Introduction: Efficient Production of Iron(II) Oxide (Fe2O3)

Picture of Efficient Production of Iron(II) Oxide (Fe2O3)

While experimenting with different ways to make Iron Oxide to use in an exothermic reaction demonstration, I tried all the different ways that I found online with varied results. This is the method that I have developed which seems to be the fastest way to Efficiently produce Iron(II) Oxide. This will produce a fine redish brown powder which I believe to be Fe2O3. It works very well in some exothermic reactions.

Chemistry is my new hobby (very new) so forgive me if I make mistakes in terminology, or worse.

Step 1: Materials

You will need the following items to follow this guide.

1. Steel wool. (I use Grade #0000 Other grades will work but I use the finest for faster results)
You can get this at any paint store, including the paint department at Wal-Mart.

2. A flat, non-reactive, non-porous, clean surface to work on. (I use the glass tray from an old microwave.)

3. 2 spray bottles. (1 if you don't use salt)
One of these should be non-transparent because it will hold hydrogen peroxide and any light will quickly cause decomposition of the peroxide. You can buy small dark bottles of peroxide at most drug stores, including Wal-Mart.

4. Table Salt. (optional)
A cup or so will last a while for most people.

5. 3% (or higher) Hydrogen Peroxide.

6. A plastic spoon (or something like it)

7. A magnet that will fit in your spoon (or whatever) without protruding over the edge.

Step 2: Preparing the Steel Wool

When you buy steel wool it will usually have a coating of oils (or something) to prevent oxidization. Since oxidization is our goal, we will want to remove the oils from the surface of our steel.

I use regular non-scented dish soap and water and just wash and rinse it several times. You can also use Acetone, if you have any, for the final rinse.

Let the steel wool dry well before moving on. I use my kitchen oven to dry it. If you decide to use your oven, BE CAREFUL, especially if you used Acetone to rinse. As counter-intuitive as it may be, steel wool ignites pretty easily and burns pretty hot. In fact, a 9V battery will ignite it almost instantly.

Step 3: The Setup

Picture of The Setup

Unroll, or rip, your steel wool pads so that you get the thinnest single layer of steel mesh as possible on a solid, non-porous, non-reactive surface such as glass or slate. You want to be able to scrape this surface with a razor blade to collect the product. IMPORTANT: This may permanently stain the surface, so don't use your kitchen counter.

Spray the wool with the peroxide that you have in the dark bottle. (You DID use a dark bottle didn't you?) Just enough to thoroughly soak it. Any puddling around the wool is wasted peroxide and will only serve to prolong the time it takes the wool and surface to dry.

I'm not exactly sure if it contaminates the product or not, but I use a sodium catalyst to speed the process up. I have been using this method from the beginning and it hasn't caused any problems with the Iron Oxide as my experiments with it go. If you chose to do this, simply mix some table salt and warm water in the other spray bottle and shake it well. Spray just enough to cover the steel wool completely. Less is more. Remember this isn't necessary to begin with so don't dilute the peroxide.

You can see some rust forming the the image. This was sprayed just minutes before the picture was taken. The oxide should come to the surface of the steel wool pretty quickly depending on how well you cleaned the wool and if you chose to use a catalyst.

Let this set overnight, or until it has dried completely and rust can be shaken out of the remaining iron.

Step 4: Harvesting

Picture of Harvesting

This image is after performing the following steps several times, but the process is the same.

After the wool is dry and you are confident that oxidization has slowed to a crawl (I leave it overnight between steps) you can begin to extract some product and repeat the last step.

With a solid, flat, non-porous object (I use a flat-bottomed glass), crush the wool, as if you are trying to make a powder of it, until the bulk of the rust is release from the remaining steel wool.

Remove what part of the steel wool that you can manually and shake all the rust that you can from it before setting it to the side.

Now that the bulk of the remaining wool is removed, crush the pile of (mostly) rust again to make a powder as fine as you can get it.

