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Electolytic Rust Removal
#1
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Keegan Chaput
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My experience with electrolytic rust removal

Firstly, I am not a scientist, nor do I really understand the science of why this works. I understand the basic concept and that is what I was operating on when I first attempted this. I'm just sharing this method of rust removal as another means of restoring and maintaining the steel in our lives.

The biggest thing that drew me to this method is that it's not destructive in any way to the underlying part that you're trying to restore, and most importantly its extremely cheap and easy.

Ok, enough already, how does it work!

1. Get a PLASTIC container that is big enough to contain your part with ample room around the part.

2. Get some scrap STEEL/IRON that will also fit in the container without touching the part to be cleaned.

3. Get out your BATTERY CHARGER.

4. Get some SODIUM CARBONATE. I used Arm & Hammer Laundry powder. I've also read that baking soda will work, but I never tried it.

Ok, I found that it works best to clean the part beforehand. Use a wire brush or whatever to get the loose rust and junk off of the part. Then use some degreaser to clean off grime and grease as best that you can.

<a href="http://s187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... ew?t=RustBefore.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... aput/RustBefore.jpg" border="0" alt="Before"></a>

Now fill your plastic tub with regular water and mix in about 1 ounce of laundry powder per gallon of water. (I don't like measuring things so I just put in a heaping scoop and it worked just fine.) I found that the powder dissolves faster if you use hot water. We're making an electrolyte for the current to pass through.

<a href="http://s187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... w?t=Electrolyte.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... put/Electrolyte.jpg" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a>

Next, submerge your part in the electrolyte and connect the NEGATIVE LEAD from the battery charger to it. Don't worry about the lead if it's submerged, it will be ok. (do I have to remind you that the charger is still unplugged at this time?) Now your piece of scrap steel goes in. I learned that the bigger your scrap steel is, the better. It's best if a part of the scrap steel sticks out of the electrolyte so you can connect your POSITIVE LEAD to it. If the positive lead is in the electrolyte it will be damaged eventually.

<a href="http://s187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... on=view?t=Anode.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... ganchaput/Anode.jpg" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a>
I welded these scrap pieces together to surround the part.
<a href="http://s187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... iew?t=Connected.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... haput/Connected.jpg" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a>

Now, after you're sure the two pieces aren't touching each other, set the charger to it's lowest setting and plug it in.

You should see tiny bubbles start to form on the piece to be cleaned. It's worth noting that the tiny bubbles are water molecules breaking into their basic components. Oxygen (harmless) and Hydrogen (not as harmless). Regardless, don't do this in a tiny closet or small enclosed space. In the worst case scenario, you could have a buildup of explosive gasses. In a garage or similar space, I see no danger in this process and feel it is perfectly safe. But having said that, I take no responsibility for anyone's bonehead moves. Do your own research and decide if you want to try this.

This process is pretty slow; you may have to leave the part for a couple of days. I took the part out and cleaned it off every 12 hours or so, but I don't know if it helped at all. At least I felt involved.

<a href="http://s187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... on=view?t=after.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i187.photobucket.com/albums/x2 ... ganchaput/after.jpg" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a>

When you take it out you'll find most of the rust has turned black. You can clean that black stuff off pretty easily with a scrub brush and some detergent. The longer you leave the piece in the bath, the easier it seems to clean-up. You can leave it in the electrolyte for as long as you want as long as the current is still flowing. It won't damage the good steel on the part and the current will prevent any further corrosion.

Once out of the electrolyte you'll have to act pretty fast because the part is going to want to flash rust pretty quickly (within minutes depending on the relative humidity). I cleaned it off with some water and a brush and then immediately sprayed it with some WD-40.

You can continue to use your electrolyte forever, but it will get pretty nasty with rust and crud. It's just water, laundry soap and some rust so it's safe to pour out anywhere. No nasty chemicals or solvents to worry about.

That's all there is to it.

Here are some links that I read before attempting this. They have a better grasp on the science than I do, and can also shed some additional light on safety procedures and tips on more successful results.

http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/andyspatch/rust.htm
http://www.stovebolt.com/techtips/rust/electrolytic_derusting.htm
http://www3.telus.net/public/aschoepp/electrolyticrust.html


Good Luck!

Posted on: 2008/2/29 15:42
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#2
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PackardV8
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Many thanx for the tip. It does somehow beg the question:
What happens if u leave the part in the process for an indefinate period of time????? Will the process eventually disintegrate the part???

