Instructables
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!
http://www.instructables.com/id/High-Quality-and-safe-Nickel-Plating/

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!
 
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ipfeffer10 months ago

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!

Had a hell of a good time working on this project with my Mother.

TSJWang1 year ago
Hey, I have a couple containers of old etchant that turned blue from use. Could I just use those to electroplate? This is the etchant.
Thanks, this is awesome! I'm hoping to do this with some aluminum foil so I can solder to it.
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang1 year ago
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.

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,
I contacted Kinsten to ask them about the etchant I was using.
"EB-750 etchant is Sodium Persulphate, and it reacts with copper to become Copper Sulphate."

So that verifies that you can use other electrolytes.
I'm going to continue trying this so that I can make PCBs from aluminum foil.
I'm probably going to have to etch aluminum with another chemical first, then electroplate it with nickel or copper (or use silver solder).
Thank you so much for this information!

Just as a follow up...

I tried this and it failed for my purposes, but maybe it might work for someone else's purposes. Check out the documentation!

http://tsjwang.blogspot.com/2013/12/aluminum-pcb-attempt-1.html

hi, instead of etching, try using conductive pen this can ease your task unless you really want to make complex pcb.
http://www.bareconductive.com/bare-paint-pen
Thanks, subodh1368

My budget isn't that flexible, though... thanks for the input.

SOLVED
So I'm not sure if it IS copper acetate but I'm pretty sure that it serves the purpose for electroplating!
I moved a decent amount of copper from a coil of wire to some aluminum foil with 15VDC.

The only problem is is that it's not sticking. I'll clean it better next time.
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang1 year ago
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.

Take a look at this link. Any potentials above +- 0.3V will not play nicely.
Wow, thanks for the information!
I haven't taken chemistry in school yet, so I still have much to learn.
I will try coating the aluminum with nickel then coating it with copper.

And since you say that nickel plays nicely with lead, does that mean that a copper coating will not be necessary for my purposes?
Thanks
A_Steingrube (author)  TSJWang1 year ago
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.

(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!
I haven't taken chemistry in school yet, so I still have much to learn.
I will try coating the aluminum with nickel then coating it with copper.

And since you say that nickel plays nicely with lead, does that mean that a copper coating will not be necessary for my purposes?
Thanks
I DID A PLATING EXPERIMENT IN SCHOOL AND TOOK 3 PLACE IN THE SCIENCE FAIR FOR OUR SCHOOL. GREAT INSTRUCTABLE ! THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES ALMOST 40 YEARS AGO.
A_Steingrube (author)  OLDYANKEE19561 year ago
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 ;)
silverbyte1 year ago
FOR SCIENCE!!!
do not use for food or cleaning!!! ;)
love it!
I love this too.
hambo851 year ago
Great job! I've tried several ways to DIY copper plate and this one is the best so far. Thanks!
killbox1 year ago
yeah, found the pads i bought (just said copper) had a steel core. test with a strong magnet first!
PingoBags11 days ago

Worked for me. Used 50/50 white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Instead of using copper as my anode, I used a carbon rod from a D cell carbon battery. For my electrolyte, I used a salt substitute and poured some into the vinegar/peroxide mix afterwards. Voltage was 5v at 300mah.

The bronze quarter didn't turn out as nice as it should of, the mix was contaminated with alittle copper and at first I only had half the coin in the solution, that's why it has a slight line on it. I wonder if this works for gold too?

11004361_519356498207646_1743108307_n.jpg
Diane195220 days ago

Is it possible to plate brass items with copper? I'm a scale ship modeler and purchased a pair of G-Force propellers which, I had hoped, would be a superior replacement for the polystyrene props included in the kit (1/72 Revelle Gato submarine). I DON'T want to paint the kit props bronze because the results are a far cry from being prototypical, Unfortunately, the castings have some defects in the hubs. I was thinking of filling the defects with tin solder, filing and sanding to refine the props and then plating them with copper. The copper, with the addition of some sulphates should acquire the natural brownish patina that one sees on older pennies. That is exactly what I want.

njbatzer26 days ago

I just love this! I'm trying to electroplate copper onto a stained glass item. The solder is a combo of tin and lead. I'm not getting the same pretty results I got with the quarter. It's a much darker brownish copper. Any suggestions?

Trooper5551 month ago

I know its an odd question but i have a cast Aluminium staff my friend made with lost foam casting and i wanted to plate it in copper. I know it would take a lot of matirial but do you think it can be done?

MechGuyver2 months ago

My first attempt at this did not work. I noticed that my electrolyte did not turn out as blue as shown in the pictures. I took a closer look at the package my copper scrubbers came in and it turns out that they are only copper coated. They stick to a magnet so I am thinking they are steel with a thin electroplating. I assume that this is the reason for my lack of success on the first try. I will have to find some pure copper pads or just use something else.

