I have two questions that I hope you experienced folks can help me
1. I am interested in purchasing a non-toxic pickle (i. e. citric
acid) for non-ferrous metals. Does anyone know of a source to
purchase this product. What pickles do you use and do you have any
reason to not use such a pickle?
[edit/ message split]
Thanks for your time and input and expertise!
Why do you particularly need a non toxic pickle? I agree that citric
acid, acetic acid (vinegar) or salt for that matter are relatively
non toxic in their pure form. However it becomes a different matter
when it is used for its purpose as a pickle and dissolves away oxides
(largely copper oxide) from the metal you put in it. As a jeweller I
use a range of potentially hazardous substances such as investment
powder, flammable gases, resins, solvents, etchants and of course
pickle which in my case is diluted sulphuric acid because it works
quickly and thoroughly. Others I know use sodium bisulphate (sparex)
but this is a lot more trouble and expense to obtain here. It is
certainly not sold by swimming pool suppliers here because people
overwhelmingly use salt water chlorination in their pools and
therefore adjust pH with hydrochloric acid. Sulphuric acid in the
form of battery acid is easy to obtain from the local automotive
These are some of the hazards along with sharp scalpels, molten wax,
burning torches, spinning buffs on polishing machines, hot investment
flasks and crucibles of molten metal I routinely encounter as a
jeweller so I have to understand the risks and be careful.
If I felt inclined to use citric acid as a pickle I would initially
obtain it from my pantry and replenish the supply at the local
supermarket but I'm not inclined because in the overall scheme of
things I can't see the point in using a less effective pickle to deal
with hazards I have already sufficiently address.
I suppose what I am pe54rhapsl clumsily trying to say is to consider
whether the hazards are real or over stated.
All the best
I bought citric acid online. Google for homemade soap or bath
heck just put citric acid in the search engine. You can buy it in
the home canning section of most grocery stores, but it's pretty
pricey compared to the oneline stuff. You don't need food grade
citric acid for jewelry pickle.
Judy in Kansas, who has been using citric acid pickle for at least a
I buy it for various reasons, and none of them to ingest. I get mine
when I shop at the local health food store.
Aggie Who saw the first of the lovebugs out for this part of the
We use a produc t called Citpic available from Gesswein.
Hi Carol... where do you live?
Here in Ontario, Canada, I buy my citric acid in bulk from the
company, Organic Connections through the Health Store I manage....
I've had great success with my citric acid pickle -- use it for
sterling and copper......even my two mentors who are 30-year veterans
have switched over and seem to like it!
Hi Carol, This is one I just got familiar with myself as I burnt a
pot of pickle in my basement in Dec. I found the crockpot was hot on
New Years Eve and did the dumb thing. I lifted the lid to see how
bad it was. I got a full lungs and nasal passages of vaporized
pickle. I am still recovering, and it doesn't help that my house is
really dry and I am a smoker. But, I looked into the same thing
after that. I am not sure if I found it on Ganoksin or another site
as I was not all there mentally when I found it. Vinegar and table
salt! 1 tbs of salt to 1 cup of vinegar, warm it as you normally do.
I here it works great on silver and I know it works great on brass.
I still have to try it out on copper and nickel though! Hope this
If you want a "non toxic" pickle, try vinegar. Any pickle must be an
acid or it won't work.
1. I am interested in purchasing a non-toxic pickle (i. e. citric
acid) for non-ferrous metals. Does anyone know of a source to
purchase this product.
At Walmart in the department with dishwasher detergent you can buy a
few ounces of Lemishine for around $4. Or you can contact a company
that sells chemicals to facilities that treat waste water and buy a
50# sack of citric acid USP for about $90. That should last a few
All the best.
J Collier Metalsmith
I get my citric acid at National Chemicals Inc.:
Click on the "commercial detergent, sanitizers, disinfectants and
cleaners" link & put "citric acid" in the search box. They offer
convenient 3 lb & 5 lb sizes. Happy pickling!
