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Safer pickles


I would like to end my contribution to the safer pickle saga with a
culinairy note. I agree with Jim and Andy that all sorts of messages
about all sorts of disasters and diseases travel to cyber space all
the time - and not only there, and that is certainly degenerative. On
the other hand, I think that the discussion about safer pickles is
serious and I myself would like to hear more about the concentrations
of the aerosols we have been talking about. For example, an onion,
when sliced, dilutes caustic sulphur compounds, still no one has ever
proven that slicing onions is dangerous to one’s health - not that I
looked up the MSDS for onions, I’m merely assuming this. The
compounds released by an onion when damaging its cell structure are
certainly poisonous, but the toxity of it is still zero - so I
assume - because the concentration is too small to do harm, except
perhaps the production of a little pathetic tear which always makes a
good excuse. However, just imagine that an onion could produce and
release the same compounds in a concentrastion which would be 150
times bigger than a real onion is capable off, then slicing an onion
would be quite a suicidal affair for anyone determined to make onion
soup - so I assume this, and, again, for exactly the same reason why
hot pickle is dangerous on the condition that the concentration of
acids in the mist are high enough to be toxic - of which I do not
have any data. Anyway, it is also well-known that all compounds
containg sulphur also attack the first layer of the teeth - have no
clue how to explain this in English; once this layer has become
vulnerable, the teeth will start to rot. This has been a problem in
factories where they produce matches. One could recognize
matchmakers by the way they used to talk. Best, Will


Jeanette, Ph minus for pools and spas-- I just bought some
yesterday-- is exactly the same as Sparex, minus the brown junk.

To add to me comment of yesterday: A substance can indeed be
dangerous–even deadly-- but not be carcinogenic. Uncontrolled fire
doesn’t cause cancer, but it can surely kill you.


   Hello, An effective and inexpensive pickle is swimming pool PH
reducer (-). I learned to use this in school. It is not nearly as
toxic or as costly as Sparex and works just as well, 

Jeannette, Sparex is sodium bisulphate.

So are the swimming pool ph reducers. A search of the orchid
archives will show that I, and many others, prefer the ph reducers to
the Sparex brand. But it’s because the pool chemical is apparently
purer or cleaner, doesn’t foul up a pickle pot with brown waxy gunk,
and is often cheaper as well. But it IS the same chemical. If Sparex
is dangerous, then these other chemicals are identically so.

Citric acid, as you pointed out, also works as a pickle, though more
slowly. It is decidedly safer to use.



I hate to be the only one around to pooh pooh a safety precaution. I
cut and pasted the following from the MSDS on Sulfuric acid.

“Avoid breathing mist or vapors. The International Agency for
Research for Cancer (“IARC”) Monographs on the Evaluation of
Carcinogen risk to Humans at 106 (Vol. 54, 1992) lists strong
inorganic acid mists containing sulfuric acid as a suspected
carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program (“NTP”) lists strong
inorganic acid mists containing sulfuric acid as a known carcinogen
in the 9th Report on Carcinogens (9th RoC, May 15, 2000). This
applies to inorganic acid mists containing sulfuric acid and does
not apply to sulfuric acid or sulfuric acid solutions.”

Note that the IARC calls “strong inorganic acid mists containing
sulfuric acid” a “suspected carcinogen” and the NTP refers to "strong
inorganic acid mists containing sulfuric acid as a known carcinogen."
Please note the words “strong” and “suspected”. Further reading
suggests the NTP seems to have relied on epidemiological studies to
have arrived at it’s conclusion. How many other substances were
involved in the cancers enumerated in the studies? I haven’t found
any animal studies that have substantiated any of this.

I, too, would really like to hear what John Burgess has to say.

I will keep on using my sodium bisulfate. I’ll keep quenching my
work, too.

When I was an apprentice, we used sulfuric acid for pickle. That
produced some strong mists. Sounds crazy, but we used the acid to
clean wounds as well.

Bruce D. Holmgrain
JA Certified Master Bench Jeweler


Interesting post thread I have been investigating some of the

From Jim's post: HEALTH HAZARD DATA ... Carcinogenicity: Not
considered to be carcinogenic by IARC and ACGIH. 
    From Will's post: I do not know who or what IARC and ACGIH
are, but they are wrong. Fumes of sodium bisulphate are
cancinogenic. Will 

Google search turned up these two organizations:

IARC being:
IARC - International Agency for Research on Cancer
IARC is a part of The World Health Organization.