RolandB12 months ago

Copper plating brass should not be a problem, correct??

I want to plate a company logo to make it stand out in the center of a 4"x1.5" acid etched brass data plate.

JoshV32 months ago

I'm interested in using this technique on a stainless steel whipped cream dispenser. My wife has copper accents all over the kitchen but I cannot find a copper dispenser. Would this work for that purpose?

Mvtnns3 months ago

Can the solution be stored if I don't want to use it immediately?

winlwin3 months ago
xchcui3 months ago

I have been plating several copper objects with your nickel plating method during this year and them all came out great.The nickel adhere very very strong to the copper objects.

But when i tried to plate objects(-nickel object)with copper acetate,i found out that the copper didn't adhered well to the objects.The copper plating was easily removed by finger nail or light dent oppose to the nickel plated object(which you need to sand it in order to remove the nickel and it is good sign).

I did every thing you described:low voltage,1"< distance between electrodes,agitating the object,cleanning etc...

But the copper was,each attempt,easily removed.

By the way,i used a bunch of electric copper wires for making the solution,since i didn't find pure copper scrub.The solution turn pure blue,so i don't know if this could be the reason.

I would like to plate other metal objects(besides copper objects)with nickel,but i need to plate them with copper first(as you mentioned).

But since the copper plating does not adhere good to the object,i believe that the additional layer of nickel plating(which adhere to the copper layer that has,already, weak adhesion to the metal beneath)will also be removed easily and i will miss the advantage of strong adhesion.

What can be the problem?where could i be wrong?

You can actually plate with certain alloys, the first excellent example of this is brass plating, brass being an alloy of copper and zinc, this is often used on electric light fixtures and some decorative plumbing fixtures. brass plating can be done in a single pass using the proper chemistry and technique.

On another note Vinegar or Acetic Acid is commonly used as a slow, careful rust removal etchant in restoration and conservation work.

Hydrochloric Acid diluted is used the same way and the used fluid gradually turns a distinct yellow color from the dissolved Ferric (III) Chloride when Hydrochloric acid rest removal fluid is "Spent" the fluid should be retained because the solution of Ferric (III) Chloride is an excellent etchant for Nickel and copper. it is commonly used for raising the date on Cupro-Nickel coins

TomC54 months ago

Made a copper ii citrate solution and now can copper plate everything, awesome idea

johngomm made it!7 months ago

6 Volts is pretty aggressive for plating copper and will produce a thick, crumbly coat that comes off easily. 1.5V will do a slow, even plate, or if you are impatient, 3V works well. i have a double AA battery holder that I use with good results.

Here's a picture of one I made using sharpie to stop it plating in some places. I even over-plated the skull with zinc and heated it to make brass, then finished with fine steel wool to bring it up to a shine.

IMG_20140716_154804_085~01.jpg

plz tell me how did u done zinc plating :P i want that brass look it looks awesome :P

Well, thanks. The zinc is plated very similarly. I use a zinc chloride solution (1 gram in 100ml water) and a strip of zinc the positive electrode. 3v is a nice voltage, but if you plate too thick, it won't go yellow when you heat it. Good luck.
A_Steingrube (author)  johngomm7 months ago
I appreciate the comment, but I do make mention of why I chose to use the 6V battery and that lower voltages are preferable in various places of the instructable and in the last "step". I have not run into any flaking issues using the 6V provided I never put the electrodes closer than an inch from one another. The further the electrodes are from one another, the greater the resistance between them, and as such the lower the current. It is the low current that leads to preferable results. The 6V battery will give you just as stellar results as lower voltages if used correctly.

Congrats on your results. They look great :)
saynathan5 months ago

Thanks so much--what about bronze? Can a coat a small bronze item with copper using this method? Thanks!

AhmadT15 months ago

Thanks for the great instruction!

I would like to ask, well that solution work for electroless copper plating?

If not, do you know a method to prepare a solution?

haytham.white6 months ago

I have some copper sulphate mordant, could I just use that to make the electrolyte?

trainermb6 months ago

My first try at making the electrolyte was a mess thanks to my ....ah....thriftiness. Dollar store "copper" scrubbing pads may not be copper. I'm now the proud owner of a gallon of rusty vinegar. Ah, well, now I know to test with a magnet first.

satorarepo6 months ago

Hi Steingrube, thanks for your post. honestly I cant believe I didnt pay attention in chemistry class. I suppose I looked too close at the sender of the information instead at the matter at hand. Now all I do is marvel. Anyway we all grow up, sooner or later. I need to copper plate acrylic surfaces. I thought to use conducting paint and then using your method. Is there any merit in thinking this direction? Cheers from Germany

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