How to Calculate the Rate of Metal Corrosion

close up image of corroded metal parts

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When most metals come into contact with certain substances in the air or water, they undergo a chemical change that decreases the integrity of the metal. This process is called corrosion. Oxygen, sulfur, salt, and other materials can all lead to various types of corrosion. 

When a metal corrodes or deteriorates, it cannot hold the same loads as it did before corrosion began. At a certain point, corrosion can lead to dangerous conditions. The metals used in bridges, railroad tracks, and buildings are all subject to corrosion. Because of this, it is important to monitor and manage corrosion to avoid structural collapse.

The Rate of Corrosion

The rate of corrosion is the speed at which any given metal deteriorates in a specific environment. The rate, or speed, is dependent upon environmental conditions as well as the type and condition of the metal.

Corrosion rates in the U.S. are normally calculated using mils per year. In other words, the corrosion rate is based on the number of millimeters (thousandths of an inch) penetrated each year.

In order to calculate the rate of corrosion, the following information must be collected:

  • Weight loss (the decrease in metal weight during the reference time period)
  • Density (density of the metal)
  • Area (total initial surface area of the metal piece)
  • Time (the length of the reference time period)

Online Resources for Calculating Corrosion Rates provides an online metal corrosion rate calculator for computing corrosion rates. Simply input the details and click "Calculate" to calculate corrosion rates in millimeters, inches, microns/millimeters per year, or inches per minute.

Converting Corrosion Rates

To convert the corrosion rate between the mils per year (MPY) and the metric equivalent millimeter per year (MM/Y), you can use the following equation to convert mils per year to micrometers per year (MicroM/Y):

1 MPY = 0.0254 MM / Y = 25.4 MicroM / Y

To calculate the corrosion rate from metal loss, use:

MM / Y = 87.6 x (W / DAT)


W = weight loss in milligrams
D = metal density in g /cm3
A = area of the sample in cm2
T = time of exposure of the metal sample in hours

Why Corrosion Rates Matter

Corrosion rates determine the lifespan of metal-based structures. This variable dictates the choice of metals used for different purposes, and in different environments.

The rate of corrosion also determines the maintenance requirements for structures. A metal structure in a wet environment (e.g., a metal bridge in Florida) may require more frequent maintenance than a similar structure in a drier location (e.g., a metal bridge in New Mexico). Maintenance schedules are developed based on the types of calculations described above.

Corrosion Engineering

Corrosion engineering is a relatively new profession dedicated to slowing, reversing, preventing and avoiding the impact of corrosion on materials and structure. Corrosion engineers are responsible for developing coatings and treatments that can be used on metals to improve the metals' resistance to corrosion.

Engineers are also involved with the development of materials that are less vulnerable to corrosion. New non-corroding ceramics, for example, can sometimes be substituted for metals. In situations where corrosion is likely to cause hazardous or expensive situations, corrosion engineers can recommend and implement solutions.

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Your Citation
Bell, Terence. "How to Calculate the Rate of Metal Corrosion." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bell, Terence. (2020, August 26). How to Calculate the Rate of Metal Corrosion. Retrieved from Bell, Terence. "How to Calculate the Rate of Metal Corrosion." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).