We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Are the Effects of Sulfuric Acid on Metal?

By Phil Riddel
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The effects of sulfuric acid on metal depend on a number of factors, including the type of metal, the concentration of the acid, and the temperature. Dilute sulfuric acid will, in theory, react with any metal that lies above hydrogen in the reactivity series by displacing hydrogen from the acid, releasing it as a gas and forming the sulfate salt of the metal. The metals that come into this category include the alkali metals, such as sodium and potassium, and the alkaline earth metals, like magnesium and calcium, as well as many other common metals, such as iron, nickel, and zinc. Since hydrogen has very low solubility in water and acids, it will produce bubbles; the resulting effervescence is greater with the more reactive metals. Diluted sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and magnesium, for example, will react vigorously: Mg + H2SO4 -> MgSO4 + H2.

In practice, not all of these metals will react with sulfuric acid under normal circumstances. Although the pure metals will react, some elements, when exposed to air, quickly acquire a layer of oxide. The effects of this acid on metal oxides vary, but in some cases, the oxide layer is chemically very inert and will prevent any reaction from taking place. For example, although titanium is above hydrogen in the reactivity series, it normally has a thin coating of titanium dioxide that renders it unreactive toward sulfuric and most other acids. Aluminum also forms a protective oxide layer; however, sulfuric acid and aluminum will react after some delay to produce hydrogen gas and aluminum sulfate.

Another factor that can affect the combination is the solubility of the salt, or metal sulfate, formed by the reaction. Some metal sulfates — for example, those of iron, zinc and aluminum — are very soluble in water or acids while others — like the sulfates of calcium and barium — are not. When the sulfate has low solubility, the reaction will quickly slow down or stop as a protective layer of sulfate builds up around the metal.

Pure sulfuric acid does not react with metals to produce hydrogen, since the presence of water is required to allow this reaction to take place. The concentrated sulfuric acid used in laboratories is normally 98% acid and 2% water; the small quantity of water present allows these reactions to proceed in some cases, albeit slowly. If a more dilute solution is used, the reaction is much more rapid. Stainless steel, at low temperatures, is not corroded significantly by the acid at concentrations above about 98%. At industrial plants, it is sometimes stored in steel tanks; however, corrosion is rapid if the water content is higher.

The effect of sulfuric acid on metal elements that are below hydrogen in the reactivity series is different, as they cannot displace hydrogen from the acid. These metals include copper, mercury, silver, gold and platinum. They will not react with dilute sulfuric acid, or with the concentrated acid at room temperature.

Concentrated sulfuric acid, however, acts as an oxidizing agent when hot and this it to react with copper, mercury, and silver. In the case of copper, for example, the following reaction takes place: Cu + 2H2SO4 -> CuSO4 + SO2 + 2H2O. Gold and platinum will not react with sulfuric acid at all.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.