How to Electroplate Copper on Aluminum

By Adelaide Tresor
Pennies dated prior to 1980 contain a high percentage of copper that can be used for electroplating.

Electroplating copper to aluminum is a simple process if you follow a few simple guidelines regarding chemical reactions. Depending on the strength of the battery used in the process and the density of each metal, electroplating may be completed within a few hours up to three days after immersion. Both metals are inexpensive to obtain and give off a lustrous coat, which gives the finished product a brilliant shine.

Combine three parts baking soda with one part vinegar and clean both the copper and aluminum surfaces by rubbing the cleaning paste over each metal with a cloth diaper. Wear gloves when handling the metal to avoid transferring skin oils, which interfere with the electroplating process.

Rest two dowel rods on opposite rim edges of a large glass bowl and place an alligator clip on each dowel..

Strip 1 inch of insulation back from each end of both circuit wires. Clip one end of the red wire in one alligator clip with the exposed end resting approximately halfway down the bowl wall. Repeat the process using the black wire in the other clip.

Clip the copper plating metal against the exposed end of the red wire and the aluminum metal to the black wire.

Fill the bowl with copper sulfate solution until both metals and exposed wire ends are completely submerged.

Connect the loose end of the black wire to the negative terminal of a 9-volt battery and the red wire to the positive terminal. Leave the bowl undisturbed until the aluminum surface is coated by the copper.

Tip

Salt water can be substituted for copper sulfate solution; however, this may extend the length of the electroplating process.

About the Author

Adelaide Tresor has been a technical writer and book editor since 2006. Her work has been published by Thomson Reuters and Greenhaven Press, including several "At Issue" titles. Tresor holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and is also a certified teacher with experience in English, mathematics, chemistry, and environmental science. She currently teaches AP Physics.