Introduction: Electrolysis Bucket

Picture of Electrolysis Bucket

This is a method of rust removal that is effortless and effective.

Warning: Do not do this inside. Hydrogen gas is produced and can ignite in enclosed spaces. Remove flames, cigarettes, etc. from the area. Use gloves and avoid touching the electrodes.

Step 1: Measure

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Find a 5 gallon bucket and measure the circumference. Mark 6 equal intervals around the top portion.

Step 2: Drill

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Drill holes through the marked spots.

Step 3: Cut Rebar

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Cut steel rebar to 1ft lengths and quickly brush the surface with an angle grinder. Do not use stainless steel. It contains chromium and will produce poisonous chromate, which is carcinogenic and illegal to dump.

Step 4: Drill Rebar

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Drill holes in the top portion of the rebar to accommodate a bolt.

Step 5: Bolt Rebar

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Fasten a bolt to the rebar.

Step 6: Fasten to Bucket

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Push the screws through the holes in the bucket and fasten them with another nut.

Step 7: Build the Circuit

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Strip some copper wire and wind it around every screw on the outside of the bucket making a full circle.

Step 8: Add Water

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Add water to the bucket up to just below the screws.

Step 9: Add Washing Soda

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Add about 1/3-1/2 cups of washing soda (sodium carbonate) per 5 gallons of water. This is often sold in the laundry sections of stores. Washing soda can also be made by heating baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in the oven.

Step 10: Add Rusted Item

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Find an item that needs rust removal and connect the negative(black) lead to it. It can then be submerged into the water. Another way to design the rig is to make a steal wire hanger or clip that hangs into the water and holds the item. The negative lead can be attached to this wire.

Step 11: Connect Charger

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Connect the positive(red) lead to the copper wire circuit. Plug in the charger. Not all car battery chargers will work for this. I used a Schumacher SE-82-6 Dual-Rate 2/6 Amp Manual Battery Charger. You should see many small bubbles begin to rise to the surface almost immediately. If you need to troubleshoot try the following:

1.Increase the distance between the part and the rebar (anode) 2.Dilute the solution by adding water. 3.If you have a 6/12 volt charger, set it to 6 volts.

The process is self halting and will stop when there is no more rust to remove. It can be left overnight if the item contains a lot of rust. A wire brush can also be used periodically to remove loose scale.

Step 12: Remove Item

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Remove the item and work with a wire brush to remove any remaining scale. Dry immediately to prevent flash rusting. Heating the item will help remove water.

Step 13: Waste

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The waste solution is OK for the lawn unless you have plants that don't like iron rich soil.

Now you can give life back to the dead with the magic of electrolysis.


TunerGeek made it! (author)2017-01-23

I made this with a 5-gallon paint bucket, and spent some time today cleaning it after considerable use. I wire-brushed (on my bench grinder) the sacrificial rebar - after letting the buildup dry out - and replaced my five-piece 12-gauge bare copper rebar connecting wire with a one-piece, 14-gauge one, attached by hose clamps. I also use a piece of 1x3 pine to suspend my electrolizing parts in the water/washing soda solution, with eyehooks. The 1x3 is fitted with a length of 6-gauge copper I had left over from a plumbing project (ground wire to jump the water meter, per code) as a bus... I connect the negative lead from the battery charger to it, and one to five 16-gauge jumpers to the submerged part(s) from it. The battery charger line is *not* connected in my supplied photo, but do note the bends in the 14-gauge connector, which is held in place by hose clamps (which simplifies disassembly for cleaning the sacrificial rebar.) I built mine from this particular instructable, and plan - soon - to expand upon it to use a plastic 55-gallon barrel I recently purchased at an auction for a buck or two...

SHOE0007 (author)2016-11-24

Have you ever condsireed cobalt or nickel plating or chronium plating? The only issue is the waste. Cobalt chloride can be neutralized with lye and hydrogen peroxide but nickel and chronium are toxic and cancer causing so you have to be extremely careful with them. You would have to send the waste to a secure waste plant.