If you want a really cheap and non toxic pickle for copper, the best
i've found that is non toxic, is plain old ketcup. Best if it is
diluted and warmed. Next time you go to a fast food restaurant say
"yes i would like copper cleaner with my fries". It's the vinegar
and the natural acid in the tomatoes used to make it. Doesn't seem to
work on the other metals, but copper it is great. I spent a lot of
time as a kid cleaning copper with potato peels as well. Maybe i
should try the potato water next time I cook, and see if it works as
Aggie in a silly mood on a rainy night in Florida
while I don't agree with the use of sulfuric acids in everyone's
pickle pot it is because many don't think about the kind of pipes
they have in their plumbing systems- lead pipes (common still, here
in New Orleans) react with the acid when people don't neutralise it
and just throw it down the drain- I don't think many novices consider
all the ramifications of any acid they choose and just go with
whatever is available in a catalogue or with a " teacher's"
recommendation. what is good for one plumbing system is not
necessarily good for the next..
The discussion towards the use of less harmful acid pickles is
purely a product of "greener" trending. The effectiveness of any
solution depends on the temperature of the pickle and the metals used
in it, as well the quantity of flux glass and oxides both on the work
and already dissolved in the bath. Most traditional pickles (Sodium
Bisulfite (pH down sold in pool supply and home improvement stores
for far less than Sparex #2), hydrochloric and sulphuric acids) can
not be used at anywhere near boiling - Citric acid may be used at
higher temperatures than any other pickle and should if using it to
pickle many pieces at onece or in classroom/studio situations in
which thjere is only one pickle pot. It will work faster and more
thouroughly. It should still be neutralised and rinsed fully as
trapped acid of any kind under a stone, or in a lentil, or otherwise
hollow constructed piece will keep working, even after it has dried
on a surface. Glacial Acetic Acid is far stronger than vinegar- and
works far faster. It can be had from pickle works. Painters use it
and if you can't find it on your own locally, ask a friend who paints
professionally where they buy it- it is often quite cheap, rivalling
the 4 or 5 dollars (or less) for granular Sodium Bisulfite from an
"x" mart, on sale at the end of summer. It has none of the fillers
Krohn industries has been adding to it for a few years now leaving
the horrid oily brown slick of goo on the top of a new batch (it
comes from processed waste water treatment Krohn buys from a
Northern city's municipal treatment plant to stretch the sodium
bisulphite- it wasn't always in the formulas!).that must be removed
from the pot with absorbent paper or other towelling. Vinegar can be
concentrated into a more effective pickle - but why go to that
trouble when there are equally cheap alternatives available, and the
fumes from reducing acetic acid can effect some individual's nasal
passages adversely. Great ventilation is a must when reducing acetic
acid to a strength reasonable for use removing oxides and dissolving
flux glass from metals. It is sold at about 4% acid strength (
glacial acetic acid far higher and more effective as sold at about
60 % acid strength).
As for citric acid- I agree with most of what J. Gow has to say-
why? But if you do feel it necessary (for instance- you have children
you allow in your studio) and simply want to use an alternative that
is fairly safe for most plumbing you should be aware that a strong
solution of citric acid (any acid actually) will kill helpful
bacteria in a septic tank and therefore you should always add some
rid-x or other enzymatic bacterial preparation to reinforce the
continued action they have in breaking down wastes that go into one's
septic system should you have that system as opposed to city waste
treatment systems. If you want to use citric acid the cheapest source
is an international grocery store ! I get a 2 lb. bag for $2.45 USD.
It is quite cheap, yes, but you must use it in a fairly high
concentration. Say 8 oz. to a 3 Qt. capacity stoneware crock pot. It
has almost no fumes as acetic acid does, but will harm aquatic life -
as any acid and some fluxes do- if introduced directly or indirectly
into a stream, creek, etc. There are inexpensive alternatives to
vendor supplied pickles, and some alternatives far costlier than
those they are replacing and less effective as well (take " magic
pickle" for example : one is paying for a few ounces of citric acid
in a plastic jug to which you add water at twice the cost of even
sparex !! The total value of the citric acid is maybe 60 cents
wholesale.) what's the point ? Why sacrifice effectiveness and pay
more for a less effective product, when the point of greening one's
studio may be to recycle where possible ((who can't find a free
plastic jug at a local restaurant if you haven't got one on hand?)
and use equally effective but more environmentally conscious
substances? Without a thourough thinking through of the entire closed
system into which you are both introducing and disposing of any
chemical your efforts may be counter productive, or ending up costing
you more than the few pounds of pH down you may use in a year and
cost under ten dollars when purchased locally (at a hardware, home
store or x mart as opposed to a jewellery supply catalogue or on line
from a chemical supply)- One then saves all the petrol used to fuel
the delivery to the manufacturer/ re-packer then to the vendor/
catalogue, then from the shipper to end user to get the brand name
Sparex. Citripic, or Magic Pickle to you -What is the savings to the
environment when you can go to the grocery and buy sour salt (1/2- 1
bottle to a small pickle pot), a pickle works to buy glacial acetic
acid, or the wal-mart to buy pH down- cutting out the middlemen
entirely and getting the same chemical as that contained in each
branded or re-labled product (some vendors i. e.
