It sounds nuts – can you really reverse the corrosion process? Yep, you bet.
Fighting corrosion is a never-ending battle for all boaters, especially those in saltier waters. In fact, we’ve talked before about how to stop corrosion problems and clean rust off of your boat. But the corrosion process can actually be forced into an about-face, with electrolysis.
Here’s the deal: corrosion is an electrochemical process called oxidation. During oxidation, the metal loses electrons, which combine with oxygen molecules to create ferrous oxide—that crusty red stuff called rust. If your boat is kept in the water and stray electrical currents are present, the process gets speeded up. (And, could even spook fish; check out this article on how a boat’s stray current can ruin your fishing). Luckily, electrochemical processes work in both directions.
Here’s how you reverse it, after a piece of metal has become corroded:
1. Set up an electrolyte bath in a non-conductive tub by filling it with water, and adding one tablespoon of electrolyte (washing soda works well) per gallon of water. Give it several minutes to dissolve, stirring as necessary.
2. Prepare your “cathode” (the piece of metal you want to un-rust) by scraping a small section of the metal clean. You’ll need enough shiny metal showing to provide a clean attachment point for a low-amperage (one or two amp) 12-volt battery charger’s alligator clip. Once it’s ready, attach the battery charger’s NEGATIVE terminal alligator clip to the clean area.
3. Next, attach the POSITIVE terminal to a “sacrificial anode” (a piece of metal that will attract the rust, and become ruined). A piece of rebar works well.
4. Submerge the cathode, and place the anode in the water with the end and the alligator clip sticking out. (Otherwise, you’ll ruin the alligator clip along with the anode).
5. Ensure good ventilation, because this process gives off hydrogen gas. Now, you’re ready to plug that charger in and get the electrolytic ball rolling.
So, does it really work? Just check out this photo of a pair of pliers I salvaged with electrolysis. As you can see, after 12 hours there was a significant improvement. And after 24 hours, the pliers were nearly 100-percent rust free. I’m still using them, today!
WARNING: any time you mix water and electricity, obviously, there’s an element of danger. Never touch the water with the battery charger plugged in, and don’t use stainless-steel for your anode because it contains chromium, which is poisonous and can taint the water in your electrolysis bath or be released into the air during electrolysis. Be careful, and try electrolysis at your own risk!