Do-It-Yourself Electroplating

Updated April 17, 2017

Electroplating uses an electrical current to plate an object with another material. The electrical current reduces the cations (positively charged ions) of a desired material and coats a thin layer of this material on another object. Because an electrical current is used, only objects capable of conducting electricity can be plated using this method. It is usually done to transfer a desirable property possessed by one metal to an object that does not possess it. A practical example is electroplating silverware with nickel to reduce its susceptibility to corrosion.

Gathering Materials

If you intend to electroplate something at home, you will need the standard protective clothing found in at least a high school chemistry lab. This includes protective eyewear, gloves, protective clothing such as a lab coat and even a full-face shield if you're the nervous type. This will protect you from coming into direct contact with the chemicals that can be corrosive and hurt if it they touch your skin. The gloves also prevent electrocution if you come into contact with the electrical source.

You will need to ready the item that you are plating and a piece of the material you want to plate around it. This can be as simple as getting a scrap piece of tin if you want to plate your item with tin. You will also need a source of electricity and electrical leads connected to alligator clips. You'll need a nonconductive container such as a glass jar to hold the electrolytic solution that your items are suspended in. The electrolytic solution will usually be a weak acid-like vinegar mixed with a sodium compound that matches the plating material. This can usually be purchased from any store that supplies chemicals to high school chemistry classes.

The Electroplating Process

The first order of business is to get all your equipment set up. Fill up your nonconductive container with the electrolytic solution -- it doesn't need to be filled to the top, but enough to cover both your items and the metal when they're suspended. Use the alligator clips to connect the item that you want to plate to the negative terminal of the battery and the plating material to the positive terminal. These form the cathode and anode respectively. Submerge both pieces of metal into the electrolytic solution, and turn on the power.

Don't bother watching to see if the electroplating is working because it will take a substantial amount of time. The length of time you will have to wait will depend both on the strength of your battery and the density of your metal. You may find that the plating isn't very uniform as the plating metal is more attracted to outside corners than deep recesses. This can be rectified by using more anodes, but is, on the whole, more expensive.

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About the Author

Wirnani Garner holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and works in the medical profession. Her articles focus on health-related subjects, though Garner is proficient in researching and writing about a diverse range of topics.