Gesswein. Grobet etc. buy and relabel product with their own
packaging/ brand). When you have to go through more steps to make
sure you are doing no harm to the environment why would you make more
work to use a less effective solution?
Any acid, whatever the compound will have an effect on the
environment. Unless you neutralise the acid you are potentially
harming your household, studio or neighborhood's quality of life. all
acids can be neutralised with a sodium bicarbonate solution, and
should be before being introduced into a municipal or septic system's
waste treatment facility. the worst thing you can do is to dump or
dig a "well" for a chemical dump in your soil- unless you will
neutralise it with baking soda (sodium bicarb.) or free calcium
(ground eggshells and the carrot pulp/pommace leftover from the
juicing process are great sources of calcium and will decompose into
soil nutrients- think of it like micro-composting. The quantity
needed is substantial particularly if you are burying sulfuric acid,
less so if using acetic or citric acid).Changing the pH of a stream
even temporarily inhibits or eliminates entirely aquatic life for a
time until nature restores the pH to normal for the body of water, or
the soil. A neutral to acid pH prevents conception in most species
(essene knowledge tells that eggwhites will prevent conception in
humans !).In simpler life forms like organisms in soil, and water
acids not only rapidly change the structure of each but if built up
over time will form salts around the margins and have the potential
to change the carrying capacity of soils and water from compromising
and/or eliminating beneficial bacteria and other good life forms that
help maintain the environment to the point it is in good condition
from the start of your disposal of acids. So when you decide you are
doing something positive for your studio, think it through to what is
involved in making a change from one chemical to another, and most
importantly ask yourself" Is this change going to be more or less
effective for the metals I use".When you can answer that you are not
sacrificing the quality of your metal work for a less effective or
more costly and potentially more labour intensive process, then make
the change. As I see it pH down is still the most effective pickle
other than sulfuric acid (I prefer virgin sulfuric acid from a
plumbing supply as opposed to used battery acid, because battery acid
is regulated here, and more costly in the long run than a 6 or 7
dollar bottle of drain opener without any fillers. I have also seen
used battery acid turn the metals black, ruin solder joins from
attacking the zinc in solder, and unusual, unpredictable results I
personally rather not anticipate with acids that I have no way of
knowing their age or state or contaminants that may be in a given
quantity- even if it were free. Also a consideration when using
sulfuric acid in any form is that it can't be stored for long peds
in plastics, even though it may be sold in a plastic jug or bottle
with an overwrap of cellophane, plastic, etc. A few months at most
and you will see the acid begin to leak from a plastic container- so
if you can't use the entire amount in one pot of pickle or you are
producing so much that your pickle becomes saturated /dark blue
quickly, and it won't be stored for a maximum of 6 months then
sulfuric acid may be for you. Realising as well, all the inherent
dangers of having sulfuric acid in one's studio in the first place,
with all the necessary first aid equipment nearby for eye washing,
skin splashes, etc.- it is not a nice chemical. Sparex or pH down is
less dangerous but has very good effectiveness as a pickle. Citric
acid has to be used strong, but is quite cheap. Hydrogen peroxides,
and anhydrous peroxides are also being used as pickle alternatives
(i. e.- "oxyclean" brand or discount store substitutes without
additives or enhancements-You must read the label if attempting to
use dry peroxides as a pickle as many available now have ingredients
that may stain some metals and aren't appropriate at all for ferrous
metals, anodized aluminium, etc) - the single advantage in using
them is that no neutralisation is required as it's not an acid, but
does remove flux glass reasonably well, removing heavily deposited
and cuprous oxides only when at a more-than-warm temperature and a
higher than the label specifies concentration as it's the O2 that is
at work, with hottest water. It is also perhaps the least destructive
to septic systems when diluted before disposing, and shouldn't have
much effect on municipal sewerage systems.