It is interesting though.

djpolymath (author)SHOE00072016-11-25

I've read a little about it, but I haven't tried it. I didn't care to deal with, the toxicity and disposal issues you mentioned.

MatthewM358 (author)2016-11-15

That was great! I'm doing this for my science project.

alastair.stewart.7146 (author)2016-04-23

A great article. I am about to rewind the secondary transformer coil using 12 gauge wire and am not sure as to what dc voltage is required after the bridge rectifier to make a power source for the purpose of electrolysis (rust removal).

Any help would be much appreciated.

Big Al.

vactirio (author)2016-02-23


Please give us some information about the charger.

foxhound52 (author)vactirio2016-02-28

Although it may work just fine, I'd avoid chargers with all the fancy safety features and digital displays you find on the market today. I'm going to use a flea market find, old school charger. No ICs, chips, or modern silliness. Just power conversion. Now, the newer chargers are absolutely stellar for ordinary charging duties, but sometimes you need the "dangerous" versions to accomplish tasks (ahem, cooking off plates).

foxhound52 (author)vactirio2016-02-28

Although it may work just fine, I'd avoid chargers with all the fancy safety features and digital displays you find on the market today. I'm going to use a flea market find, old school charger. No ICs, chips, or modern silliness. Just power conversion. Now, the newer chargers are absolutely stellar for ordinary charging duties, but sometimes you need the "dangerous" versions to accomplish tasks (ahem, cooking off plates).

bruce.desertrat (author)vactirio2016-02-23

It's just a standard 12/6V battery charger you can get at an auto parts store, hardware store or someplace like Harbor Freight.

Mark 42 (author)bruce.desertrat2016-02-23

I suspect some chargers wouldn't work (if they have a circuit to reduce amperage as the battery gets full).

A battery with a charger on it would remecy that.

PaulB238 (author)Mark 422016-02-23

hi Mark 42 most if not all car battery chargers current is reduced as the battery charges, when the battery voltage increases due to charge Volts becoming close to equal that of the source (charger) amps are reduced by that parity, considering electrolyte itself cannot store a charge it would come down to the effectiveness of the electrolyte to pass current between anode and cathode, as the electrolyte is depleted with every use, its ohms law for the amperage, so change or top up the electrolyte if the reaction is diminished considerably.

Mark 42 (author)PaulB2382016-02-23

Ah, I see. That makes sense (it's why the needle pegs when I short the clamps together on the battery charger).

djpolymath (author)vactirio2016-02-23

The charger is a Schumacher SE-82-6 Dual-Rate 2/6 Amp Manual Battery Charger. It's true that not all chargers will work for this purpose.

ILykMakin (author)2016-02-23


Strip wire wrapped around the bucket only at the points where it will wrap around bolts and use shorter bolts, wrapping each with gorilla tape to insulate against inadvertent shocks.

Jurie-W (author)ILykMakin2016-02-24

bee; Only Hollywood DC current will shock people in the movies. You will not get a shock if you touch both poles of a 12 v battery or battery charger.

DC current is, measured in Ampere,' flows [electrons] from the negative [cathode] to the + anode. Current flow is electron flow !

foxhound52 (author)Jurie-W2016-02-28

Can you tell that to all my wrenches that I've accidentally welded to frames over the years? If you short out a 12V battery, at least the car version 99% are envisioning here, those can carry MEGA amp loads, at least for purposes of damage. I've seen terminals melted and blown off, plenty of arcing on tools, and have heard several well trusted stories about wristwatches inadvertently being launched into space. I'm going to make this, but I'm going to use ring terminals secured with a second nut for the best continuity. You should take a cue from the cable gauge on the charger and battery connections in your car. Using the 12 or 14 ga wire it looks like you have has made an impromptu fuse. If you were to experience a serious fault in the system, that copper wire will fail before any other components removing the immediate damage.