Unless you are really good at manually removing the steel wool, you will still have a lot of iron in the pile. The best way that I have found to separate the remaining iron from the desired product is to use a magnet in a spoon (I'm working on an electromagnet with a variable power supply that will be much better, but for now this works). With the magnet in the plastic spoon, hover over the pile just enough to attract the iron particles but not enough to attract the oxide. The distance will depend on the magnet and the spoon that you use but with practice it become easy and surprisingly effective. When you have lifted all the iron that the magnet is capable of attracting, simple remove the magnet from the spoon, dropping the iron in a separate pile, and start over. Do this until the only thing left in the pile in Iron(II) Oxide, then scrape this up and put it in an appropriate container.

Place all your iron wool and small particles back on your oxidization surface (microwave tray in my case) and go back to step 3, spraying and waiting again.

Repeat this until you have converted all of the steel wool to Iron(II) Oxide. It has taken me between 2 and 4 days. This seems like a lot until you consider that it would take the same amount of time to do a much larger batch. Theoretically, with enough steel wool and peroxide, any volume of iron oxide could be produced in this amount of time.

Thank you for reading my first instructable. I hope it is of some help. I would like to give credit to my son Christian, who has been an invaluable member of my "lab team" and has helped a great deal in developing this method. :)


sememememememe (author)2011-12-14

i am more then 99% sure that Fe2O3 is not iron(II) oxide but is actually iron(III) oxide.
just so you know

JaphethP1 (author)sememememememe2016-01-25

yes. this is correct

MelodiousDirge (author)2009-12-08

Wouldn't simply lighting the steel wool on fire and letting it burn produce the same result in much less time? Or are you concerned that it would be contaminated heavily with black iron oxide?

acecase (author)MelodiousDirge2009-12-12

The result would be usable for thermite, but it isn't the same.

MelodiousDirge (author)acecase2010-01-08

Can you elaborate? how is it different, and when you say 'usable' is it just as good for thermite as the vinegar oxidation, or no? Are you speaking from experience or speculation?

Just curious, not trying to badger you ;)

burning steel wool will give you black iron oxide which is used for things like pigments. The above process will give you natural red iron oxide which is used in things like thermite.

pyrorower (author)acecase2010-01-07

Plus when you burn steel wool it gives off smoke as well which is matter lost.

MelodiousDirge (author)pyrorower2010-01-08

Well OK, but at $2 for a bale of steel wool I wouldn't worry too much about the smoke.

pyrorower (author)MelodiousDirge2010-01-08

I see your point. Plus when I think about it, the amount lost is minuscule anyhow... Though I think you could have the black iron oxide problem. I'll let you know as soon as I get more batteries :P

dung.d.viet.7 (author)2015-04-24

we are now setting up a project to produce about 2-3 tones of Red iron oxide pigment (Fe2O3), who can make tech transform for us?


mensasnem (author)2015-03-21

Although hydrogen peroxide readily decomposes, it doesn't decompose THAT quickly. 3% hydrogen peroxide holds ten times its volume in oxygen (at standard temperature and pressure). Thus, you'd know it was decomposing because it would effervesce like a carbonated drink.

If you want stronger hydrogen peroxide, you can buy it at a hair care store such as Sally Beauty. They will sell 12% to the general public; licensed cosmetologists and barbers can purchase 15%. It's sold "by volume." 3% is 10 volume; 12% is 40 volume. You can find 35% online.

ilpug asked how to make aluminum powder. Buy a roll of aluminum foil. Tear the foil into small pieces and wad them up. Fill your blender/food processor about half full with the wadded aluminum. Put the lid on. Crank it all the way up to full speed. The blade will reduce it to a coarse powder. The difficulty with this process is that the aluminum is so light and easily moves past itself -- thus providing very little resistance for the blade. In fact, it provides substantially less resistance than the same volume of water. Once you've ground some of it down to a coarse powder, pour it into another container and process another batch. Continue until you have enough coarse aluminum powder to fill the blender ½ to 3/4 full. Add it all back to the processor and let it process at full speed for several minutes.

I always thought that blue/black iron oxide had a higher ratio of oxygen than red/brown iron oxide (simple rust) and would be better for using to make thermite. I guess I was wrong.