All said, for my purposes I prefer pH down in my pickle pot. it works
very well. It is inexpensive, doesn't contain the fillers nor is a
Krohn industries product as the owner is a rude, paranoid, not
customer friendly jerk in my experience trying to get information
when the brown goo first appeared. He thought I was trying to "steal'
his "formula" when it is clearly written both on the packaging and
available on the product's MSDS !! Mostly though, he was rude- at
best, used unprofessional language, and seemed, at least crazy. When
reminded he was responsible for the chemicals and additives in
Sparex#2 and changing the formula without registering new ingredients
or changing the on MSDS's he decided to(- after a half
hour on the phone listening to his ranting about proprietary
) once I explained I ran a school and used 55 gallon
drums of the product until he changed the formula - reveal the"new"
filler was from processed waste treatment sludge being marketed by a
municipality. Since then the cheaper substitute has remained in my
chemical storage cabinet with the neutraliser right beside it. I
have tried the others, and had long ago stopped using sulphuric and
hydrochloric acids after a student got a nasty corneal "burn" from
dropping a belt buckle into the pickle from shoulder height ! i have
found peroxide most effective on fine silver and 18 or higher karat
golds as long as they are not white, blues or greens, nor on mokume
gane containing white golds in any karat. Second most effective is
glacial acetic acid, though slightly harder to find in some areas of
the country in which there is no pickle works nor do painter's
suppliers carry it- however when available is often cheaper than even
pH down (I have gotten it free on occasion from the local pickle
works, and never more than 2 or 3 dollars for a gallon to a five
gallon bucket mostly filled when I supplied the bucket !).The only
time I find it necessary to use sulfuric acid is when stripping a
large item for restoration, but not for everyday use in the studio.
It's simply too dangerous, and a risk I find taking unnecessary. rer
Boy I feel quite stupid! I had no idea citric acid was 'just' citric
acid. I thought there were other ingredients involved.
This is great to know, thanks so much!
Thanks John! I know vinegar is an acid but never thought you could use
it as a pickle. I will have to investigate!
I understand your questioning my interest here but I just prefer to
make my life as non-toxic wherever and whenever as possible. I don't
have as many toxic things going on in my studio as it appears you
I know life in general has many toxins but I try to control what I
can. May seem ridiculous but that's me! I see it as. every little
bit helps, in regards to life in general.
Thanks for your input, I appreciate your time!
I live outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
I have had success with it too, no problems whatsoever and it does
it's job well. I didn't personally purchase the small amount that I
had. I just recently used up my supply and didn't have much success
finding a supplier. So citric acid pickle is 'just' citric acid? I
didn't know. Goes to show how you can learn new things every day!
Thanks for your input, greatly appreciate your time!
Wow David! that makes me positively cringe thinking about what had
happened to you; lungs and nasal passages full of burnt pickle vapor.
You are the second one to mention vinegar, I had no idea you can use
it as pickle!
I appreciate your input! thanks so much!
Yes Agnes, I've used ketchup before to 'clean' copper, had no idea
you could use it as pickle! I use sterling and fine silver
primarily, good to know though!
"Copper cleaner with my fries", that's funny. You are a hoot Aggie!
Thanks so much for you input.
I like to keep our household as toxin free and environmentally
sustainable as possible as well. We grow organic fruit and
vegetables, keep our own chickens, keep the house free of materials
that release toxins into the atmosphere, installed solar power and
hot water, rainwater tanks etc etc.
The silver I use comes from recycled sources and solar power at
least partially runs my burnout kiln. Yes I use a range of
potentially toxic materials in my work and I am fully aware of these
potential hazards which is why I use the appropriate protection such
as ventilation, masks, safety glasses and gloves to minimise these
hazards. I am also fully aware of the appropriate means of disposing
of chemicals with the additional consideration in my place that our
waste water goes to an onsite septic system so what I put down our
drain is our problem. And in this regard the metals in the spent
pickle bother me more than the acid which is easily neutralised with
some sodium bicarbonate.
It is my choice (perhaps obsession is a better term) to make
jewellery using the techniques I have developed. It is an informed
choice. We all have to do that.
Enjoy making your jewellery in a way that suits you best.
All the best