Introduction: Clean and Simple Electroplating

Picture of Clean and Simple Electroplating

In this example of electroplating I will show you how to electroplate nickles, quarters and dimes with the copper from pennies. Pleases read all the steps before starting.

Since I haven't found a nice instructable on electroplating, I am now making one.

Warning! This is my first instructable!

What you will need:
1-1.5 v power source (old batteries preferred)
some kind of battery holder with alligator clips
small, non-conductive, disposable container (plastic or glass, the small yogurt containers are great)
a weak acid (vinegar: acetic acid, or lemon/lime juice: citric acid)
two or more pennies
quarters, nickles and dimes (almost any hardware you want platted)
time (at least 1.5 hours...I think, 3 is better)
plastic wrap (Saran Wrap)

here is all the stuff I used, the 3000 sq ft platic wrap gets a picture of its own.

Step 1: Fill Your Container With the Acid

Picture of Fill Your Container With the Acid

First take you job, which will be a quarter for me, and mark its height inside the container - this will be a fill line.

Remove the quarter and fill the acid past the line. If you don't have enough acid, you can add water and dilute it, but do not go past 50% acid (since vinegar and juice is already diluted). I had only half the lime juice I need so I just added more water until the surface was past the fill line.

Step 2: Setting Up the Apparatus

Picture of Setting Up the Apparatus

Please preview the diagram below.

First put a penny on each alligator clip. On the positive clip, clip it on the very tip of the penny.

Next put the negative alligator clip as shown in the acid (you want the penny to be fully submerged, this clip will also get some copper plating). Secure the clip with tape (you can run the wire down the out side of the container and tape it on the side).

After you are done that, move onto the postive clip, which will be on the other side of the cup. You want ONLY the penny in the acid - the aligator clip must NOT be in the acid. Again secure the clip so that it will no fall into the acid. (I did this by putting strips of tape like two seat buckles over the postive clip).

Step 3: Help the Copper Dissolve

Picture of Help the Copper Dissolve

Since we are using weak and diluted acids, copper will not easily dissolve by itself. We can promote its dissociation by applying voltage across the terminals.

Connect you power supply the positive to the positive clip and the negative to the negative clip. Make sure the two pennies are not touching, you should be able to notice bubbles forming on both pennies. (There should be more bubbles on the negative, fully submerged end).

Wait an hour or two. You can move onto the next step when the acid develops a green tint.

This is a great time to clean your job with soap or toothpaste. This gets rid of dirt and oil that will cause the plating to flake or rub off. (Don't touch your job with bare hands after it has been cleaned. Oh you can also use rubbing alcohol.)

Step 4: Start Platting!

Picture of Start Platting!

After the acid has turned noticeably green, you can now replace the fully submerged penny on the negative clip with your job, in my case a nickle. Again fully submerge the nickle.

Keep the power connected and wait 10 to 20 mins before disturbing it again.

Step 5: The Result

Picture of The Result

After about 10 to 20 mins, your job should have a nice plate of copper - if it is coated w/ black stuff your voltage it too high. If there are still uncoated parts, keep the job in a little longer.

DO NOT touch the job. Pull the job out and shake it to remove most of acid on the job. Transfer the job onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap it completely trying to remove as much as air as possible. Let it dry (SEALED in the plastic wrap) for several hours before handling.

Step 6: The Final Results

Picture of The Final Results

Here the results and the three common coins coated with copper. Like regular pennies, your job will get dull and turn green, if want to keep it for a long time, sealed it with clear spary paint.

Step 7: Help!

Help! My job is dissolving. You probably reversed the polarity.

Help! There no green tint. Either you diluted the acid too much or you battery has extremely low voltage. Do you see bubbles on the negative terminal, if not check your circuit.

Help! I put my job in for <fill in a long amount of time> and it just got dull. You can check your circuit, but its probably not it. Check this page your job must be lower than your plating material on the chart. (If they are too far apart, step up the voltage).

Here is how it works: both metals, copper and nickel, gets dissolved in the acid into positive ions Cu+2 or Cu+ (based on your acid/coin condition) and Ni+2. Since Cu+2 and Cu+ both have a higher or more positive reduction potential than Ni+2 (which actually have a negative reduction potential), Cu+2 or Cu+ will be more attracted to accept electrons from the negative terminal (which is your job). If this happens at high amps/voltage, the Cu+2 or Cu+ will get reduced (accept electrons) from the negative terminal and collect as a black soot-like material. But since we are using diluted acid, which allows low amps, the Cu gets a chance to crystallize on your job before it is fully reduced.

