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Nails rusting science project

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A discussion started in 2009 but continuing through 2020

April 3, 2011

Q. I was doing a project on how to remove rust the best but I couldn't get the nails to rust so I changed it to what prevents rust the best and just left nails sitting in groups of 4 in vinegar, baking powder, water, and lemon. now its one day before science fair and looking back I realized my project doesn't make sense why would anybody leave nails siting in these liquids for 4 weeks to prevent rust. Can you please help me find a good new title for my messed up project?

Alexis J
student - Yuma, Arizona, USA

April 5, 2011

A. Sorry, Alexis, but this is just a public forum, not a homework hotline, so there's no way you'll get real help in time. But maybe your project title could be "Serendipity Rules!" or "Serendipity: Fail!"

There is a school of thought that says serendipity is an essential part of progress in science (another school of thought says that there is no such thing; that what appears to be serendipity is actually a prepared mind making careful observations).

You threw nails into four liquids with no particular forethought or logic, so here we are. Is there anything you can learn or postulate by looking very carefully at these 4 sets of nails and thinking real hard? Best of luck!


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

May 10, 2011

Q. Hi, I'm in the 7th grade and I'm currently working on a science fair question and the question is "What liquid rusts a nail the fastest?" I'll be using 4 types of liquids they are vinegar, milk, water, and nail polish remover. So my question for you is what kind of graph should I construct for my data? Also what kind of nail should I use and can it be a normal one?

Diana S

May 10, 2011

A. Hi, Diana.

The best nails would be hardened masonry nails if available, but lacking that, common nails will be okay (try to avoid "roofing" nails as they are galvanized to deter rust).

I think you should ask your teacher exactly what s/he means by "rust" so there is no conflict later. Then you can graph the four liquids against a scale of least rust to most rust.


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

May 11, 2011

A. The nails that Ted is referring to are rectangular nails and are frequently called "cut nails". Whatever nail you use, you need to sand it till it is a shiny steel color. The cut nails have a heavy oxide coating and most other nails have a galvanized or plated zinc coating. You need to get rid of the oxide and the zinc.
Next, you need to have about half of the nail out of the liquid as iron needs oxygen to rust. There is some dissolved oxygen in most water, but it is not uniform.
Finally, all 4 samples need to be at the same temperature.

Milk is a poor choice as it will sour in a day or two and your test needs to be a couple of weeks long. Also, it is no longer truly "milk".

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

May 11, 2011

Very well thought out reply, Jim.



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

May 17, 2011

Q. hey I am in yr 9
and I have to complete a science assignment which is over a period
of 7 weeks and goes toward my yr 10 school certificate! I have
chosen the topic : What makes a nail rust faster ?
I think I will do it out of soft drink, vinegar, and tap water.
you have to make a project log-book , this means you basically
journal your process along the way of finding the answer, then you
have got to present you research and answers on a poster or something..
does anyone have any tips for me because I really want to do well in this
project because it is really important! the sheet says I have to submit
a plan that consists of :
- Aim
- Hypothesis
- Materials to be used
- A risk assessment of the materials and method
- Method
P.S I also have to write my results in a table or graph I don't know how to ! !!!

PLEASE HELP ME SOOON ! thank so much everyone :)

Carly B.
student - Sydney, Australia

August 24, 2011

Q. What books did you cite for this project?

Tracy B.
- Staunton, Virginia, United States

October 25, 2011

Q. Hi. My name is Destiny and I'm doing a science fair project and was wondering what kind of nails would rust faster in different liquids. Liquids I'm using are Sprite, Coke, tap water, salt water, vinegar, vegetable oil and squeezed juice from a lemon.

Destiny W.
- Chicago Illinois

October 26, 2011

A. Hi, Destiny.

Plain steel nails would be best. Either masonry nails or "bright finish" nails. They will rust faster if you use wear gloves and use sandpaper to rub away any finish on them, but it will be necessary to sand the samples equally or you'll corrupt your comparative test.


