There are a few copper electroplating methods on here, but they are either dangerous, provide very low quality results, or cost an arm and a leg.  Your plated object should be a brilliant, shiny red and not blackened and your pocket book shouldn't be hit hard by chemical costs or hospital bills.  

The method I am writing about here is the copper acetate method.  Rather than buying copper acetate pre-made, we will make it ourselves.

I wanted this instructable to be as easy as possible, safe as possible, and as cheap as possible.

Copper plating has a variety of uses.  Aesthetically, it can be used to create a steampunk look on otherwise ill-fitting metals. Anodizing the object after plating can create brilliant, multicolored objects. Electrically, it creates a highly conductive surface for soldering or use in AC circuits (for the skin effect). It is also frequently used to prepare stubborn materials for other platings such as nickel and silver down the road.

If you like this instructable, but want a silvery finish instead of a copper finish, check out my nickel plating instructable!

On another note, I LOVE your questions!  I have noticed that a few folks are asking the same questions, so I've added a "Common Questions" step/slide/section/whatchamacallit at the end of this instructable.  Take a look there to get quick answers to most of the questions you might have. If you have a new one, comment below and I'll be happy to answer it and add it to my step/slide/section/whatchamacallit :D

A quick disclaimer - copper acetate, the chemical we will be making, is poisonous. The title "High Quality (and Safe) Copper Plating" is referring more to the fact that you don't need to play with insanely powerful acids that will burn your skin or ask you to open batteries. In the concentrations we will be working with, the process is fairly safe.  However, do NOT drink the solution and be sure to wash your hands after plating and properly wipe down any surfaces that come near or into contact with your plating solution. Always supervise kids. That said, enjoy!

Step 1: Materials

You will need a few things, all of which you can get at your local supermarket or find around the house:
Distilled White Vinegar     (5% acidity or higher, grocery)
Hydrogen Peroxide     (3% or higher, pharmacy)
Cameo Aluminum and Stainless Steel Cleaner     (cleaning supplies)
100% Copper scoring pad     (cleaning supplies)
Alligator Leads     (electrical)
*6V Lantern Battery     (camping)
1 pint, wide mouth mason jar     (canning supplies)
Paper towels     (paper supplies)
Nitrile gloves     (cleaning, pharmacy, or DIY)

Note that if you plan on electroplating very large things, you will need to buy a lot of vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, copper, and larger containers.

You can substitute the copper scoring pads for scrap copper pipe or wire.  The one (huge) benefit to using the scoring pads is that they have a very high surface area which will be useful in later steps.

*See my note in the last "step" about the 6V lantern battery.  You can replace it with a 1.5V battery or a couple AA's if you'd like or it would save you some money.

