Thursday, July 17, 2008


No! Not the kind Borat might use. I'm talking about using electrolysis for cleaning cast iron. : In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of separating chemically bonded elements and compounds by passing an electric current through them.

This is an exceptional way to restore some mistreated cast iron. It is also easy to do and inexpensive as long as you already own a battery charger.

This is the setup in my garage.
  • plastic tub
  • plastic dishrack
  • old steel grill (any conductive metal)
  • battery charger
  • Sodium Carbonate (the soap)
  • car battery cable cut in half
  • water

The way this works is you connect the positive clamp to the junk piece of metal you are using for the anode. I use the grill for this.

The negative line is connected to the item you want to clean which is the cathode.

You need to keep the anode and cathode separated and the dishrack works perfectly for this.

As the current flows all the rust, grease, carbon and crud comes off the cathode (skillet) and attaches itself to the anode (grill).

I set my battery charger to the 6 amp setting and it usually takes 8-10 hours. I add 2 or 3 handfuls of the A&H Washing Soda to the water and stir it up before adding the rest of the items to the tub.

I use the car battery cable so that I don't have to crud up my battery charger clamps.

This is very easy to do. No scrubbing or abrasion is needed. The only byproducts are hydrogen gas (vent well) and some iron rich water that I dump on my lawn. I have to assume there is a risk of electric shock but I haven't stuck my finger in the water to find out. Keep kids, pets and idiots away from this and you should be fine. If you are an idiot (ask your friends) don't try this.

If you hurt yourself it is your own damn fault so don't try to blame me.

Once the piece is cleaned you will need to begin seasoning it ASAP to avoid rust. See my article on seasoning here > Seasoning

The water solution lasts for a long time no matter how crappy looking it gets. If you are doing multiple pieces you will need to scrape off the anode now and then. The amount of crud that builds up on it depends on how disgusting the cathode was.

See part 2 HERE where I souped this puppy up.


Anonymous said...

Hi - thanks for your very helpful advice. I had a cast iron pan that my dear husband left some turkey meat in for over 10 days - the smell was horrible. I tried baking soda, vinegar - nothing was working to remove the smell. We decided to put it in our wood stove - and we allowed it to get red hot. This method worked to remove the terrible smell. It of course, completely removed the seasoning, but saved the pan. Thanks for your great blog!

Greg said...

Anon - Thanks for reading the blog!

Samuel said...

I have a Griswold Dutch oven that is plated (nickel or chrome, I do not know), and I was wondering if it is alright to put it in an electrolysis tank. Also, do you know how I would find out what exactly it is plated with?
Thanks, love your blog.

Greg said...

Hi Samuel,

I put a nickel plated Griswold skillet in my electro tank and it came out spotless and the coating was not harmed at all.

It is my only nickel piece so I don't have a lot of experience cleaning nickle but I'd try it again.

According to my books both nickel and chrome were used on the Dutch Ovens.

According to various web links chrome is often applied over nickel plating. Just looking at the coating probably won't help as nickel can be polished to be just as mirror like as chrome (just look at old nickel plated guns).

The part numbers like 2605 did not vary based on the coating.

Thanks for reading the blog!

Oval said...

"If you are an idiot (ask your friends)..."

Genius! I wasn't sure if I was an idiot, now I know how to find out.

Tim Redmond said...

Does that Sears Battery Charger work? I was under the impression that automatic battery chargers would never work for electrolysis because they would automatically shut off in a circuit like this, and that it was only manual battery chargers that would work for electrolysis. I actually found the exact same charger you have pictured, but I am hesitant to buy it for this reason. Is the actual charger in your photograph the one that you use? It doesn't shut itself off?