FAQ -- Non Toxic Pickle for Metal?

Eureka! After a few experiments, I've found a way to pickle my soldered metals to remove firescale using common household ingredients and one store-bought product! Now I can work on my handmade jewelry at home and not depend on going to the studio to do soldering work.

For those who haven't tried soldering, applying heat to your sterling silver causes it to darken with 'firescale'. The typical studio proceedure is to "pickle" the metal in a mild acid bath. There are also many commercial liquids out there, but I've never mixed them up myself -- I've always had a classroom environment that helpfully provided these (sometimes hazardous) chemicals. But it's tough to always have a class or a studio as a resource. So how could I solder and clean up those pieces safely?

The three methods I had heard about that were non-toxic were:

1) Lemon (only lemon, for the citric acid) Kool-Aid.
2) Vinegar and salt.
3) Pennybrite

My tools:
a ceramic cup
an electric cupwarmer
binding wire
wooden chopsticks

Pickle test was on: small 1/2" and 5/8" sterling discs that had sterling silver pieces soldered onto them with soft solder. Also fine silver components that had sterling silver components soldered to them.

I've now tried both methods and here are the results!

Lemon Kool-Aid
The idea here was to use a highly concentrated solution of lemon Kool-Aid and heat it like a pickling solution. I don't have a pickle pot (typically a small slow-cooker with a glass or other non-reactive heat container inside). I just use a ceramic mug and one of those desk cupwarmers to keep my liquids hot. I start by boiling some water and adding that hot water to the contents in the cup to get the heat going.

The citric acid in the Kool-Aid was to act as the pickle. While the solution smelled fresh and not chemical-y, the cleaning effect was slow and not very even across my firescaled pieces.

Buy some Lemon Kool-Aid on Amazon here! Kool-Aid Soft Drink Mix - Lemonade Unsweetened, Caffeine Free, 0.23 oz/envelope (Pack of 12)

Vinegar and Salt
The trick here is to use a saturated solution. I heated the vinegar to almost boiling, enough to put about 2" deep into the ceramic mug (enough to cover my silver pieces). To this hot vinegar, stir in salt until it no longer dissolves. This means the vinegar is completely saturated with salt. The vinegar fumes can be strong, so be careful!

When you add your items to this solution, you'll see a reaction immediately -- white foam and if your firescale is light, it cleaned immediately for me. Success!

I heard about this product through fab website Beaducation.com. It's a past and biodegradable, safe for the environment. While the product is meant for copper cookware, if you rinse your items well it should work well on brass and sterling silver! Purchase your own from Amazon EZ Brite Penny Brite Copper & Brass Cleaner / Polish 7oz by EZ Brite Brands

I've been using Pennybrite now for all my firescale cleaning. It's fast and easy and I love it. Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin.

Hope these options have given you some fun information on non-toxic pickle options for your metalworking needs!



www.urbancrystal.com said...

very cool..thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peggy,
I am one of your biggest fans. I just found your blog. I too create jewlery. Nothing amazing like your work. Just the simple stuff. I am sort of addicted to creating jewelry. I would love to hear more about how you "made it". How did you become famous? Where and how did your passion begin? I myself just got tired of looking for something different so I decided to figure out how to make my own. I have been addicted since my first piece. I can't stop buying supplies and working on projects. I make much more than I can possibly wear myself, so I sell my creations at home parties, custom orders and I have an online boutique. My site is www.wensjems.com and my blog is www.wensjems.blogspot.com. I am really excited that I found your blog. Thank you for sharing with us.

plcpeggy said...


Please do a search on my blog for "FAQ" posts -- I write about some of my pr experiences, etc. I am by no means famous and don't feel that I have "made it", but I appreciate the thought!

It's great that you're following a passion, at the end of the day, that's what counts.

best of luck,

Jeanette said...

I'm new to metal smithing and am very interested in using non toxic household products as pickle. Can you tell me how much salt you used with the vinegar?

plcpeggy said...

Jeanette, stir in as much salt as the vinegar will take (ie until the salt will no longer dissolve in the liquid). I start w/about 1 tablespoon of salt to about a 1/4 cup of vinegar. I use just enough vinegar to cover the pieces I need to pickle.