And… ACGIH being: ACGIH - American Conference of Governmental
Industrial Hygienists American Conference of Industrial Hygienists
(ACGIH), your industrial hygiene, environmental, occupational health
and safety resource. Link:

Best Regards
Sharon Scalise

Citric acid (vitamin C) apparently works, though I've never tried

Don’t want to be a pain in the nose, but vitamin C is ascorbic acid.
Best, Will


I come from an industrial chemical research background, with a
strong safety culture. Making jewellery is a hobby for me.

Sodium bisulphate solution can be regarded as chemically equivalent
to a solution of sodium sulphate in sulphuric acid. The solution
contains both sulphate and hydrogen ions, just as sulphuric acid
does. As used in jewellery work for pickling it is the equivalent
of dilute sulphuric acid.

I use sodium bisulphate solution for pickling. I use it cold. I
quench metal in plain water before putting it into the pickle.
Quenching hot metal in the pickle does produce a little puff of
vapour, which will contain small droplets of the active pickle
ingredient. My reason for quenching in plain tap water first is to
avoid risking getting these small droplets onto nearby tools and
other objects in the same room. With the sizes of object I work
with, and the small number of times I quench, it would not be a
health hazard. I have a lid on my pickle pot, mainly to keep dust
out of it. In other work situations it (vapours from quenching)
could easily become a matter of concern though, as for example more
frequent quenching, or when quenching larger objects. It is nothing
like strong mineral acid mist that has been discussed here though.
Neither is it being breathed for an eight hour shift.

Warm pickle works much faster than cold. It should be warm though,
not overhot. In a hobby situation there is no need for the “boiling
out” sometimes mentioned in older books.

In a professional workshop (by which I mean manufacturing for sale)
there is likely to be a much higher throughput, and real pressure
for faster work. There are also Health and Safety regulations in
most countries too, and these will address issues such a vapours and
the possible need for air extraction.

Citric acid has been mentioned here, and it certainly is safer than
dilute sulphuric acid. There could be a possible concern with
"nasties" growing in it, if it’s cold and unused for some time.
Citric acid is nothing to do with vitamin C.

Sorry, but all sulphur containing compounds do not attack tooth
enamel. The element that sulphur seems to be being confused with is
phosphorus, and it is true that match workers suffered terribly, the
condition being known as “phossy jaw”. It was caused really by the
pure element. Compounds are a different matter. But, don’t imagine
that there is a problem with all phosphorus compounds. Many popular
fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid. I don’t drink them, but not
because of the acid. And please don’t start to worry about the
phosphorus in TSP used to make Prip’s flux…

I realise that to folk who haven’t had a chemical eduacation it can
all be a bit confusing, especially with somewhat similar sounding
names. I sincerely hope that this may have gone some way to
clearing up some of the confusion, and perhaps allayed a few fears.

Kevin (NW England, UK)

Warm pickle works much faster than cold.  It should be warm
though, not overhot.  In a hobby situation there is no need for the
"boiling out" sometimes mentioned in older books. 


The “boiling out”, or “boil out pot” you’re talking about probably
refers not to a pickling solution, but to an alkaline cleaning one.
Some of us still use it, either in place of, or next to and as an
alternative to, ultrasonic cleaners. In our shop, we use a boil out
pot with a simmering solution of TSP as a means of cleaning the gunk
out of rings, behind stones, etc, before working on them, or as a
means of cleaning polishing compound off after polishing. This
would be for those times when the ultrasonic cleaner is not
appropriate, such as if there is risk of loosing loose stones, or
with metals or stones which the ultrasonic can damage. The boil out
takes longer, but is effective, and much gentler to the jewelry.
Won’t shake out stones that aren’t securely set, and won’t frost the
finish on cast sterling silver, the way stronger ultrasonics can do
if the silver is left in there a bit to remove stubborn deposits of
polishing compound… And I know of one commercial repair shop
that simply does not use an ultrasonic at all. Instead, they clean
their work using, under a good exhaust vent, a boil out pot filled
with a solution of lye. They’ve another one with much gentler TSP, I
think, or perhaps some other detergent, for things that cannot
tolerate lye. The reason they went to this setup is that they work
with a lot of silver, and got tired of having to repolish silver
things that had gotten marred by the ultrasonic they’d had before.