Good Luck Electroplating!


SHOE0007 (author)2017-06-05

I have done this passively with just an strong acid (Stainless steel) and the copper with Sulfanic acid. The acid quickly at pH of 1 takes care of the metal coating that i don't want. :)

SHOE0007 (author)2017-06-04

Has anyone tried any stronger acids like Sulfanic acid??

woody558 (author)2009-12-06
Would a 9-volt battery work?
PrithviJ (author)woody5582017-03-19

I used a 9 volt and it ended up turning my nickels black. I would say use a regular AA battery, and I'm going to try that soon too. You can slowly turn up the voltage until you fond one that works.

lifelong-newbie (author)2008-03-09

Is it possible to plat something with iron, if so... how? Also will this object now be magnetic?

minerug (author)lifelong-newbie2008-03-10

Electrodepositation of a coating (electroplating) of metal by making the object to be coated the cathode (negative) in an electrolyte (the liquid). Positive ions n the electrolyte are discharged at the cathode and deposited as a metal. (what the anode (positive) is does'nt matter.

thesorrow (author)minerug2009-01-03

Sorry but isn't cathode the positive rather than negative? people can easily get confused because of your comment. no hard feelings, i just don't want confused people around ;)

mike256 (author)thesorrow2009-07-13

I remember that a cathode is the negative be cause a catheter doesn't bring a positive thought to my mind. I stopped burning LEDs up that way :D

thesorrow (author)mike2562009-07-15

All that takes you to learn...besides, there's no right way of electricity , at least none they can prove. it's a matter of personal reference. i chose to use that cathode is the positive since i am using conventional way . Cheers

mykiscool (author)thesorrow2017-02-07

I think you may be confusing cathode with the subatomic particles cations. Cations are positive and therefore attracted to the negative cathode.

FrozenFire (author)thesorrow2011-04-02

Electrons are negative. Electrons come from the cathode.

PatMan83 (author)mike2562009-07-29

Thanks for the tip on remembering anode/cathode. I've always wanted a way to remember. I think I will now, lol.

nf119 (author)minerug2008-03-10

I believe that the metal on the positive matters a lot. It determines the voltage to use, the amount of time to leave it in, the acid or the salts to use and also if it is even possible. The problems with iron coating is that iron rusts very easily and it also has multiple oxidation states.

minerug (author)nf1192008-03-10

How about u get some silver nitrate or copper nitrate and put some an iron thing on the cathode and of couse, copper on the anode and, poof u have some silver (or copper)

nf119 (author)minerug2008-03-10

If you had silver nitrate and copper on the anode, wouldn't copper also dissolve into the solution and also get deposited onto the job. I think copper would be more attracted to the cathode since it is less electromagnetic than copper. And I believe that minerug is trying to iron-plate not electroplate an iron object.

sk8trboipyro (author)nf1192009-02-13

Wouldn't the silver electroplate better? silver is a better conductor than copper

minerug (author)nf1192008-03-11

I ment the silver nitrate as the electrolyte to be deposited on the cathode, in other words I am trying to ELECTROPLATE THE IRON with something ie silver or copper (i also ment copper sulphate not copper nitrate).

lifelong-newbie (author)minerug2008-03-22

This is all very interesting guys, i was just wondering if there is a way to take a metallic object ie.a key or a coin and plate it in a way to make it magnetic and still look shiny and silver

nf119 (author)lifelong-newbie2008-03-22

Well my answer is, I don't think so. You'll need a really really thick coat so that it you could weakly magnetized it or for it show a noticeable attraction to strong magnets.

minerug (author)minerug2008-03-23

sorry, it does matter what the anode is, it has to be the same as the liquid

nf119 (author)lifelong-newbie2008-03-09

DrCoolSanta was trying to plate something with stainless steel below. We found out together that it was almost impossible to iron-plate without special chemicals (iron sulphate & potassium-sodium tartarate are the main two). Then you have to get chemicals and get an anode thats pure non-oxidized iron. I am sorry to say but that is not an easy project. If you did get an object iron coated, I believe the coat will be too thin to have any magnetic effects.

jimmy dean (author)2009-03-27

is there a way I could remove all the copper off of the penny, I just want the zinc.

DavidH243 (author)jimmy dean2015-12-30

Zinc has a lower melting point than copper. If you just want to extract the zinc, you could melt the penny in a small expendable pan (a gas range should be sufficient). I probably killed many brain cells as a kid doing this with lead tire balances (free metal for my D&D figure molds).

