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What is Electroplating?

By Bryan Pedersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anyone who has purchased inexpensive jewelry with a fine coating of precious metal has witnessed the end result of electroplating. It's an electrochemical reaction used to put a fine metallic coating on an object. Aside from making jewelry, this process has important uses in the automotive industry for chrome plating, and in the electronics industry for optics and sensors.

The process of electroplating (also referred to as electrodeposition) is fairly simple. To start, a negative charge is placed on the object that will be coated. The object is then immersed in a salt solution of the metal that will be used to plate the object. From there, it's simply a matter of attraction; the metallic ions of the salt are positively charged and are attracted to the negatively charged object. Once they connect, the positively charged ions revert back to their metallic form again, resulting in a newly electroplated object.

Controlling the thickness of the plating is generally achieved by altering the time the object spends in the salt solution. The longer it remains inside the bath, the thicker the shell becomes. Of course, there must also be an adequate amount of metallic ions in the bath to continue coating the object. The shape of the object will also have an effect on the thickness, and sharp corners will be plated thicker than recessed areas. This is due to the electric current in the bath and how it flows more densely around corners.

Before electroplating an object, it must be cleaned thoroughly and all blemishes and scratches should be polished. As mentioned, recessed areas will plate less than sharp corners, so a scratch will become more prominent rather than being smoothed over by the plated material.

The process was developed at the beginning of the 20th century and continues to evolve today. Many common objects such as tin cans are actually electroplated steel with a protective layer of tin. Medical science has experimented with the technique as well to create synthetic joints with plated coatings, and new advances in electronics have been made with electroplated materials.

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Discussion Comments
By anon334201 — On May 10, 2013

What is the difference between electroplated acrylic and anodized acrylic? What will the effect be for these two processes?

By anon319082 — On Feb 11, 2013

@anon20370; Plating in general serves people in our daily lives. Every day, you might be touching, using or even riding a device or machine that has some of its parts that are plated.

The current level of the so called "high tech world" will not be reachable without plating applications. The downside of plating is the huge amount of generated wastes which are very expensive to treat (waste water and used chemical treatment). Plating itself is expensive at the industrial level.

By anon164937 — On Apr 03, 2011

is this process cheap or expensive?

By anon113901 — On Sep 26, 2010

this article helped with my science project!

By anon78751 — On Apr 19, 2010

my question is I have electroplated magnetic jewelry and the black electroplating rubs off after prolonged rubbing between the magnets. What can I do to overcome this problem?

By anon62951 — On Jan 29, 2010

@anon20370: The benefits of the process are the wear and corrosion resistance achieved. In addition to that, electroplating has great decorative properties from bright shining nickel and chrome to gold, brass, copper and more.

Negative aspects include the hazardous chemicals and materials involved in the process. This, however, can be curbed with the proper waste treatment systems. Hope that helps.

By anon58229 — On Dec 31, 2009

Can you please explain the process of the plating sequence, and the purpose of passivation and what is the exact chemical reaction that takes place in each plating sequence.

By anon38262 — On Jul 24, 2009

Can you please explain the process of the plating sequence, and the purpose of passivation and what is the exact chemical reaction that takes place in plating and passivation?

By anon20370 — On Oct 29, 2008

what are the good and bad points of this process?

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