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

December 12, 2011

Q. Hi, well I'm in 7th grade and I'm doing a project. My topic is 'which liquids makes a nail rust faster?' I was wondering which liquids should I use? And since I have to write a research paper, what should I include in that research paper?
Please help. Thank you.(:

Breanna H
- Illinois

December 13, 2011


Amy L
- Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

March 4, 2012

Q. I'm doing a science project on rust and what rusts an iron rod best, I used salt water, Sprite, tap water, and vinegar, and I have two questions about the outcome. one, the iron rod that was in the vinegar the part of the iron that was supposed to dissolve moved to the top of the rod that wasn't submerged in vinegar , why did it do that? and my second question is why didn't the rod in the salt water rust? I tested my project for ten day


Megan S. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Upland, California

March 6, 2012

A. Hi. Your first answer is on these pages if you read slowly and pay close attention: vinegar is an acid and acids dissolve rust, so you don't see any in the liquid. But above the liquid level, there were splashes of the acid, acid fumes, perhaps the liquid climbing the nail a bit by capillary action. In short there was acid there that dissolved iron and/or rust, and now that the wetness has evaporated, the iron can't stay dissolved, but appears there.

Regarding the second question, are you sure the rod was iron? I would have expected some rust in 10 days.


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

March 26, 2012

Q. I am doing a science experiment about what kind of Pepsi will help to take the rust off the nail best just for an insight. Can you help me

stephanie m [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- atikokan, ontario, canada

March 27, 2012

A. Hi Stephanie.

No one should try to answer that until you do the experiment, or you will just be reinforcing exactly how NOT to conduct science, because you will surely jury rig your observations to match your expectations, consciously or unconsciously. Just do the test and honestly record your observations. If and when you see a pattern, you recheck a couple of times to make sure it is not a random variation, and nothing else is causing the difference. Only then do you start looking for causality.

I could probably tell you that I'd expect little if any difference in rust removal, but that too might influence your observations.


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

June 4, 2012

Q. Good day, I'm in Grade 11 and have been working on a corrosive based experiment on iron nails for the past few weeks. The original aim of the experiment was to find which type of coating would rust the most in a certain period of time (14 days, which wasn't long enough in retrospect). The four types of coating were: Crude oil, rust-guard paint, galvanised and a control.

This has, of course, thrown me for a loop, (otherwise I wouldn't be crawling to a forum! Hah) as the galvanised has given the most amount of rust. I've been skimming through google and asked my Chemistry teacher about this, and so far, the answers I've gotten have been half-hearted. Does anyone know why it is that the galvanised nails ended up exhibiting the most rust? Is it because the zinc that coats the nail weighs more than the iron, and it simply ended up weighing more than the iron rust from the other nails?

Any and all replies would be appreciated, I have another week to finish my report and anything I can add to the Discussion would be excellent.

Andrew H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Bowen, Queensland, Australia

June , 2012

A. Hi Andrew.

I'm not quite following your description; remember, we readers weren't looking over your shoulder as you did the experiment :-).

The nails rust, not the coatings, of course. Crude oil isn't quite a "coating" in the same sense as rust-guard paint or galvanizing: are you saying that you dipped a plain steel nail into crude oil and used the dripping nail? I also want to make sure what you mean by "a control" in this context. Are you saying that your control was a plain steel nail with no coating?

Next, I don't know what you did for the exposure: immersed the nails in plain water, salt water, or acid -- or just left them in the air. Finally, I don't know what you mean by "exhibiting the most rust": looked brownest, had the most weight gain, the most weight loss, or what?

It is not uncommon for galvanized articles to get a brown stain, because the surface has a small amount of iron on it due to the way a bit of iron diffuses into the coating while it is molten.

In the end, you need to state your original hypothesis, explain the experimental setup you used to try to prove it, note the results that you got, state how the results supported or contradicted your hypothesis, and explain (to the degree that you can) why things happened the way they did. One other thing you need to do, and it's especially important in very small scale and limited experiments like this, is to explain the limitations of your experiment. Sometimes those limitations are the explanation for most or everything you saw; but if your report can then suggest a better way to do the experiment next time, to limit the influence of extraneous issues, you can count your experiment a success even if it didn't quite prove or disprove the hypothesis.


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

July 31, 2012

Q. I am in 7th grade and doing a SRP on What is the fastest method of cleaning rusted nails in a can of coke or bottle of coke. Thank you.

jayden [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Barraba, NSW, Australia

April 20, 2013

Q. Hey, I'm in 3rd grade and I want to know which household liquid rusts nails the quickest.

Amaya [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- East Orange, New Jersey

April 23, 2013

A. Hi Amaya. Probably laundry bleach. Ask a parent to help you test it.

Nice to get a question from my home town! I lived in E.O. until 23 years old when I got married: North Maple Ave., then Rutledge Ave.