I'm no chemist, but I sure love playing with stuff.

frofro (author)2014-08-04

would using burnt steel wool as opposed to the method showed above change the ratio of iron oxide to aluminum powder for a termite mixture

jangofett642 (author)2012-12-25

Acecase most likely misnamed the chemical formula.
Fe2O3/Iron(III)/Ferric Oxide - Shown In This Video
FeO/Iron(II)/Ferrous Oxide - not shown in this video
I hope this clears up any confusion.
neath Secreg

Peter5465 (author)2012-07-17

Can i do it without adding hydrogen peroxide?

Peter5465 (author)Peter54652012-07-17

If i put a bigger cathode and anode, will that accelerate the process?

Popopopper (author)2012-05-21

I thought Fe2O3 was ferric oxide, not iron oxide.

YoungPyro19 (author)2010-07-19

I received 14g of Fe2O3 from rusting 1 sheet of grade #000 steel wool.

M4industries (author)YoungPyro192011-06-15

Excellent yield! I wish I could get 14g from just one sheet.

YoungPyro19 (author)M4industries2011-06-15

Thanks. <=^)

ilpug (author)2011-03-01

You have shown us how to make Iron oxide, now show us a easy way to make powdered aluminum!

razorednight (author)2010-12-22

Um, I don't want to spoil anyone's fun - if you want to make iron oxide through electrolysis or soaking steel wool in salty water, carry on. Whatever floats your boat, right? But as westfw pointed out, iron oxide is available to buy from pottery supply houses. For instance, if you go to and download their catalogue (pdf),  you'll see on page 7 that "Iron Oxide, Red Natural" can be bought at £2.65 per 1 KG bag, or £38.75 for 25 KG of the stuff.  Of course, you can buy 2 KG bags, 5 KG bags... whatever amount you think you'll need for your "pottery" project.

That's a UK site, but I'm sure other countries have potters supplies houses.  And this route also gives you an automatic answer to the possibly troublesome question What do you want iron oxide for?  For my pottery of course!  Look where I bought it from!

illuminatis (author)2010-11-10

the most efficient way that i have found(and the easiest, requiring no chemicals) is to get a large jar fill it with salt water, then get some large nongalvanized nail, then you need one of those ac to dc plug in converters.wrap the positive side wire around the nail, and drop it into the jar, on the other side of the jar submerge a bit of the exposed negative wire, tape the wires to the side of the jar n wait, in a day or so, the nail will dissolve, leaving oxide at the bottom. filter and repeat

niertap (author)2009-12-12

the quickest way would be to burn it and then spray it with NaOH solution. (from a scientific perspective)

The red kind is Fe(III)2O3
the black kind is Fe(II)O

The black kind is made by burning steel wool.  This will slowly turn into red kind if kept below 575C (so it will)

Sodium hydroxide will make the best catalyst because it will more actively oxidize the iron.

If you're going to use this for thermite keep in mind what you're using it for.
The black kind will produce more molten iron.
The red kind will burn much hotter.
also the red kind needs more Al powder/ weight than the black kind

acecase (author)niertap2009-12-12

Thanks for the insight niertap.

Not to call you in to question, as you seem to be more experienced than I am, but where did you find information on the identification of the two forms? ( Fe(III)2O3/Fe(II)O ) I keep finding conflicting information. Most people call the red compound Iron(II) Oxide and the black Iron(III) Oxide. Of course, most people write the formula for the black compound as Fe3O4 too.

Your identification makes more sense. Burning should produce a compound with less, not more, Oxygen. Iron(III) Oxide would be a compound containing Fe(III), not one containing 3 Fe. I guess I should change the name of this to bi-Iron(III) trioxide? Or should I drop the bi? Is that politically correct?

