Brass is commonly used in the production of things such as musical instruments, mechanical tools, and decor. It’s a popular choice for many reasons, from the range of colors it comes in, to the aesthetically pleasing look and feel it possesses. But is brass capable of rusting?
Brass doesn’t rust, as it doesn’t contain iron and therefore, can’t produce rust. Depending on the metal, rust is either more or less likely to form depending on the elements found inside them.
In this article, we’ll go more in-depth into why brass does not rust, how brass does react to its environment, as well as how each element found within brass affects it. If you’re interested in learning more about these topics, keep on reading.
Why Does Brass Not Rust?
As stated above, brass simply does not rust because it doesn’t contain iron. Materials with iron found in them will rust when they come into contact with factors such as oxygen and water. When a metal, like brass, doesn’t contain iron, it can’t produce iron oxide, which allows metals to begin rusting.
Brass is a metal alloy that is made up of copper and zinc. Depending on the amount of each element found within each individual piece of brass, it can either have a more positive or negative effect on the material. While elements like copper and zinc keep brass strong and durable, a lack of iron also keeps rust at bay.
While brass may not rust, that doesn’t mean it’s completely corrosion resistant. Many people confuse the formation of rust and corrosion as the same thing, but they are different, and it mainly boils down to chemistry.
Corrosion is the gradual breakdown of metals through a chemical reaction that is caused due to the environment the material is subjected to. Rusting is actually a form of corrosion, but iron oxidation is occurring when rusting occurs, also rusting cannot occur if there is no iron found within these materials.
So, while brass may corrode within the environment it sits in, it is still incapable of rusting.
Now that you have a better understanding of why brass does not rust, below, we’ll discuss how brass does react in certain environments and in certain conditions.
How Does Brass React?
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of the way brass can corrode. But what causes brass to corrode, and how can you treat it?
While rusting can’t occur on metals that don’t hold iron, they are still at risk of corroding when they come into contact with certain elements, such as oxygen and water.
Usually, brass corrodes when the elements found within it, such as copper and tin, are exposed to water. This, in turn, can change the color of brass and form reddish or pink splotches on the surface.
Brass-made materials, such as pipes and mechanical tools that are regularly subjected to conditions involving or surrounded by the water, are more likely to corrode than brass materials that are not. Thankfully, there are many ways to treat corroded brass, whether you choose to purchase a household cleaner or create your own DIY tarnish remover.
While corrosion is likely to occur on surfaces like brass when it comes into contact with water, below, we’ll explore how oxygen can cause oxidation.
When metals meet oxygen, oxidation can form on the surface.
While brass can easily corrode, it can also become oxidized. Somewhat similar to corrosion, oxidation occurs when brass, or any other material, comes into contact with air.
There are actually pros and cons to oxidation that many people might not be aware of. For one, while the oxidation process might have a poor effect on the overall appearance of brass, it does build a protective coating around the material that helps cease further corrosion.
Yet, oxidation can also be extremely dangerous, as it also breaks down and destroys the amount of zinc stored with the material.
Zinc is responsible for the strength that brass holds, so when brass is responsible for things such as holding together a pipe, a bolt, or serves as any type of connective function, this can definitely be problematic when zinc begins to break down due to oxidation.
The signs that oxidation has occurred on brass are obvious, as the surface usually becomes black, green, and or blue. You can treat oxidized brass in the same way you do corroded brass, as long you immediately follow it with completely drying the surface. That way, you don’t further along with any damage from water exposure.
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of the pros and cons found within corrosion and oxidation on metals like brass.
What Elements Are Found in Brass?
Each element found with brass helps aid the material in terms of strength, durability, and other positive attributes. Below, we’ll explore some of the most commonly seen elements within the brass and what they do.
Modern-day brass consists of 67% copper and is seen as the main component that makes up brass. Copper has a lot of positive effects on brass and its surfaces, such as creating poor breeding grounds for bacteria to grow.
While bacteria are less likely to form on copper-based materials, this allows brass to be an ideal candidate when it comes to the creation of medical equipment and indoor fixtures, such as doorknobs.
Modern-day brass consists of 33% zinc, and aids brass in creating the strength and durability it needs to get the job done.
Earlier, we discussed how beneficial zinc was to brass, and how it helped brass retain its strength when brass is used in the manufacturing of things such as pipes and bolts. Keeping tools like these together and in place is so beneficial to the longevity of your brass, as well as keeping it secure and where it needs to be.
Large amounts of zinc also allow brass to be very ductile, therefore aiding brass to be lasting in any and all conditions possible. This shows how much of a powerful element zinc is and how beneficial it is to brass materials.
An element that is commonly added to brass, lead is usually found at a concentration of 2%.
Lead is a handy element, as it has numerous benefits to any material it comes into contact with. For one, it improves the machinability of brass, making it easier to manufacture goods and items on a large scale.
Lead is also responsible for creating more strength, as well as better resistance to corrosion. Lead can even provide pressure tightness by sealing the shrinkage pores when it comes to architectural hardware.
While you won’t usually find lead naturally within brass, it’s easy to see why lead is added to materials such as brass, as it has multiple benefits.
In this article, we learned that rust could not form unless it comes into contact with iron, and seeing how brass does not hold iron, it can’t rust.
While brass may not rust, it can still be affected by the same factors that cause rust on other metals, such as oxygen and water. This, in turn, causes oxidation and corrosion to begin and how that affects brass long term.
Lastly, we went over the materials you’ll find within brass, which include copper, zinc, and sometimes lead. We discussed how each of these elements aids in the strength, durability, machinability, and corrosion resistance of brass.
So whether you’re picking up an instrument, or looking for new outdoor decor, a quality brass piece might be exactly what you’re looking for.