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

June 18, 2014

Q. Hello, I am an 8th grade student from Singapore.

My project's aim does not involve rusting, but I will require nails that have been rusted as much as possible beforehand. I am considering submerging them in saltwater every 6 or 12 hours and leaving them out to dry till the next time they are submerged for about 2 weeks.

I have a few questions that I hope can be answered (apologies if they have already been answered; you can just tell me they've been answered if so):

1. Is 2 weeks enough time for the nails to completely rust?

2. Is there a noticeable change in mass of the nail after rusting?

Thank you! :)

Clarine S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Singapore

June 2014

A. Hi Clarine. I spent a week in your beautiful and interesting little country 25 years ago and always like to hear from Singaporeans.

Please pick "bright finished" nails or "masonry" nails, and preferably apply a little sandpaper to them first. And be careful to avoid hot dip galvanized roofing nails (which were carefully corrosion-proofed) ... and then I'm confident that they will significantly rust in less than two weeks.

As for the mass, what happens is some of the iron (steel) in the nail reacts with oxygen in the air and forms iron oxides (rust). So, in one way, the mass actually increases since the mass of the iron oxide that is formed from the iron in the nail plus the oxygen in the air will be greater than the mass of the iron only. But in another way, the rust is usually poorly adherent and brushes off; after the rust falls off or is brushed off, the mass of the iron left in the nail is less than you started with. Good luck.


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

July 7, 2014

Q. What would the aim be for an experiment like these be called??

Trystan Au
- Chinatown San Francisco, California

July 2014

A. Hi Trystan. "Scientific Education".


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

May 2, 2016

Q. Hi, I am in Year 8 and am conducting an experiment on how different conditions (liquids) affect the rate of the corrosion of iron nails. I have decided to use citric acid, tartaric acid, warm water, oil, air and saltwater. I am currently working on my risk assessment, but I am not sure what risks my experiment may have. I have previously researched about rust contact, but I have not found much information. Could you please help me with some more risks and their hazards? Thank you.

Anna Ho
- Sydney, NSW, Australia

June 10, 2016

Q. Hi,
I am conducting an experiment on the fastest rate of rust of iron nails in different liquids. One of the liquids I used was tartaric acid, and I am a little confused towards my results. The nail turned black and had a rough texture, like concrete and some flaky pieces of sediment appeared on the bottom of the cup holding the tartaric acid. I am not entirely sure of what they were, as I'm pretty sure the nail did not rust. Do you have any idea on what they were?
Thank you.

Anna Ho [returning]
- Sydney, NSW, Australia

April 16, 2017

Q. I'm from grade 7, our chem teacher told us to conduct an experiment about which nail rusts more, and my group has decided to use sand, coffee, and alcohol to find out which nail will rust more. My question is, do sand, coffee and alcohol really causes iron to rust? And what causes them to rust? Thank you, I need the answer asap (around 2 days)

Lillian wu
- Batam, indonesia

October 16, 2017

Q. I am 8 years old in the 3rd grade and my science project needs to be a measurable science project. My problem statement is What affects does acid have on metal? I was thinking of using 4 different types of liquid: soda, coffee, sport drink and orange juice. Water is my control liquid. What type of nails should I use? Do I need to figure out the different acids in each drink first?

Zach Arango
- MIAMI, Florida

October 2017

A. Hi Zach. I would suggest that you get some sandpaper and try to sand the nails so whatever coating may be on them is removed. A problem with your drink selections is that you don't really know what is in "soda" or "sports drink" as they are secret formulas, so you project would be a bit stuck from the beginning because how will you know if their effects or lack of effects is due to secret ingredients?

I would keep the coffee, orange juice, and water, but would add vinegar as a fourth liquid. And I would ask the teacher for pH paper, which is used to measure acid. Most importantly, make a "lab book"


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

October 26, 2017 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. This question is about metal erosion in general. I'm teaching my 5th grade students about this. We did an experiment of putting nails in salt water, sugar water, plain water, and no water. The salt and sugar water created rust, and the plain and no water remained clean.
Why? (my students at in 5th grade, but on a low level of science and comprehension.... so I need an easy answer) Thanks!

ally bensimon
- montreal, qc, Canada

October 2017

A. Hi Ally.

Salt water is more conductive (carries electricity better) than plain water or sugar water because the salt, NaCl, dissolves into water as Na+ and Cl-, and these ions can carry electrical charge from point to point helping electrochemical reactions like rusting to take place. In my own experiment on this, however, the nails did not rust faster in salt water, so I would be cautious against the possibility of "junk science" (knowing what you what the answer to be, then discounting contrary results as quirks, and giving disproportionate weight to findings which support your expectations.

