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Home nickel plating with vinegar and salt

Current question and answers:

April 13, 2021

Q. I tried to make a nickel sulfate solution and failed. I used 1 qt. distilled vinegar, two table spoons of salt. I placed two nickel strips in the solution. I clip a positive on one strip and a negative on the other strip. I set my DC volts at 3.2 DC volts at 4.5 Amps. After an hour the liquid is still clear and there are particles of nickel at the bottom of the solution. I stirred the solution and waited another 30 minutes with the same results. I see the negative strip bubbling really good but does not seem to be dissolving in liquid. What am I doing wrong. I am just a hobbyist trying to plate some vintage fishing reel parts. Thanks --Ed

Edward Bingle
- Naples Florida

April 2021

A. Hi Ed. It is the positively charged electrode (the anode) which dissolves into the solution, not the negatively charged one. You may be able to make a hobbyist nickel plating solution with vinegar and salt, but it's certainly not a nickel sulfate solution since there is no source of sulfate :-)

I've done zinc plating & copper plating from vinegar & salt myself, but they were terrible electroplating solutions ... suitable for giving a bit of color to demonstrate to school children how plating works, but not truly usable for a functional purpose. I've never done nickel plating from such a solution and don't believe it's practical despite youtube claims and one poster below being satisfied with at least some of his work.

But read on about what others did, and when you get to the point of having a green solution (indicating that there is some nickel dissolved in it), try to plate a very clean piece of scrap. But if you want to apply nickel plating to vintage fishing reels I would suggest switching from vinegar to a nickel plating solution from a hobby plating supplier or a supplier to the jewelry industry. The problem there of course is that vinegar is an ingredient found in every kitchen, and hard to consider 'dangerous', but real plating solutions involve hazardous ingredients not kitchen ingredients, so greater concern for safety is necessary.

Luck & Regards,

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

Previous closely related Q&A's, oldest first:

October 19, 2010

Q. I have a high purity nickel strip formed round at the edge of the solution and a copper workpiece in the middle attached by a copper wire, so the cathode (-) is copper the anode (+) is pure nickel strip, how long do you think it will take for a decent coating of nickel to form? Also what are some of the tips or tricks you can recommend? I choose 3.3V for now because I figured it would cut down on the heating of the solution, however it is painfully slow, virtually no bubbles form. I wish I would have nickel oxide to make a solution however at this time I don't. Also considering the low voltage 3.3V how big is the risk of forming chlorine gas? I have to move the workpiece i.e. pull on the copper wire for a sec to eliminate the bubbles from the work piece every five or ten minutes.

Another question is in this method will the vinegar in the solution deplete?
I'm using standard household vinegar and salt I know I should probably use epsom salt but at this moment I do not have any and I kept the voltage low because I saw on this website under certain circumstances under higher voltages chlorine gas will form.

Thank you for your time

Daniel Borkan
computer hobbyist, watercooling blocks :) - Los Angeles, California, USA

October 19, 2010

A. Hi, Daniel. I think you have no worry about chlorine gas being released from salt water at 3.3 or 5 volts. But our instructions for plating zinc or copper from vinegar solutions are for elementary school children to safely see how electroplating works. They provide a little color, but are not expected to produce a useful thickness of metal, let alone robust plating.

I certainly don't want to discourage you from your hobby and your learning experience, but I think it may be a bit unrealistic to expect a "decent coating" of nickel from a solution of vinegar with almost no metal in it, operating at room temperature, with no wetters or brighteners, no agitation, no filtration, and improper anodes. I think you may never get a satisfactory thickness.

To get a "decent coating", I think it's best to buy or formulate a Watts nickel plating bath, operate it at 140 °F, use at least the generic addition agents as described in ASM Metals Handbook, Vol. 5, if not a nickel plating solution from a hobby plating supplier, and make at least some serious effort towards agitation (perhaps a cheap plastic aquarium filter or a magnetic stirrer). Anodes should be sulfurized nickel rather than pure nickel, but that's probably not crucial for a hobbyist's first try. Good luck!


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

October 19, 2010

Q. Right now it's been in the bath (so to speak) for a few hours getting good coverage on some of it flaking on other parts however the solution has turned quite green, I wonder if I should increase the voltage further, I'm worried about the plastic pot it's in melting due to the solution heating too much. However at this time I have another question, with a vinegar and salt solution with nickel metal and and a copper item being plated does the vinegar and salt (at 5V) work as a Catalyst, or is the vinegar or salt depleted in any way, I'm just trying to figure out what in the end is going to be in the solution, i.e., is it reusable or will I have to keep adding vinegar, etc.
I'm doing this so I can add a bit or corrosion resistance to the copper blocks.
A thin layer is really fine :)
Will have to look into what your talking about there, if you could tell me what links I can look-up?

Daniel Borkan [returning]
- Los Angeles, California, USA

A. Hi again. I linked my first response to the tutorial I mentioned.

Thanks for asking about reusability because it brings up an issue which production platers must deal with that hobby platers usually don't have to. Nickel plating solutions are sometimes used for decades, and this is another reason that things are carefully controlled ... platers aren't concerned merely with producing a satisfactory part, they want the contents of their plating tank to be the same when they finish plating as they were when they started: an equilibrium situation. This may involve a periodic addition of acid (vinegar in your case) and brighteners. Any gas bubbles you see on the part are hydrogen from the reaction:
2H2O --> H2^ + 2OH, so yes, you are adding alkali/hydroxide to the solution and thereby consuming acid. Ideally the solution should be a very saturated green, a dark emerald color, so I certainly wouldn't worry about it being too green.

Luck & Regards,

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

August 7, 2020

Q. Hi all. I'm having an issue with my nickel plating bath. I've worked in surface enhancement factories before, so I'm not a complete novice when it comes to plating, but I'm obviously not running under laboratory conditions. My bath is an at-home job. I started with heated vinegar, added salts, put my pure nickel anode and cathode into the solution and ran a current through it until a light green color was achieved. My first two objects I plated were some iron parts for a slot machine. The were scrubbed, degreased and washed in distilled water before being put into the bath. I plated them for about 45 minutes in 400 ml of nickel acetate in a 500 ml beaker at 10V 950 mA. They came out perfect. Bright, smooth and even.

The next three parts I plated (pretreated in the same method) the plating came out darker and darker. The last of the three resembling iron oxide (it was also very hard to polish off) Now the next batch I tried, I thought maybe I had the voltage too high so I dropped it to 5.5v 750ma and it came out even worse. The nickel plating was extremely thick, uneven, gray and peeling back in curls. Though underneath, it appeared to have a thin, bright layer.

Any help would be appreciated greatly!

Here's the final results.


Randall Painter
- Ventura, California

August 2020

A. Hi Randall. If you actually have control over the things you think you have control over, then the difference between your first run and your third is the thing you don't have control over: the deterioration of your plating solution. So the answer is simple: dispose of your solution and make it up again.

Luck & Regards,

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

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