How Electropolishing Stainless Steel Prolongs Its Life

It sounds like something your parents would say: “If you clean and polish something, it will last longer.” The very notion seems contrary to logic—after all, polishing usually involves stripping away material from an object, so one would think it would reduce its life expectancy. As it turns out, the opposite is true when it comes to electropolishing stainless steel. The process has many benefits and tends to be used on a variety of products to prolong their lives and make them more effective.

How Electropolishing Works

Electropolishing is basically the opposite of electroplating. A stainless steel piece gets immersed in electrolytes and a current is run through it. The surface of the piece becomes oxidized and dissolves into the electrolyte, often an acid. Since higher parts of the surface dissolve first, there is a leveling effect that takes place, leaving the remaining surface smooth and uniform. While the process does strip away material from the piece, it is done on a microscopic level, so it does not degrade the material or shorten its life span.

Benefits of Electropolishing

The basic purpose of electropolishing is to smooth, clean and brighten a surface. There are ancillary benefits to this. A clean and bright surface is more reflective, which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but can also reduce sun damage and oxidation. A smooth surface offers more natural corrosion resistance and less friction, both of which extend the life of a piece. Electropolishing stainless steel has the benefit of deburring the material as well. A surface that is smooth and free from uneven points experiences less stress and lasts longer.

Stainless Steel Products That Can Benefit From Electropolishing

Some of the most common types of products to go through electropolishing are stainless steel surgical instruments. Because electropolishing does not mechanically deform the surface layers of a metal, it is commonly used to prepare thin metal samples that are to be used in electron microscopy. Ultra high vacuum components benefit from electropolishing because the smooth surface allows for improved vacuum pressures, better pumping speed and improved outgassing rates. Electropolishing stainless steel washing machine drums is another common practice.

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Author: Myrtice Lovett

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