Introduction: Make Ferric Chloride (for Etching Printed Circuit Boards)

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We make ferric chloride, a well-known etchant for printed circuit boards.

Get 20g of iron. This can be in the form of nails or steel wool. It's best to use iron that's rusting, that indicates it doesn't have other metals like zinc or chromium that's normally used to prevent rust. To the iron add 100mL of water and 100mL of 12M hydrochloric acid. The iron will start reacting with the acid to produce hydrogen gas and ferrous chloride. If the reaction is proceeding too slowly for your liking you can heat up the mixture. A flask of cold water on top is useful to reduce evaporative losses.

Once the ferrous chloride solution is made it needs to be oxidized to ferric chloride. The fast way of doing this is to add 200mL of 3% hydrogen peroxide. Do this slowly with lots of stirring as the solution will heat up a lot. If it gets too hot to hold (about 60 celsius) stop and let it cool before adding the rest of the peroxide. If you don't want to use peroxide the slow and cheap way of oxidizing it is to bubble in air using an aquarium pump. It can take several days but it has the added advantage of keeping the solution concentrated.

After oxidation you'll have a solution of ferric chloride ready for use.