Hey, I have a couple containers of old etchant that turned blue from use. Could I just use those to electroplate? This is the <a href="http://kinsten.com.au/chem/" rel="nofollow">etchant</a>.<br> Thanks, this is awesome! I'm hoping to do this with some aluminum foil so I can solder to it.
I wouldn't imagine that the used etchant would make a good electrolyte. The most common etchant used by hobbyists is Ferric Chloride. By using it as an etchant, you may end up contaminating your surface with iron deposits and you may end up creating a lot of chlorine gas. It doesn't hurt to try - just make sure you do this outside a few times and stand up-breeze. <br> <br>As far as soldering to aluminum foil, you should try using silver solder. It usually has around 6% silver in it which allows it to adhere to just about any metal. I use it frequently when I need to solder a lead to stainless steel.
Hi, <br>I contacted Kinsten to ask them about the etchant I was using. <br>&quot;EB-750 etchant is Sodium Persulphate, and it reacts with copper to become Copper Sulphate.&quot; <br> <br>So that verifies that you can use other electrolytes. <br>I'm going to continue trying this so that I can make PCBs from aluminum foil. <br>I'm probably going to have to etch aluminum with another chemical first, then electroplate it with nickel or copper (or use silver solder). <br>Thank you so much for this information!
<p>Making pcbs with aluminum foil (and fiberglass and epoxy) is exactly what I wanted to do!!!! You stole my idea... :)</p>
<p>Just as a follow up...</p><p>I tried this and it failed for my purposes, but maybe it might work for someone else's purposes. Check out the documentation!</p><p>http://tsjwang.blogspot.com/2013/12/aluminum-pcb-attempt-1.html</p>
<p>you can purchase copper foil. :D</p>
hi, instead of etching, try using conductive pen this can ease your task unless you really want to make complex pcb. <br>http://www.bareconductive.com/bare-paint-pen
Thanks, subodh1368 <br> <br>My budget isn't that flexible, though... thanks for the input. <br> <br>
SOLVED <br>So I'm not sure if it IS copper acetate but I'm pretty sure that it serves the purpose for electroplating! <br>I moved a decent amount of copper from a coil of wire to some aluminum foil with 15VDC. <br> <br>The only problem is is that it's not sticking. I'll clean it better next time.
They said in the main instructable that aluminum won't plate well
There are other electrolytes besides copper acetate that work well. Super kudos for experimenting. To get the copper to stick to the aluminum foil might be a bit tricky. They are very dissimilar metals and don't play nicely. HOWEVER, nickel plays nicely with aluminum and copper plays nicely with nickel. SO, if you nickel plate first, you may be able to get a nice copper plating. Nickel also plays nicely with lead which will allow for easy soldering.<br> <br> <a href="http://www.rfiemea.com/images/wireless/tech-tips/noble-metals-table.gif" rel="nofollow">Take a look at this link. Any potentials above +- 0.3V will not play nicely.</a>
Wow, thanks for the information! <br>I haven't taken chemistry in school yet, so I still have much to learn. <br>I will try coating the aluminum with nickel then coating it with copper. <br> <br>And since you say that nickel plays nicely with lead, does that mean that a copper coating will not be necessary for my purposes? <br>Thanks
If you can get a good nickel plating, you should be able to solder to it with no problem. You will likely need to add a bit of flux (besides the rosin in rosin-core), but it should solder pretty easily. <br> <br>(I still stick to using silver solder for tough metals though. It is a lot easier and more predictable than putting on a plated coating just for soldering. It is a little pricey, but a little goes a long way and there is no mess like with electroplating.)
Wow, thanks for the information! <br>I haven't taken chemistry in school yet, so I still have much to learn. <br>I will try coating the aluminum with nickel then coating it with copper. <br> <br>And since you say that nickel plays nicely with lead, does that mean that a copper coating will not be necessary for my purposes? <br>Thanks
<p>This was a lot of fun experiment with, I certainly have the plating technique down and I'm incredibly amazed about the quality of plating it produces!</p><p>Had a hell of a good time working on this project with my Mother.</p>
This is my favorite comment so far :) I'm glad I could help bring back happy memories.
Love this Instructable (my brain is churning with the idea of copper plated Leatherman tools :D ) Thanks for the information and I really appreciate that you made it accessible for everyone via your materials. you have my vote ;)
FOR SCIENCE!!! <br>do not use for food or cleaning!!! ;) <br>love it!
I love this too.
Great job! I've tried several ways to DIY copper plate and this one is the best so far. Thanks!
yeah, found the pads i bought (just said copper) had a steel core. test with a strong magnet first!
<p>For safety, goggles should be used too. I would say that it's safer rather than safe. I noticed that for copper sulphate, they emphasized the fact that it's readily absorbed through the skin but not for copper acetate.</p>
<p>You can use scrap wires for this. The wires can come from e waste.</p>
<p>How long does the solution last? does it replenish itself during each use?</p>
<p>Guys I need help. I want to copper-plate an aluminum CPU heatsink (the stock AMD heatsink) for the purpose of improving its cooling performance. So my question is: Does this plating method work with aluminum? If not, then how should I do it? I already heard that copper doesn't plate well with aluminum and that you need to coat the aluminum with zinc first so the copper would stick. But this beats my purpose of efficient heat transfer. Zinc isn't very thermally conductive and will reduce the cooling performance. So I need a method that will produce an aluminum-to-copper contact. </p>
<p>I desperate need &quot;small&quot; method to cover aluminum with copper! Any help?</p>