Posted on: 2008/2/29 22:04
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#3
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PackardV8
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I'm also wondering if this process can be used to clean water jackets in heads and blocks. What about rust from chrome pieces???

Posted on: 2008/2/29 22:06
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#4
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Keegan Chaput
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From my understanding and what I've read, as long as the current is still flowing you can leave the part in there forever. Your scrap steel will eventually corrode away, but if you use something fairly thick it will take quite a long time.

As far as water jackets goes... it's my understanding that it's most effective as "line of sight" from the part to the anode (scrap steel). That doesn't mean that it wouldn't work, maybe just a really long time.

I've never tried anything that had any plating on it. I would be careful with chrome or anything that is plated. Personally, I'd try something that I didn't care about first and then decide to try my unreplaceable part. Maybe someone who understands the science of electrolysis and plating can chime in. I'm just a cave man mimicking the movements of more evolved beings.

Posted on: 2008/2/29 22:54
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#5
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Thomas Wilcox
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The line of sight thing is not really accurate. If the part being 'de-rusted' is evenly charged and the electrolyte is fresh, it shouldn't matter. The problem is refreshing the electrolyte around uneven parts. If you circulate the electrolyte around/through the part you should be able to use this technique on any part. For straight bits this is unnecessary as the electrolytic bubbling will set up a pattern of circulation around the part.

NOTE: If you set up a circulation system, DO NOT USE a pump with a GROUNDED METAL HOUSING. Stray current through the ground wire can set up a fearsome electrolytic environment that will result in total destruction of the pump.

Cheers,

Tom

Posted on: 2008/3/1 11:11
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Thomas Wilcox
34 Roadster, [url=http://packardinfo.com/xoops/html/modules/r
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#6
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BH
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Keegan -

Thanks for illustrating a very interesting process. I wish you had also included a pic of the part fresh out of the tank, before you brushed it clean and wiped it down with WD40.

I've heard of using molasses to passively derust small parts, but the process you've described might be similar to what the RediStrip franchises use to remove rust without damaging the remaining good steel. Best of all the "chemcials" are readily available and seem to be environmentally-friendly.

I'm thinking this process could be adopted to clean the rust out of old fuel tanks, prior to sealing them - if I can find a sealant that modern fuel blends won't attack. (Looks like it may be quite some time before I find someone making an authentic repro of the original fuel tank that suits me.)

Posted on: 2008/3/1 16:40
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#7
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Keegan Chaput
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Quote:

BH wrote:
Keegan -

Thanks for illustrating a very interesting process. I wish you had also included a pic of the part fresh out of the tank, before you brushed it clean and wiped it down with WD40....I'm thinking this process could be adopted to clean the rust out of old fuel tanks, prior to sealing them


BH- I'll try to show some pics of the next part that I do. As far as the fuel tank is concerned, I've seen some pics online of people filling the tank with the electrolyte and suspending the steel anode in the tank. My guess is that would work just fine as long as you were quick to empty, clean, and seal the tank right after you were done. The cleaning would be the tough part as the electrolyte is quite nasty by the end of the process.

Posted on: 2008/3/3 12:27
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#8
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Tom (Packin31)
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Watch what you wipe down with WD40 especially if you plan on painting it. I learned the hard way.. You are better of coating it with expoy primer right away

Posted on: 2008/3/3 13:40
Tom
1931 833 468 Coupe
Packard Registry|1931 Project Blog
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#9
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BigKev
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The only problem I can see with trying this with old fuel tanks is that the Electolytic process probably wouldn't disolve any of the varnished fuel.

I would think that a bath in solution of diluted Muriatic Acid, and then following up with the Electolytic process might yield some good results in an old tank.

(and greetings from chilly Boston..brrrrrr)

Posted on: 2008/3/3 22:55
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Re: Electolytic Rust Removal
#10
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Keegan Chaput
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Quote:

Tom (Packin31) wrote:
Watch what you wipe down with WD40 especially if you plan on painting it. I learned the hard way.. You are better of coating it with expoy primer right away


I've felt that pain as well! I like the WD-40 for when I'm doing a piece that's too big for my bath. I spray the freshly cleaned portion that's forced to stick out while the second half is being cleaned. After it's all said and done I do a acetone wipe down right before primer.

Posted on: 2008/3/5 23:18
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