I know nothing of teaching, or the mental maturity and interests of 5th graders, but since I suggest the following to students when they write to us, you can determine whether it should have any applicability to your students: lab books / log books.

In research laboratories, "lab books" have traditionally been kept to aid in patent filings, help make experiments more repeatable, etc. They simply involve starting with a book with bound pages like a composition book or pocket composition book, numbering the pages in ink, and only writing in ink. Nothing is ever crossed out to the point of illegibility. Rather a line is struck through it, but it's left legible. Then the student (or the teacher) writes everything they do, and everything they observe, in the book along with the date and time. Accurately maintaining experimental results is probably the most essential step in science, so maybe 5th grade isn't too early :-)

Thanks for being a teacher -- a job that would fry me the first day.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

November 20, 2017

Q. Hi! So I'm grade 11 and I'm doing a science investigatory project about jackfruit as rust remover and as I put the rusted nails in the jackfruit extract I saw that it is quite effective but, after I remove it from the jackfruit extract, minutes later the rust is starting to come back again. So I decided to use Coke but sadly they have the same result

What do you think the main cause of this problem?

christine marie jovita
- manila, philippines

November 2017

A. Hi Christine. First let's discuss what is happening and why. Any acid, including jackfruit extract or Coke, will dissolve rust. Acid is routinely used in industry for that purpose. But the acid which adheres to the surface, as it dries, can no longer keep the rust dissolved, and it re-forms. Further, with the remnants of acid on the nail there, they will dissolve the steel of the nail, and the oxygen in the air will combine with that dissolved steel to form more rust. This propensity for rust to form again after removal with acid is called 'flash rusting'.

The way to 'fix' it is to dip the de-rusted nail into a solution of baking soda for several seconds to neutralize the acid, rinse it, dry it, and wipe it with machine oil. The nails should not rust again for at least several days. If you don't have baking soda, at least rinse the nail well, dry it, and wipe it with oil. If the teacher won't let you use motor oil or machine oil, but wants use to only use edible materials for safety, then olive oil or mineral oil will be better than nothing. Good luck!


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

October 28, 2018

Q. My son is doing this project but he is using bolts instead of nails. My question is what type of bolt should be used? I know most bolts are coated to prevent rust, which is why I ask this question. Thank you in advance.

Harold Duncan
- Poplar Bluff, Missouri

October 2018

A. Hi Harold. Ideally he would want to use bare steel bolts because they rust the fastest. But because they rust the fastest and are therefore much less useful than bolts with good protective coatings, they're not very available.

So I'd suggest shiny zinc plated bolts, and try to remove at least some of the plating with sandpaper. If you have a low power battery operated drill you can chuck the bolts in it for sandpapering. But please read this thread about "lab books" because I think a good lab book is more important both to your son's grade and to his learning than the specific results from his testing. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

October 30, 2018

Q. Thank you for your quick response and yes he is keeping track and taking notes and that's what I thought was the zinc ones. But I used a wire wheel to get most of the coating off. He started the project Sunday and not a lot of change YET. I told him we will run it for at least a week. What do you think, is a week too long or not long enough.

Harold Duncan [returning]
- Poplar Bluff, Missouri

October 2018

A. Hi again. A week sounds good to me.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

January 15, 2020

Q. I'm in the 9 grade and having to do an agri-science fair; so I decide to see what nail will rust the best and worst in vinegar. If you know any websites or information could you please help me because I need it in a few days.

Jorge Elvarez
- Mexico

January 2020

A. Hi Jorge. Aluminum nails will never rust, and stainless steels will rust only a little bit after a long time. Of the nails made of steel/iron, I would expect roofing nails with their heavy, drippy, hot-dip galvanized coating to last the longest. Whether "bright finished" nails or hardened "masonry nails" will rust fastest, I'm not sure. So I'd suggest trying those two types in your experiment if you are looking for quick rusting.

(Good luck to your gang, but please be aware that your IP address is included in every e-mail you send, so the postings you sent with fictitious names were received as well, and we know you sent them).


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

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