Venom8 (author)Jurie-W2016-02-27

WRONG! Current is current, and whether you're getting a DC component or an AC component, they are the same!

Jurie-W (author)Venom82016-02-27

You are right but I did not say that current is only DC.......I thought we are talking about electrolysis which is only possible with DC.

Still current flow is the flow of electrons which flow from a high to lower electrical pressure. Dc current flow is from negative positive in the circuit but from positive to negative inside a battery when in a circuit. Old books are wrong where stated that voltage "flow" in the opposite direction as current flow. Very quick to use Venom, I hope this says what you like or know to be right.

Venom8 (author)Jurie-W2016-02-27

WRONG! Current is current, and whether you're getting a DC component or an AC component, they are the same!

PaulB238 (author)2016-02-23

Sodium Carbonate is an Alkaline as opposed to an Acid, a mild acid neutraliser eg. vinegar wash then water wash followed will remove any trace of electrolyte dry item followed by CRC / WD40 to prevent surface rust returning. A converted fiberglass bath or livestock water trough will fit a whole guard or quaterpannel. Also pulsating half wave DC will penetrate and remove deep rust deposits. The use of mild steel anodes can (and will) transfer iron (Fe) onto the piece through electro deposition when the iron oxide is removed hence the grey appearance.

naic98 (author)2016-02-23

If you want to use graphite electrode use a shaved pencil, better a carpenters pencil

djaco (author)2016-02-23

Looks good. Last year, when I had *way* too much time on my hands, I made something similar:

I used an old ATX power supply for 12v; works well.

Boomer1 (author)2016-02-23

I like the bucket idea.

From experience, I would go with to anodes on either side of the item to be cleaned. I started with one when I cleaned a de-activated 10 pound civil war Parrot shell. Then went to 2 and it worked a lot better.

I like the graphite rod idea that Irritable_Badger had. You can get carbon/graphite rods at most welding supply shops. I was using just a steel strap. The water turned blue btw, because of the copper ring on the shell itself designed to catch the grooves of the rifling of the gun.

Also, Never! Use stainless steel spoons, forks, etc as some people suggest. The chromium in the steel breaks down during electrolysys and contaminates the water, air, and relic with Hexavalent Chromium, a toxic substance that can cause cancer and is illegal to pour down a drain.

Mark 42 (author)2016-02-23

I recognize that orange bucket.

Irritable_Badger (author)2016-02-23

Something I learned from experience; If you use graphite rod for your anodes the waste water can be reused many, many times. Iron, steel and aluminum anodes quickly contaminate the water and retard the process as they break down. In a bucket the rods are held in place with a single zip tie run through holes above the waterline and the electrical connector is a hose clamp. Two .5" OD x 12" OAL fine extruded graphite rods are ~$14 on Amazon.

Graphite rod also levels out hydrogen and oxygen escape because you don't get those big rust bubbles that trap the gasses then release them simultaneously when the bubble collapses.

I also learned anode placement has a far greater effect on the process than number or size of the anodes. Two anodes placed directly across from one another works better than four or six unless you have an enormous tank you're using. If you watch the process closely you'll see that the material flowing between the cathode and anodes begins to create eddies in the solution (a couple drops of food coloring makes it look cool too).

If those eddies meet the process is retarded. It's kind of like going to a bar with a bunch of friends. It all starts off fine but as the night progresses the group breaks up with some going to a new place, some going back home, some staying at the bar and others just wandering off to never be seen again. That's all fine, but as a group not much will get done and electrolysis is a group activity. The moral is don't stop at the bar on the way to work.

The wire to the cathode should make as much contact as possible with the cathode itself. If your cathode has threaded holes it's a good idea to get the wire in contact with the threads if possible. It'll save a lot of tedious wire brushing later.

If you get curious, nothing of much significance happens beyond 36VDC @ 5A.

swodzins (author)2016-02-23

Nice project. Thanks for sharing.

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2016-02-21

Fun project. You should enter this in the Bucket contest.

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