Electrolysis for the Homestead

Brother Harold weighs in with tips on how to remove unwanted corrosion, as opposed to unwanted hair.

One thing Americans need to reinvigorate is the classic axiom of “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without”. Being raised by Boomers, I instead grew up with “Out with the Old, in with the New” – it really hasn’t served me well. As I get older, I’ve come to recognize and appreciate “old quality” – stuff you just can’t buy in the store anymore. Sometimes it’s under an inch of rust, but under there is usually something designed to far outlast it’s original owner. I’m constantly trolling yard sales for rusty “crap”, because I have a secret weapon: Electrolysis. I get “old quality” stuff for pennies when it’s rusted and “unsightly”, take it home, stick it in an electrolysis bath, and it’s almost good as new.

Electrolysis is the process of turning most rusty ferrous metals back into clean unrusty metal. It’s a chemical process that is above my pay grade, but suffice it to say, surface “rust” is a chemical reaction that can actually be reversed. Electrolysis is easy and works well on complex pieces that would be otherwise hard to clean up by hand. It doesn’t work miracles, it won’t fix cracks or pitting, but you might be surprised with the results. I won’t go into the details of the process here – there are just way too many descriptions of the process out on Google that describe it better than I could.


So this is the thermostat housing off my old Chevy truck. It’s a solid chunk of cast iron – heavy, solid. They don’t make them like this anymore. But it’s rusted pretty bad. I could spend a half-hour wire-brushing it, but I’d rather spend my time doing other things (time is short, after all). I could buy a new one…but new ones are made of aluminum – light, crappy. I could spray it with Rustoleum, but…but…I would always KNOW there was rust under there. It’s a psychological thing…

So I just dropped it in my electrolysis tank and walked away for an hour. I pulled it out and gave it a good wash with hot soap and water. Ahhh, much better.


A little Rustoleum Engine Paint and it’s ready to go back in the truck.


This is a great example of restoring a superior-quality part in a time- and money-efficient way. I didn’t toss it just because it was rusty. I fixed it up and forged on. I expect this housing will get pulled and cleaned up again by my grandkids. Now, if I could just figure out how to rip out the friggin’ emissions system…


  1. Can you do a tutorial on how to devise your own electrolysis bath, cost, time, is it worth it? etc. Or give some advice on who may be able to provide this service and what a good rate would be? I’d like to score a deal on a bunch of cast iron goodies, but they are rusty. Thanks!


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