Rust Removal by Electrolysis - Ford Muscle Forums : Ford Muscle Cars Tech Forum
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post #1 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-11-2007, 07:47 PM Thread Starter
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Thumbs up Rust Removal by Electrolysis

Got a battery charger, a bucket, and some washing soda? If so you're equipped to bring rusty parts back to life.

This has been around for a while, but I though I will share anyway.
What you need:
• A non-conducting container - a large plastic bucket works really well.
• Battery charger - big is better, however even one able to produce 6 to 10 amps should do.
• Sacrificial electrodes. Concrete reinforcing rod (rebar) works well
Do not use stainless steel! The results are a health hazard and illegal. (Contains Hexavalent Chromate)
• Arm and Hammer LAUNDRY soda, also called washing soda. (see below for details)
• Wire and/or cables for connecting electrodes together.
• Water
• Small lengths of small chain (used to suspend the rusty parts in solution) or some other means to suspend the part to clean into the solution.
Washing soda is in the laundry section of your grocery store. It comes in a yellow box, made by Arm & Hammer, It's NOT baking soda or it is not Borax, they are different chemical compounds.

Using a plastic, or non-conductive bucket (not metal), mix a solution of 5 gallons water to 1/3 to 1/2 cup laundry soda (washing soda). Mix well so all soda is dissolved. Adding more soda will not make it go faster. Do not try to use other salts. You won't get better results and dangerous effects may occur. Caustic soda, for example, is far too corrosive. Solutions of ordinary table salt can generate chlorine gas (toxic) at the positive electrode (anode). Clean the electrodes so they aren't too rusty - especially at the top ends - they need to make good electrical contact with your wire or cable AND with the water. Place electrodes in bucket around sides so the ends stick up above the water level. Use clamps or some means to hold them in place around the perimeter of the inside of the bucket or container so that they cannot move freely or fall into center of bucket. The electrodes must not touch the part(s) to be cleaned, which will be suspended in center of bucket. Whatever you use, it shouldn't be copper, and will get messy if it gets into your cleaning solution. Tie the electrodes together with wire or cables. All electrodes need to be tied together. This will become the grid. Since the cleaning process is somewhat line of sight it's best to surround the part to be cleaned to some extent with the electrodes. Suspend part to be cleaned into bucket so it hangs in the middle, not touching bottom, and not touching electrodes. I place a piece of rebar across top of bucket (see photo below) and bolt a small hook (or chain) to the part to be cleaned and suspends the part into solution below. The part to clean then becomes the "cathode". Attach battery charger - place NEGATIVE LEAD (this is critical!!) on the piece that is to be cleaned. Attach POSITIVE, or RED lead of charger, to electrode grid. Make sure electrodes and part to be cleaned are not touching each other. Do not get this backwards! If you do, you'll use metal from your part to de-rust your electrodes instead of the other way around. Now turn on the battery charger. If the current is too high on the battery chargers current meter there are a number of things you can do to reduce it,
• Increase the distance between the part and the anode
• Dilute the solution by adding more water
• If you have a 6/12 volt charger set it to the 6 volt setting

Within seconds, you should see a lot of tiny bubbles rising from the part suspended in the mixture. Do not do this inside, or in a closed area those bubbles are the component parts of water - H2O - hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen will burn explosively …Remember the military made bombs out of hydrogen. The rust and gunk will bubble up to the top and form a gunky layer. More gunk will form on the electrodes after some amount of use, they will need to be cleaned and/or replaced - the electrodes give up metal over time. That's why re-bar is such a nice choice - it's cheap. Now you just have to wait.

The time required to clean a part will depend on many variables:
• size of the part
• current used
• how badly rusted the part is

The process is self-halting; when there is no more rust to remove, the reaction stops. This is handy because you don't have to monitor it, and because you can do large parts where they are not totally submersed at one time without worrying about lines in the final part. If necessary leave the operation on overnight so long as it is not in an enclosed space (see the safety precautions below). You may have to move the piece occasionally for better cleaning as the best cleaning is done on the part that is in direct view of the anode (line of sight). If a piece is too large to fit in the bath you will obviously have to rotate it at some point. It may also be necessary to take the part out of the bath and clean it with a wire brush to remove some of the now loose scale which will look like a dark sludge. Once you are done, the part should be dried immediately, the part is very susceptible to surface rust after being removed from the solution. There will be a fine layer of dark grey or black residue on the part that can be easily removed, a scrub pad and wire brush works great. Once it is removed the part can be primed or painted as needed. You can pour the waste solution on the lawn and it won't hurt it. Do watch out for ornamental shrubs, which may not like iron rich soil.

