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Unit 3.

Air and Water

Syllabus Ref. 11.2

The causes of rusting

Class practical
In this class experiment students put iron nails in various conditions including wet, dry, air-free and salty to find out what
causes iron to rust.

Lesson organisation
This experiment will need to be set up in one lesson and then left for more than 3 days before being re-examined. It could be left
set up for longer if necessary.



Per pair or group

of students:
Eye protection
Test-tubes, 4
Test-tube rack
Rubber bung to fit
test tube
Cotton wool
Pen or other
means of spanling
test tubes

Iron nails, 4
Anhydrous calcium chloride granules
(IRRITANT) Students with sensitive skin should
be offered gloves.
Cooking oil
Deionised water
Boiled deionised water (15 min boil) (Note 1)
Sodium chloride (table salt)
Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes
section below for additional information.

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

Wear eye protection.
Anydrous calcium chloride, CaCl2(s), (IRRITANT) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
Sodium chloride, NaCl(s) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
1 It is best if the deionised water is boiled eg in a kettle, as close to the start of the lesson as possible and supplied warm to the
students. They could boil it themselves for 15 minutes in a beaker on a Bunsen burner, but whether this is advisable will depend
on the class.

a Label the test tubes 1-4.
b About fill tube 1 with deionised water and add a nail.
c About fill tube 2 with boiled deionised water and add a nail. Carefully pour a little oil over the surface to prevent air from
reaching the water.

d Mix some salt with some deionised water to make a solution. About fill tube 3 with this mixture and add a nail.
e Put a nail into tube 4 and add about 2 cm depth of anhydrous calcium chloride granules. These absorb water. Put a bung in
this tube to prevent any further water from getting in.

f Leave for at least 3 days and then note any changes in appearance of the nails.
Teaching notes
You could ask students to tabulate which conditions are present or absent in each of the tubes.

Tube 1 water and air

Tube 2 water but no air (it is removed during boiling and the oil prevents any extra from dissolving in the water and
reaching the nail)

Tube 3 water, air and salt

Tube 4 air, no water (the calcium chloride removes the water from the air and the bung prevents any extra from entering.)

They should see that the nails in tubes 2 and 4 do not rust. The nail in tube 3 rusts the most. From this they should be able to
conclude that water and air (actually oxygen in the air) are essential for rusting. Salt can increase the rate of rusting. This can
lead to a discussion about rust protection and methods which can be used to keep air and water away from the iron such as
paint, grease and plastic coating.
Very simply, rusting is the reaction of iron with oxygen but water is an important part of the process too. For fuller details of the
reactions, see the website below.
Health & Safety checked, September 2014

This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry

Page last updated October 2015