Electrolysis between stainless steel and steel
A discussion started in 2007 but continuing through 2018(2007)
I have been searching on the web for an answer to whether or not electrolysis will occur if I affix stainless steel security mesh to a steel framed security door. Eventually I stumbled onto this site and would be really grateful if someone could advise me.
Thank you very much
Householder - Perth, Western Australia
A. 'Galvanic corrosion' is probably a better term than 'electrolysis', Les. To understand galvanic corrosion, picture a dry cell battery or alkaline battery. The two poles of the battery are made of two different metals and the space between them is filled with a conductive glop (electrolyte). If you connect the two poles across a small light bulb, the bulb will light.
What is happening in the circuit is that one of the two metals is more noble than the other and wants to get to the other side and plate out and cover that other pole so the surface of both poles will become the same metal (it isn't essential that you understand why it wants to do that). But solid metal can't just up and walk. To get to the other pole it must dissolve as positively charged metal ions and travel through the electrolyte from one pole to the other. As the positively charged ions move from one pole to the other, their electrons must travel through the wire and bulb. When the electrons rejoin the positively charged ions, they turn back to metal. Eventually both poles are covered with the single metal and the battery is dead.
Your "battery" uses the two metals steel and stainless steel for the poles. It uses rainwater and salts as the electrolyte. And you are bolting or welding the two together in lieu of connecting them with wire and a light bulb.
If you have insulation between the two metals you have a battery with no load, so no current and no galvanic corrosion. If the item is kept very clean and dry you have no electrolyte and almost no galvanic corrosion. But carbon steel electrically connected to stainless will galvanically corrode otherwise -- but probably only quite slowly.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
May 23, 2018
Q. Great read, thank you, Mr. Mooney. This is a perfect analysis of Galvanic corrosion in general but the specific question remains in my mind whether or not there would be a current between steel and stainless steel. your statement leads me to believe that you could (based on your statement) electroplate a piece of steel with stainless. if this is true, I have never heard of it. Also confuses me why there is no Galvanic corrosion between steel and the galvanizing zinc that covers it??Hamid Bahrami
fire protection services - Houston Texas
A. Hello Hamid. Yes, there is galvanic current between steel and stainless steel: the stainless steel is more noble, so it does impel the steel toward corroding. However, stainless steel tends to form a chromic oxide skin due to its chromium content and such oxides are electrically insulating and slow down the tendency for galvanic currents so much so that steel sheets with stainless cladding are a commonplace despite the theoretical susceptibility to galvanic corrosion.
The reason you don't see stainless steel alloys electroplated onto plain steel, however, is that we can't do it. In general it is difficult to electrodeposit alloys, and we aren't able to electrodeposit stainless steel.
There definitely is galvanic corrosion between steel and the galvanizing zinc that covers it. Steel is more noble than zinc, so the zinc gradually dissolves away to protect the steel. That is why steel galvanized with zinc is quite corrosion resistant -- because the deliberate galvanic corrosion of the zinc protects the steel.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"
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