Safety Precautions:
• Make sure no spills can get to the battery charger. (Electrocution potential)
• The leads from the charger are relatively safe, but you may still get a bit of a shock if you put your hands in the solution or touch the electrodes while the charger is running.
• Turn off the current before making adjustments to the setup. Just as a "spark" can cause a charging battery to explode in your face, this process produces similar gases because this process splits water into hydrogen gas (at the negative electrode) and oxygen (at the positive electrode).
• Hydrogen will burn explosively if ignited. All flames, cigarettes, torches, etc. must be removed from the area, and sparks caused by touching the leads together must be avoided. The work should be performed outside or in a well ventilated area to
remove these gases safely.
• Washing soda solutions are alkaline and will irritate the skin and eyes. Use eye protection and gloves. Immediately wash off any solution spilled or splashed onto your body.
Figure#1 I used 5/16"x5/8" bolts and 3/8"x12" rebar

Figure#2 Flat washers on both sides of the plastic bucket and 10 gauge wire connected to each bar

Figure#3 Guinea pig side1

Guinea pig side 2

Figure#4 Setup and ready to plug in the charger

Figure#5 Within seconds bubbles start to form

Figure#6 3 hours into the bath I decided to see the damage

Figure#7 This is it after drying it off with a shop rag

Figure#8 5 minutes of labor with a wire brush

Figure#9 Finished product before painting or powder coating.
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Jeff in Georgia
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Last edited by FATNFAST; 09-17-2007 at 04:43 PM.
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post #2 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-11-2007, 08:19 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

Sweet work!

I did this with a pair of Caddy exhaust manifolds and my 2 & 10 amp charger and not much happened... What's the amperage of your charger?
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post #3 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-11-2007, 10:10 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

For bigger stuff You can use one of those big galvinised tubs . fill with water and soda put parts in . I connect one lead to cleaned off part of part then connect the other lead to tub. I use a booster charger and set it on 50 amp and set timer for a hr. If part not as clean as I like I reset timer. A old mechanic dad knew showed us this years ago . Good post Jeff .

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post #4 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-11-2007, 11:17 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

I used a 2/10 charger set on 10 amps at 6 volts. Like Earl said, It works better having a good clean electrical connection on the part being cleaned. I used a round file to knock off the rust in one of the bolt holes.

Jeff in Georgia
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Last edited by 1bad6t; 09-12-2007 at 08:18 AM.
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post #5 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-12-2007, 03:52 AM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

I used A&H baking soda, worked pretty good. I'll try the laundry soda next time.

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post #6 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-12-2007, 02:01 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

Nice writing, great photos, very easy to understand, and relevant! Great contribution. Just because it's been done before doesn't mean it can't be done better, which you did.
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post #7 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-13-2007, 02:17 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

This method works really well. I used a big ol steel car ramp and put one end into a big plastic storage bin with A&H backing soda. It worked great especially on small parts that are hard to hold or get at with a wire brush
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post #8 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-14-2007, 05:23 AM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

I used this process to clean upper and lower control arm from my 66 Galaxie. The amount of re-bar is a little over kill in this example, I used 2 steel rods clamped to opposite corners of my wife's Rubbermaid container and it worked fine. (She was upset that I used her Rubbermaid storage bin, but cleaning Ford parts are more important than storing old blankets). Next time I will try washing soda as I used baking soda which worked fine.

I would question the safety of using a galvanized container and 50 amps, a galvanized container is coated with Zinc and should the Zinc be released to the air in the process, it is poisonous.

I used my Sears battery charger set to high, which I believe is 10-12 amps.

The process may take overnight, but works very well, my parts came out clean with a shiny black finish ready for primer and paint.
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post #9 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-14-2007, 03:53 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

Very cool! Would the by chance work at all for de-greasing or removing old paint?

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post #10 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-15-2007, 07:31 AM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

Looks like I got to find that bucket.
Oh finally a use for the rebar.
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post #11 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-17-2007, 04:46 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

Washing soda and baking soda are two different chemicals.
Washing soda is Sodium Carbonate (Na2CO3), baking soda is Sodium Bicarbonate (NaHCO3)The Soda Bicarbonate makes extra hydrogen gasses when this chemical is broke down using electricity.This is not a good thing to have around if you have an electrical spark. Things will go BOOM! Bi comes from the Latin word meaning 2, like biplane has 2 wings. Bicycle has 2 wheels. KABOooom comes from mixing non-compatibles. Just ask Beaker.

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post #12 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-24-2007, 10:27 AM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

i couldn't find a and h washing soda...i subsituted "ph UP" which is 100% sodium carbonate, i bought it in the pool isle of wal-mart. WORKS GREAT!!!!!! Im also curious to know if it'll remove paint and chrome?

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post #13 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-24-2007, 12:35 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

I electrocuted a horn bracket that was painted. It softened 95% of the paint enough so a wire brush will knock it loose from the part. I think the alkalinity of the water solution is what cut the paint loose. It blistered like paint remover was used. I didn’t try anything chrome plated.

Jeff in Georgia
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post #14 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-24-2007, 04:14 PM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

isnt that how chrome is applied? I thought that was a good way to take it off too, im guessing the fumes given off would be extremely poisonious. considering the chroming processing is very toxic
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post #15 of 37 (permalink) Old 09-25-2007, 08:32 AM
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Re: Rust Removal by Electrolysis

will electrolysis eat rubber seals and stuff like that...also i want to put my brake caliper in there

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