<p>Great instructable, I have been toying with trying this out but just couldn't remember enough chemistry from school. </p>
<p>I've done this, but with the old trial-and-error method, using a 12V DC power supply, muriatic acid diluted with water, and copper wire. Muriatic acid (HCl or hydrochloric acid) is the wrong acid to use, by the way. Copper is not reactive in HCl (lol live and learn). I may have added vinegar when that didn't work (if memory serves - it's been a while). And it took forever. Sulphuric acid would work, but handling these acids is scary because it's DANGEROUS.</p><p>I much prefer your method. :D</p>
<p>You need to use a vinegar that is more powerful than the standard stuff you buy at the supermarket. What you need is &quot;strong&quot; or &quot;full-strength&quot; vinegar. I believe i got some at Home Depot, but i'd recommend calling before making the drive. </p><p>Here is the reaction I got when adding adding fine copper wire (from a deconstructed 4 gauge piece power cable) to &quot;strong&quot; vinegar. If you do this, please... be careful. </p><p>https://youtu.be/oGv6ID7Y-Fo</p>
<p>Lets try that again....</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/oGv6ID7Y-Fo" width="500"></iframe>&quot; frameborder=&quot;0&quot; allowfullscreen&gt;</p>
<p>Nitric dissolves Copper extremely well but I would have to assume unless you are in a lab that Concentrated Nitric Acid is out of your budget for a little bit of electroplating</p>
<p>can I use something else instead of hydrogen peroxide? I cannot get it right now.</p>
<p>sorry if I'm too late but you don't NEED the peroxide it is just an oxidizer to speed things along. Warm the vinegar by leaving it in the sun or somewhere nice and hot but don't boil it, and the copper should dissolve a bit slower but it will, trust me</p>
<p>Don't need the H2O2 it just really speeds things up, you can get by with the vinegar alone oxidizing the copper but it's much much slower</p>
<p>do you have to re heat the solution every time you want to do more copper plating</p>
<p>WILL THIS METHOD WORK FOR BRASS PLATING. I need to brass plate some stainless steel nuts and bolts. will this work, substituting brass in place of the copper. I also need to plate a larger quantity. I assume I can place the nuts and bolts in a steel basket, connect the electric lead to the basket. would also need to shake the basket some during the plating, so all sides are exposed during the plating process.</p>
<p>Brass is an alloy and while electroplating brass has been achieved with commercial kits, it's rather difficult with simple instructables, but check this page, it may help you, banjohangout.org/archive/173409</p>
<p>I will be posting something really exciting soon, a way to copper plate a U.S Quarter without electricity, very simple and nice school science project.</p>
<p>Great InstructableI can get 35% hydrogen peroxide.You say 3% and up but just checking.Also the vinegar is 20% here,can the electrolyte be too strong?</p><p>I know this is 3 years old,but i hope you reply,Thank you in advance.</p>
<p>Plain not working...<br>Started with sand blasted metal and nothing. So I tried scrubbing with some citric crystals to clean it and copper started showing. Put it in the bath and the copper went away...</p><p>confused...</p>
<p>What about citric acid? <br>It smells nice, takes up less space than vinegar (pellet form) and is just as safe. You can vary the acidity based on concentration (pellet form) and its more conductive than vinegar so salt is not needed. In theory the finished product should should leave cleaner pores in both the base metal and the plating for a more durable finish that is less susceptible to corrosion.</p>
<p>just jumped in, can you use a battery charger tuned in to 6v dc?</p>
<p>Can this be done on Stainless Steel? How do you anodize the copper after plating to make it shiny? Thanks!</p>
1. Before I get started how do you dispose of the used solution? Can you add Sawdust or kitty litter to absorb it, bag it and toss it in the trash.<br>2. I'm having difficulty finding the copper scouring pads. Can you use copper piping or copper wiring instead?<br>3. The three pieces I want to plate are from a vintage lamp. They were previously copper plated. At some point some of the copper was scratched off down to the metal base before the lamp was painted. I used steel wool to polish out the scratches which also removed more of the plating. I removed the old paint as well.<br>4. The first piece is 4.5 inches wide at the base and 3.5 inches high. The second is 2.5 wide wide 3/8 inch high. The third is 6.5 inches wide and 3 inches high. The pieces won't fit in even the largest jars I've found. Any suggestions. As much as I would like to attempt the at home method I may just end up having them played it professionally.<br>Any suggestions and advice would be appreciated.<br>Thanks
<p>Please write a guide for electro-tinning copper. Would it make a working <u>electrolyte </u> if I just put some Sn60/Pb40 in Hydrocloric acid (HCL), then use it on the positive terminal ?</p>
Hi, i want to use this technic to coat some parts of my motorcycle, how resistant to contact and heat? I don't mind it getting &quot;damaged&quot; and looking old, if anything, I'm going for that look, but I don't want it comming off. Thanks for any help. :)
<p>Miguel, this is what I'm thinking of doing. How did you get on with your bike?</p>
<p>I think you mean &quot;scouring&quot; pad, not &quot;scoring&quot; pad. I was trying to figure out where scores came into the picture.</p>
<p>Hi could you in theory keep plating to build up a thicker coating? I would be interested in plating tines for a cultivator which would be pulled through the soil, would this just scrape off the plating?</p>

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm an Electrical Engineer who dabbles in just about everything. By trade, I'm a controls engineer and design machines for the largest manufacturing ... More »
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