Electrolysis can remove rust like magic. I had read about this several times, and finally decided to give it a try on a recent project. I was restoring an older cuckoo clock and found that the battery had been left in, and severely corroded the battery tabs. These small rusted parts would be perfect for my initial attempt at electrolytic rust removal since first of all they were obviously rusted, and secondly they were in a fairly delicate state which prohibited any other type of cleaning.
This was a small setup, and could easily be modified into a large one for bigger parts. I could easily see a 10 gallon fish tank and battery charger for cleaning up some vintage tools.
scrap steel or iron ( rebar? )
hopefully this is at least somewhat informative, as the process is both amazing and simple.
Making my first INSTRUCTABLE was harder than playing home chemist. ...enjoy
Step 1: Get a Heavily Rusted, Corroded Item.
This is a fantastic way to remove rust and oxidation from steel and iron. It is not recommended for brass, aluminum, copper or exotic metals and alloys.
Step 2: Get Ready to Combine Items
You need a non conductive container. In plain terms...plastic or glass. I used the bottom half of a soft drink bottle.
Step 3: Make Your Electrolytic Solution
Put your water in the container
To the water add baking soda. I used roughly 1 tablespoon per gallon of water.
Step 4: Add Electricity
since i was cleaning a small part I only needed a small supply of electricity. I chose a 9v battery
From the battery I ran a hot/positive and cold/negative lead
larger items in a bigger solution vat would need a larger supply of current. A common household battery charger would be ideal.
Step 5: Making Your Anode
Your anode is your sacrificial lamb in this process, and gets connected to the positive/red/hot side of your electric supply. The amazing process of electrolysis will erode the anode away over time. I used a scrap nail for this. Again small parts here.
I think in a large setup a piece of flat steel or maybe some rebar would work well. You want surface area here for best results.
Step 6: Connect Your Part
Now the part to be cleaned gets connected to the cold/black/negative terminal of your electrical supply
Step 7: Put It Together
Anode into the electrolyte solution ( water & baking soda)
Step 8: Part Goes In
finally the rusted part goes into the solution.
Step 9: The Magic Begins
you will see an immediate bubbling from the rusted part and the anode.
Step 10: Just Watch
bubbles are good, it means it is working as it should.
Step 11: Grand Finale
The rust and corrosion just flake away as the bubbles do their magic work
Step 12: Enjoy Your Final Result
I went from totally rusted, non conductive battery tabs to almost shiny ready to use perfectly conductive tabs.
* the black film can easily be cleaned off with a slight abrasive such as a scotch brite pad
* make sure you treat the newly cleaned metal asap since it will easily and quickly begin to rust again.