Electropolishing, also known as electrochemical polishing or electrolytic polishing, is an electrochemical process that removes material from a metallic workpiece.
It is used to polish, passivate, and deburr metal parts. It is often described as the reverse of electroplating.
The workpiece is immersed in a temperature controlled bath of electrolyte and serves as the anode as it is connected to the positive terminal of a DC power supply, the negative terminal being attached to the cathode. A current passes from the anode, where metal on the surface is oxidized and dissolved in the electrolyte, to the cathode. At the cathode, a reduction reaction occurs, which normally produces hydrogen. Electrolytes used for electropolishing are most often concentrated acid solutions having a high viscosity, such as mixtures of sulfuric acid and phosphoric acid.
To achieve electropolishing of a rough surface, the protruding parts of a surface profile must dissolve faster than the recesses. This process, referred to as anodic leveling, is achieved by a mass transport limited dissolution reaction. Anodic dissolution under electropolishing conditions deburrs metal objects due to increased current density on corners and burrs.
Electropolishing has many applications in the metal finishing industry because of its simplicity and it can be applied to objects of complex shape. Typical examples are electropolished stainless steel drums of washing machines and stainless steel surgical devices. Electropolishing is also commonly applied to the preparation of thin metal samples for transmission electron microscopy because electropolishing does not cause mechanical deformation of surface layers usually observed when mechanical polishing is used. Ultra high vacuum (UHV) components are typically electropolished in order to have a smoother surface for improved vacuum pressures, outgassing rates, and pumping speed.