Arano (author)acecase2010-07-12

drop the bi... stick to iron(roman number)-oxide... there are 3 different ironoxides: 1. iron(II)oxide, FeO which is black, disproportionates to the third between 300°C and 575°C 2. iron(III)oxide, Fe2O3 which is brown/red 3. iron(II,III)oxide, Fe3O4 also black, spinel structur, much more restitant to heat, water and acids than the other two

pyrorower (author)2010-01-07

Just a tip to yield faster oxidation: try adding in some vinegar or other acid to etch the surface of the steel wool, providing more surface area for the reaction to take place. The ratio can be found on this page of Laral's instructable.

vince 09 (author)2009-12-11

carb. or break parts cleaner will do wonders for you just a couple sprays and all oil is gone and it dries extremely fast

acecase (author)vince 092009-12-12

That sounds like a good idea, but I would still want to wash it thoroughly afterword to remove all the carb cleaner. Of course a real purist would probably just boil it in distilled water so it's a matter of intent I guess. I'm sure the carb cleaner contamination wouldn't affect a thermite reaction.

reedz (author)2009-12-05

One thing you can do with this is determine if your "sodium catalyst" is working, report times and colors every ten-fifteen seconds or so, use one with the sodium and one without.
Also, I would look into using electricity in this, I'm not positive, but I believe a low electric current accompanied by moisture would speed up the oxidation process.

acecase (author)reedz2009-12-06

The sodium visibly speeds the process up. The only thing I'm not sure of is how much sodium ends up in the product because of it.

A DC current would definitely speed it up. I actually built a rectifier to use in these experiments but when we were burning the wool I let the rectifier get too hot (was using it with a 24V transformer) and burned it up.

PKM (author)acecase2009-12-07

The salt will mostly stay as salt, I suspect, though you might get small amounts of iron chloride and sodium hydroxide.  Both of these are many times more soluble in water than iron oxide, however, so thoroughly washing your product in tap water will remove most of these contaminants.  You should probably do it anyway, actually.

acecase (author)PKM2009-12-07

What would be a good home method for washing the product in powder form? I have been trying to think of a good way to filter it, but it is so fine that even a coffee filter leads to a lot of waste. Most of my "lab equipment" comes from under my sink and some of my X-Wife's old cookware.

ironsmiter (author)2009-12-05

"Iron Oxide to use in an exothermic reaction"
AKA, Thermite? :-)

How does peroxide produced rust compare in your reaction to plain old BURNED steel wool? a 9volt battery serves well to ignite MANY many steel wool fires...Added bonus the icky anti-rust oils serve as fuel to further the ignition sequence.

acecase (author)ironsmiter2009-12-07

I have read arguments for both sides of what is actually an argument between using the two variants. While the Fe3O4, produced by burning the wool, contains more Oxygen atoms than the Fe2O3, produced by this method, suggests that the reaction will be hotter, the Fe2O3 seems to be brighter and more spectacular "looking."

I'm not convinced that the higher O content is really going to produce more energy in the form of heat either. It sounds good, but the Oxygen to Iron ratio is actually lower. My uneducated "guess" is that this would cause the reaction to be slower. I may create equal amounts of thermite using each and see which burns longer under the same conditions.

In short, I don't know, but the red makes a prettier reaction.

I should also mention that Fe2O3 can be created from Fe3O4 pretty quickly by submerging it into a salt-water solution and adding small amounts of peroxide each time the reaction stops until it is all converted (turned read). The reaction is really cool to watch, but it leads to more trouble separating the product from the solution (takes a long time to dry) unless you have a place where you can boil the liquid out (it smells really bad).

Doctor What (author)2009-12-05

What a nice result!

acecase (author)Doctor What2009-12-06

Thank you Dr. :)

uncle_al_0 (author)2009-12-05

Nice 'ible, I've been looking for a good way to make iron oxide to avoid having to purchase it.  I'll have to give this a try when I get home.

acecase (author)uncle_al_02009-12-06

Thanks. I'm glad it was helpful to someone. I hope it works well for you.

westfw (author)2009-12-05

Um, I'm of the general impression that purchased iron oxide is cheaper than, say, steel wool.  Assuming you can find a local place that sells it as concrete pigment or pottery ingredient, rather than having to buy from  a "chemical dealer."

acecase (author)westfw2009-12-06

It likely is cheaper, but I never looked. It's all about the project for us, so making it is part of it. My son thought it was awesome that we could ignite steel wool with a 9V battery. The thermite reaction later will dull that excitement, but the process is really cool from aluminum foil and steel wool to a busted clay pot and a whole in an old car fender. :)

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