DataLoreBorg (author)jimmy dean2015-07-24

do the first steps with the pennies for a really long time and the pennies should be copper free. Also I really like your sausage

kevin.talley.5 (author)2015-02-05

Copper wire or tubing might be better. Pennies are not really copper, and different years have different composition. 1983 to present is copper plated zinc.

DavidH243 (author)kevin.talley.52015-12-30

Pre-83 pennies are still easy to find. It's interesting that the copper in these cents is worth more than the face value of the coins.

SteveA35 (author)2015-10-07

Since copper sulfate was readily available from drugstores when I was a kid, I copper plated anything I could experiment on, including the once-silver content coins which were still 'money.' (Now, every coin is a 'slug.')

I thought it was entertaining to have copper plated dines, quarters and half-dollars.

Also, although I havenot done any human 'trials' on babies, I have read and heard that a modern US penny can be fatal to a baby if swallowed.

The stomach acid breaks down the thin copper coating, and once the zinc core is exposed, the two metals will interact causing the creation of gas that will cause bloating and worst case, death.

thecraw (author)2015-07-08

nicely written up

mihir.sahu.355 (author)2015-07-06

can i do gold or silver plating using simillar and untill green tint come we does not let the nickel to solution am i right

aw1929 (author)2014-03-10

Hi Folks!

I am wanting to replate some trim rings for my resonator guitar and would like to make them brass plated. They are presently either nickel or chrome plated. Is there a way to do this?

sparks4289 (author)aw19292014-06-19

no, brass is an alloy and cannot be used for plating.

kasssa (author)2013-02-28

To be completely accurate, Lincoln pennies from 1982 come in BOTH varieties - copper (95%) and copper plated zinc. (For coin collectors, there are both large date and small date varieties of both copper and copper plated pennies.) The most accurate way to tell which kind you have is to weigh it. The copper plated zinc penny weighs about 2.5g, and the copper penny weighs about 3.1g.

Electroinnovation (author)2011-04-29

One suggestion...I would recommend using pennies from before about 1970. These were made almost completely of copper instead of copper plated. Also, you should make sure your circuit is active before you put it in the acid. Otherwise it will immediatly begin to rust slightly and it may be causing the odd colors on some of your nickels.

I believe it's something Iike either before 1962 or 1982.

It's 1982 I just checked

kasssa (author)Electroinnovation2013-02-28

To be completely accurate, Lincoln pennies from 1982 come in BOTH varieties - copper (95%) and copper plated zinc. (For coin collectors, there are both large date and small date varieties of both copper and copper plated pennies.) The most accurate way to tell which kind you have is to weigh it. The copper plated zinc penny weighs about 2.5g, and the copper penny weighs about 3.1g.

XP1 (author)2012-10-28

Thank you very much for this Instructable. Would this by chance work with applying Nickel to Zinc or are the chemicals simply not compatible? Thanks.

nf119 (author)XP12012-10-29

I haven't done this in awhile but I think you can do Nickel to Zinc with the same steps. Why don't you give it a try? Might need a little more voltage. I can't guarantee anything though :)

XP1 (author)nf1192012-10-30

Thank you. I will try a bit of scrap zinc and nickel before I try anything fancy.

casey321b (author)2011-05-14

So I decided I'd give it a try, and I used a 2 Franc piece that I got from a trip to Europe, and a piece of copper pipe. Worked wonderfully. Thanks for this 'ible.

nutsandbolts_64 (author)2010-07-23

oh, and could you use high salinity water?

What does cyan-colored water mean?

I know this is way late but that means you have another element being dissolved. Copper is a transition element (like most metals) and it will turn a solution different colors when dissolved. Copper turns solutions green, so if it is turning cyan you most likely have either a contaminated or rusted penny or the clips were touching the solution on the positive lead.

Too late, I remembered I accidentally switched the coins so instead of plating a nickel coin with copper, I plated a copper coin with nickel (at least I think it was the nickel that turned it cyan). That was 5 or so months ago.

Hmm yeah that probably was the problem lol

if there are black parts, it means your voltage is too high.... so I'm just using a 1.5 v battery and the job went black? weird

hogi (author)2011-04-21

i just did a trumpet mouthpiece,its lookin pretty good,i used 2.5 sq copper wire coiled it into a ball and used 3 volts due to the thickness of the mouthpiece but it came out very clear and shiny

nf119 (author)hogi2011-04-21

Cool! Let us know how well the coat lasts.

smokeypwns (author)2011-01-18

will a 9v battery work

Dragonlock2 (author)2010-12-20

Is there any gas emitted during this step?

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