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    Home / Science projects / Electroplating: Copper-Plated Key
    • Electroplating: Copper-Plated Key

      Electroplating: Copper-Plated Key

      Electroplating uses a form of electrolysis in which the electrodes play a bigger role than just conducting the current. Using electricity, you can coat the metal of one electrode with the metal of the other!  Jewelry and silverware can be silver- or gold-plated, while zinc is often used to coat iron to protect against rust. Professional electroplating requires specialized chemicals and equipment to make a high-quality coat, but in this project you can try your hand at a simple procedure that will transfer copper to a brass key. (Adult supervision and chemical safety equipment required.)

      Watch us use electricity to copper-plate a brass key in this Home Science Tools video. See this project in action!

      What You Need:

      What You Do:

      1. Prepare the key for copper-plating by cleaning it with toothpaste or soap and water. Dry it off on a paper towel.
      2. Stir copper sulfate into some hot water in a beaker until no more will dissolve. Your solution should be dark blue. Let it cool.
      3. Use one alligator clip to attach the copper electrode to the positive terminal of the battery (this is now the anode) and the other to attach the key to the negative terminal (now called the cathode).
      4. Partially suspend the key in the solution by wrapping the wire lead loosely around a pencil and placing the pencil across the mouth of the beaker. The alligator clip should not touch the solution.
      5. Place the copper strip into the solution, making sure it doesn't touch the key and the solution level is below the alligator clip. An electrical circuit has now formed and current is flowing.
      6. Leave the circuit running for 20-30 minutes, or until you are happy with the amount of copper on the key.

      What Happened:

      The copper sulfate solution is an electrolyte that conducts electricity from one electrode to the other. When the current is flowing, oxidation (loss of electrons) happens at the copper anode, adding copper ions to the solution. Those ions travel on the electric current to the cathode, where reduction (gain of electrons) happens, plating the copper ions onto the key. There were already copper ions present in the copper sulfate solution before you started, but the oxidation reaction at the anode kept replacing them in the solution as they were plated onto the key, keeping the reaction going.

      This project has many variables, including the cleanness and smoothness of the key, the strength of the copper sulfate solution, and the strength of the current. If a black soot-like substance starts forming on the key, your solution is not strong enough for the current. Take the electrodes out and add more copper sulfate. When you put them back in, make sure the anode and cathode are as far apart as possible.

      There are lots of projects you can do with electroplating! One fun idea is to use a flat piece of brass as your cathode and draw a design on it with an oil-based marker. The copper will not bond where the marker is. After you're done plating it, you can use acetone (or nail-polish remover) to wipe off the marker, leaving a design of the brass showing through the copper. You can use a little metal polish to make the copper shiny, if you want.

      You may want to try this simple copper-plating experiment that doesn't use electrolysis and requires only household materials.

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    By: srikanth
    Date: Feb 08, 2016

    why the theoretical values are not equal to the practical values about efficiency in copper plating??
    reply as soon as ppossible

    By: Bharath
    Date: Sep 11, 2015

    Very good explanation! Easily understandable.

    By: saisrinivas
    Date: Feb 02, 2015

    it is better to use when science fair academy

    By: Abhiluv
    Date: Jan 11, 2015

    It is a nice experiment and it is the simplest and safest way to conduct it at home

    By: ramkumar
    Date: Jan 06, 2015

    not bad! good

    By: varshini
    Date: Dec 17, 2014

    it us nice experiment i used for inspire award and i got 1st place thank u so much

    By: vinayak
    Date: Dec 10, 2014

    What concentration of copper sulphate and water should be used

    By: Shannon
    Date: Oct 01, 2014

    Hi, I was wondering what concentration of copper sulphate solution you used? Thanks! c:

    By: sibasish sain
    Date: Sep 17, 2014

    Electroplating is so awesome! This websites is very useful for those students who are participating in the Science Fir based on the topic of Electroplating. I want the hell of the video.

    By: Normand Daoust
    Date: Jun 01, 2014

    To Whom it may concern,

    I do look since a while for being able to get formation about electroplating ...

    Would you know who and where I can get such course or formation and it would be more practical for me having internet course if possible.

    Please let me know anyway.

    Have my best regards.