you back on track. Of course if you've had the assignment for 4 weeks, and it's due tomorrow . . .   :-)


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

(2005) May 14, 2008

Q. Hello fellow science lovers,
I'm wondering if anyone could help me again...

:) I'm doing a project/fair. and I'm in year 9.

I have to base it on the rate of corrosion when water is affected with an iron nail. I'm wondering if I could have an experiment to help me with this..

- fellow science lover

Sarah A [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Australia, NSW

July 12, 2008

Q. Hey. Grade 9
I have to do an experiment about rust
And I would like to know about the different kinds of contaminants that would affect the rusting. (:
I am having a hard time researching about the kinds of contaminants (:
Please help.

Eliea R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Student - Philippines

Hi, Eliea. We're happy to try to help if that help will further your education, but . . .

I don't think you understand what you are supposed to be doing or why, so I think you should rewrite your question without using the words 'rust', 'affect'. or 'contaminants'. If you can't do that you need to talk to your teacher because you don't yet understand what you teacher wants, and anybody's guess is just a guess. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

July 25, 2008

Q. Hello.
I am in the 9th grade, and I am doing a project on what conditions arouse a nail to rust the most, and I would like to ask whether anyone knows if there are any precautions or wrong with placing a nail in boiling water? As it is one of my conditions. I would just like to know before something absolutely terrible occurs.

Thank you.

Mandy R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sydney, NSW, Australia

September 18, 2008

Q. My son has just started 3rd grade and is having to do his first science project. We had to choose what the experiment would be and have it approved by the teacher. We went to the internet and pulled up a few projects we thought he could do with little assistance (which is allowed) and let him choose which one he would like to do. He chose the "rusting nails" one. He has been documenting the results for the last few days and has to provide a log book with all the data and is doing great. But during this process I began to wonder what the benefit of knowing this information is, what are we really learning other than which chemical causes rust the most or the quickest. It's not required for the project, but I would really like for my son (and myself) to understand a little better why this experiment is important. Can you help?

Dona S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Fortson, Georgia

A. Mandy, what could happen is you could splash boiling water on yourself or catch your sleeve on fire. If you can avoid that kind of stuff, you're safe.

Hi, Dona. In my estimation the thing that your son is supposed to be learning is how science is conducted, including the methods and what words & phrases are used in explaining experiments & results. As an adult, you might tend to dismiss it as "obvious", but the routine, and the steps may not have been obvious to your son before he began -- he may be learning a lot very quickly.

For example, the log book or "lab book" is a great piece of learning for him. You number the pages and have him write, in pen, everything he does and everything he sees, along with the date & time. You never erase anything in the lab book. Even if you think an entry is wrong or irrelevant you strike it through once, but keep it legible. Why? Because the lab book contains his procedures and observations. If he sees some oily scum on the surface, he writes that down; if he sees some white powder settling at the bottom, he writes that down. Nothing ever changes his observations, that's why they are in pen. It doesn't matter if the other kids saw no oily scum or if the teacher never saw white powder settling because it is a fact that he did. The lab book is teaching him how to proceed, and to understand the difference between an observation and a theory (or we could say a fact versus an opinion), and the difference between science and 'junk science' ... and it's a fabulous confidence builder because if he saw it and he wrote it down with the date & time in a lab book there's just no questioning it, plus it's also what the real scientists do.

We could all use a refresher in this type of logical thinking. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 27, 2008


BECKY C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]

Everything Kids Science

A. Hi, Becky. Thank heaven for big sisters; I sure miss mine. See if you can get "masonry nails". These are flat hardened steel and look sort of like long thin wedges more than nails. Get sandpaper and plastic gloves, and sand the surface of these flat nails so you know they are clean. This will leave them prone to rusting. Immediately coat some of them with Vaseline and put them in a bowl of tap water. Put some uncoated ones in a different bowl (so you don't get Vaseline on the uncoated one). Record what happens each day.

After the experiment is done, a week would be a good number of days, look up Cosmoline and its history as a rust preventer.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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