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Removing Rust with Electrolysis
For my system, I am using a 55 gallon plastic drum. You can use a simple battery charger to power it, as long as it isn't a "smart charger" which has to detect a battery in order to operate. You can even use a DC welder set to lower setting. I am using a 10amp battery charger & it works great.
As you can see, I made my 4 anodes from concrete reinforcement rod (re-rod). The action works by "line of sight", so you want as many anodes as possible. You could even use steel sheet metal for the anode, shaping it to fit the container's wall.
You want the anodes to reach the bottom of the container all the way to the top. I welded my anodes together, but you can have them individually, but then you have to run good wire connections to each anode.
You DO NOT want to use stainless steel for the sacrificial anode!! It produces dangerous fumes, plus the water will have chromium deposits in it, and disposing of the liquid is illegal....DANGEROUS STUFF!
Once you have your container with anodes, it's time to mix the liquid. It is simply plain water with Arm & Hammer LAUNDRY Soda, also labeled "washing soda", which you can find at grocery & department stores. You can also use feed grade "bicarbonate of soda" (feed buffer), which is what I use, as I have that in bulk for our cattle feed.
You mix 1/2 cup of the soda powder to each 5 gallons of water.
The positive wire from the power source connects to the anodes, with the negative connecting to the part being cleaned. Once the parts are hanging or sitting correctly, you may put the power to the system. Reversing the polarity will sacrifice your part, so be SURE positive goes to the anodes!
Now that you have your tank ready, it's time to remove some rust. You can use a wood 2x4 or most anything to lay across the barrel to suspend my rusty parts from as long as nothing can short against the anodes. You CANNOT allow hanging parts to touch any anode, or it will short out the system & electrolysis process will come to a screeching halt, plus it could overheat your power source. When I had several small parts to clean, I used a steel tube across the barrel, then suspending each part with steel wire, then simply put the negative clamp from my charger to the tube, which connected all parts together.
Here is my Bush Hog garden tractor frame in my tank. It is sitting on the bottom of barrel & resting against the plastic of the barrel top. With it, I had to do one end of the frame at a time. When one side was finished, I flipped & did the other end.
The inner area of the frame couldn't make "line of sight" very well to all areas, so I added a suspended anode into the center to get a more complete process. Note the extra anode is insulated from making contact with the tractor frame.
Here is what the water looked like after 24hrs:
As you can see, the water is red from the removed paint. You can also see the bubbling action from the process, which the bubbling starts almost immediately upon applying power to the solution. The beauty of electrolysis is that you can leave the part in the tank without fear of harming it, and all the while you can do something else with your time. Once the rust & paint is loosened, the bubbling pretty much stops. Usually 24hrs is as long as it will take.
Once ready, shut off the power, then remove the part & immediately use a putty knife & wire brush to remove the black oxide that WAS the rust. The oxide brushes off easily, along with any remaining paint. Paint peels off best with the putty knife, then follow with the brush. Cleaning up the half of this frame took only about 5 minutes.
If there are any tough spots of rust or paint remaining, simply place part back in the tank for more electrolysis until completed.
As soon as part is completely stripped & cleaned up, dry the part as fast as possible & coat with primer. The part will "flash rust" almost immediately after stripping & cleaning when exposed to air.
The solution will last indefinitely. But if lots of trash builds in bottom of barrel, the solution can simply be poured onto your yard, leaving the sludge in the barrel, of which the sludge can be removed & placed in a container & taken to any place that will take unwanted paint & other chemicals. The solution itself is safe for the yard (increases soil acidity) as long as stainless steel was not used. The solution is not dangerous to the skin, but I recommend using latex gloves or similar just the same.
Cautionary Statement: BE SURE to operate this system in open air environment, as the process produces flammable hydrogen gas. Do not breathe any fumes coming off the system. DO NOT use stainless steel for the anodes.
Shut off power before touching parts or immersing hands in solution.
Place POSITIVE to anode, NEGATIVE to part being cleaned.
Dispose of any residuals properly
Electrolysis has proven itself to myself & countless others as a very worthwhile method of restoring lawn tractors, garden tractors, parts, just about any metal part needing rust, scale, & paint removed. My brother in law has removed lots of rust from parts of his John Deere "A" after I showed him how to build an electrolysis tank. So far, everyone that I know who has built an electrolysis system has been amazed at how well & easy it is to use.
- kwj427, Sparky, metalwiz and 17 others have said thanks