Electroplating Definition and Uses

What Is Electroplating or Plating?

White gold is electroplated with a harder metal, usually rhodium.
White gold is electroplated with a harder metal, usually rhodium. rustycloud, Getty Images

Electroplating Definition

Electroplating is a process where a coating of metal is added to a conductor using electricity via a reduction reaction. Electroplating is also known simply as "plating" or as electrodeposition.

When a current is applied to the conductor to be coated, metal ions in solution are reduced onto the electrode to form a thin layer.

Brief History of Electroplating

Italian chemist Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli is credited as the inventor of modern electrochemistry in 1805.

Brugnatelli used the voltaic pile invented by Alessandro Volta to perform the first electrodeposition. However, Brugnatelli's work was suppressed. Russian and British scientists independently invented deposition methods that came into use by 1839 to copper plate printing press plates. In 1840, George and Henry Elklington were awarded patents for electroplating. Englishman John Wright discovered potassium cyanide could be used as an electrolyte to electroplate gold and silver. By the 1850s, commercial processes for electroplating brass, nickel, zinc, and tin were developed. The first modern electroplating plant to start production was the Norddeutsche Affinerie in Hamburg in 1867.

Uses of Electroplating

Electroplating is used to coat a metal object with a layer of a different metal. The plated metal offers some benefit that the original metal lacks, such as corrosion resistance or desirable color.

Electroplating is used in jewelrymaking to coat base metals with precious metals to make them more attractive and valuable and sometimes more durable. Chromium plating is done on vehicle wheel rims, gas burners, and bath fixtures to confer corrosion resistance, enhancing the life expectancy of the parts.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Electroplating Definition and Uses." ThoughtCo, Dec. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/definition-of-electroplating-605077. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, December 9). Electroplating Definition and Uses. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-electroplating-605077 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Electroplating Definition and Uses." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-electroplating-605077 (accessed March 24, 2018).