Electrolysis: An Alternative For Removing Rust From Firearm Parts

Rust is the enemy of just about anything that's made of metal and that applies to many parts of your firearm. However, getting rid of surface rust often proves to be a tedious, time-consuming process that also takes plenty of elbow grease to complete.

Electrolysis offers a compelling alternative to other rust removal methods. The following offers an in-depth look at how it works and what you'll need to get the job done, as well as its benefits and drawbacks.

How the Process Works

Electrolysis is a process where electric current is passed through a conductive liquid (usually an alkaline solution) to create a chemical reaction capable of decomposing ionic substances. The chemical reaction created through electrolysis loosens and dissolves the rust, leaving behind a clean and rust-free surface. Unlike acids or other methods of rust removal, electrolysis does not disturb the underlying metal, making it idea for cleaning many types of metal gun components.

What You'll Need

There are several things you'll need for this process. For starters, you'll need a clean plastic container to hold the electrolyte. As for the electrolyte, you can create your solution by adding a tablespoon of sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda) for each gallon of water used. You'll also need a convenient source of direct current (DC) electricity. A battery charger offers the perfect solution, in most cases.

You'll also need a steel rod that will act as the anode. Make sure the rod isn't made from stainless steel, as this can leave behind harmful byproducts. Last, but not least, you'll need an electrically conductive cable or wire to attach your gun parts to as they submerge in the bath.

Removing Rust with Electrolysis

Once you've created your electrolyte and placed the steel rod into the container, you'll need to connect the positive lead from the battery charger to the rod and the negative lead to the wire suspending the parts you wish to remove rust from. Afterwards, plug in the battery charger and turn it on.

The amount of time needed for the electrolysis process to remove rust depends largely on the size of your parts. It may take several hours for the electrolysis process to thoroughly remove rust from large metal parts.

Afterwards, your gun parts should be immediately cleaned, dried and coated with gun oil to prevent rust from taking hold once more.


  • Electrolysis is one of the least destructive ways of removing oxidation from metal surfaces. Unlike grinders, wire wheels, sandpaper or acids, electrolysis does not remove the base metal – only the oxidation that's formed on the metal. This also leaves the patina on your components intact, which proves beneficial for if you're a collector who is interested in gunsmithing and who enjoys the authentic appearance of your firearm.
  • Electrolysis is also capable of removing rust from the various nooks and crannies of your components, often places where normal rust removal tools have little to no hope of reaching.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Electrolysis isn't suitable for removing corrosion on non-ferrous metals such as brass, copper or aluminum.
  • Removing rust via electrolysis could lead to hydrogen embrittlement in parts measuring over 40 on the Rockwell hardness scale. To prevent this, bake the cleaned gun parts at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours.

Safety First

Safety should always be your first and foremost concern throughout the entire electrolysis process. For starters, you should always wear rubber gloves and eye protection when handling electrolyte, as the alkaline solution can cause irritation. The process should also be performed either outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.

You should also be aware of the potential shock hazard that's present throughout the electrolysis process. You can minimize your risk of shock by unplugging the battery charger whenever you need to attach or detach the leads.