What is Passivation?
Passivation is the removal of exogenous iron or iron compounds from the surface of stainless steel by means of a chemical dissolution, most typically by a treatment with an acid solution that will remove the surface contamination, but will not significantly affect the stainless steel itself. In addition, passivation can be described as “the chemical treatment of stainless steel with a mild oxidant, such as a nitric or citric acid solution, for the purpose of enhancing the spontaneous formation of the protective passive film.”
In layman’s terms, the passivation process removes “free iron” contamination left behind on the surface of the stainless steel from machining and fabricating. These contaminants are potential corrosion sites that result in premature corrosion and ultimately result in deterioration of the component if not removed. In addition, the passivation process facilitates the formation of a thin, transparent oxide film that protects the stainless steel from selective oxidation (corrosion).
Many machine shops, purchasing agents and engineers are somewhat in the dark when it comes to the relationship between corrosion resistant (stainless) steel and chemical passivation. Even among the finishing community, there is some disagreement about the theory behind the process of chemical passivation. Some believe it is effective because it is a cleaning process. Others credit the enhanced corrosion resistance properties to the thin, transparent oxide film resulting from chemical passivation. Regardless, the bottom line is that it works. Verification tests, including copper sulfate immersion, and accelerated corrosion tests, such as salt spray, high humidity and water immersion, undisputedly confirm the effectiveness of chemical passivation. Advanced material engineers in aerospace, electronics, medical and similar high-tech industries have used chemical passivation for years. The applications demand the maximum performance from components manufactured from corrosion-resistant steels, and they realize that passivation is one of the most effective methods of achieving these results.