7 Easy Steps to Gold Plate at Home

Do you want spruce up your jewelry pieces or other treasured items with a sparkle of gold? Gold plating is an age-old process but the good news is that with the right tools and technique, you too can plate any item with gold from the comfort of your home.

Any metal can be gold-plated including stainless steel, brass, and nickel but copper and silver are the most popular options.

If you love gold and are an ardent DIYer, this article will show you, step-by-step, how to gold plate using simple kits you can buy online or from your local craft store.  You can use one of two types of kits: the brush plating kit or the immersion plating kit.  So, without further ado, let’s jump right into it.

You will need

  • Gold plating solution
  • Activator
  • Distilled water
  • Gold plating brush
  • Crocodile clips
  • Power source
  • 4 small beakers
  • Workbench
  • Microwave or stovetop

Step-by-Step Guide to Gold Plate

Follow these simple steps to gold plate items at home using brushing or an immersion plating kit. You can learn more about the differences between these two techniques here.

Step 1: Set up the solutions

When doing home gold plating, you will need three solutions: a gold plating solution, activator, and distilled water. The plating solution and activator come with the kit. In addition, some kits will include a cleaning solution.

Transfer each solution to its own microwave-safe beaker. Most kits require you to warm the plating solution and activator to a certain temperature for the best outcomes. This is why it is important to transfer these solutions into a beaker that is safe to use in a microwave or stovetop.

Set up three separate beakers: one for the gold plating solution, distilled water, and another beaker for the activator on your working table in that order. This setup will make the plating process easier and more systematic.

Step 2: Clean the item you want to plate

Clean the item you want to plate

Impurities are the biggest enemy of successful gold plating. The plating solution will not bond to the item you want to plate when the surface is covered with dust, oil, fingerprints, and other kinds of dirt.

You will have to do more than just rinse the item. First, use the cleaning agent that came with the kit to remove all surface impurities from the item. Alternatively, you can use household cleaning agents such as a dishwashing liquid and degreaser and scrub with a scouring pad to get the item squeaky clean.

Pro Tip: I cannot overemphasize the importance of thoroughly cleaning the item you want to gold plate. Test the cleanliness of this item by dipping it in water. The item is clean if the water slides off without forming droplets.

Step 3: Connect the power supply

Gold plating requires an electrical circuit, which includes an electrolyte (gold plating solution) and two terminals, also known as electrodes (the item you want to plate and the plating brush or stainless steel anode), connected to a power supply.

  • When electricity flows through the circuit, the electrolyte solution releases some of its metal atoms, deposited on one of the electrodes in the form of a thin layer—this electrode becomes plated.
  • Most kits come with a DC power source. If yours doesn’t come with it, you will need to buy a rectifier to transform the AC power source to a DC. A variable power supply is a cost-effective option for DIY gold plating projects.
  • Once you set up your power supply, your plating brush will be connected to the positive output and the item you want to plate to the negative output. If you have an immersion kit, the stainless steel will connect to the positive output and the item to the negative output.

Step 4: Warm the solutions

Warm the solutions

Some advanced plating kits come with an integrated tabletop heater, so you don’t need a microwave or stovetop to heat the solutions to the desired temperature. These tend to be pricier, but the convenience of keeping the solutions at the ideal temperature makes the kits a worthwhile investment.

That said, a basic plating kit will get the job done, but you will need to keep the solutions warm using an external heat source such as a stovetop or microwave. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on warming the plating solution and activator to ensure a successful plating process.

Step 5: Apply the activator

In electroplating, an activator is often applied to the item you want to plate to strengthen the bond between the gold and the item’s surface.

  • An activator ensures that the gold adheres firmly and evenly to the item. You can apply it either using the brush or immersing the item in the solution. If using the brush, connect it to the power source, dip it in the solution, then scrub the item using the tip of the brush. The brush acts as both an applicator and anode, which ionizes the activator.
  • If you are plating a larger item, it is best to use the immersion technique. Still, you should keep the brush in the activator while you submerge the item in the solution. But, you should ensure that the brush does not touch the item.
  • Applying the activator should only take a few seconds. Ten to twenty seconds are enough to prime the surface of the item for plating. Check out this video on how to clean and activate an item before plating.

Step 5: Rinse the item

After coating the item with an activator solution, rinse it with distilled water. Before plating, the item should be free of impurities, which includes the activator. Remember that the cleaner the surface is, the better the plating will adhere to the surface of the item.

Step 6: Plate the item

Your item is now ready for coating. You can use either the brush or immersion method.

  • If you use the brush method, dip the brush in the plating solution, and scrub the item with the tip of the brush. Repeat this process until all parts of the item have been scrubbed using the plating solution, and the item’s color turns gold in color.
  • For the immersion method, connect a crocodile clip to the item you want to plate. This will act as the circuit’s negative output. Next, place the brush in the plating liquid to act as the circuit’s positive output.
  • With the brush positioned in the plating solution, immerse the item in the solution. As with the activator, ensure that the brush does not touch the item.
  • Follow the instructions on how long to soak the item in the gold plating liquid. A quick soak lasting 10 to 20 seconds is usually enough. Soaking the item for longer than necessary will cause it to quickly turn dark brown instead of a lustrous, shiny gold color.

Step 7: Give it a final clean

Once you are done with plating, it is good practice to clean the item to remove the excess plating solution. Simply dip the item in distilled water or clean it under a tap of running water. Either way, the plated item will dry almost immediately, and you can start using it as you wish.

That’s it! This is how easy it is to gold-plate using a basic kit. Below are some tips to help you get the most from this fun project.

Extended Tips

  • Before plating, consider the kind of metal you are working with. Each metal type will give you different results. For example, alloys, bronze, brass, copper, and silver are prone to tarnishing, and the tarnish might show even after gold-plating the item. Applying a layer of palladium or nickel might be an extra step, but it can go a long way in hiding tarnished spots on jewelry after gold plating.
  • When choosing a gold plating solution, keep in mind the color of the finished product. Plating solutions typically come in 14, 18, or 24-karat gold, and the karat level will affect the item’s final color.
  • Plating with gold can increase the longevity of jewelry. Still, the plating will gradually wear out, but you can slow down this process by caring for your pieces. For example, minimize contact with water, avoid sleeping with your jewelry on as the sweat and oils can affect the plating, and remember to wipe down your pieces regularly.
  • If you want to plate items such as glass, you will first need to apply conductive paint and wait for it to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. After this, you can plate the item normally either by immersion or brushing.

Add Luster To Your Treasured Items With DIY Gold Plating

Gold plating is one of those projects that sounds difficult to do even for the ardent DIYer. But, brushing and immersion kits have taken the fuss out of this age-old process, and now you can plate any item with your favorite shade of gold using a simple and inexpensive technique.

You will find tons of gold plating kits out there, but it is best to invest in a handy kit that will reliably get the job done for many years to come. So, now that we’ve shown you how to gold plate, it is now your turn to try it, and let us know in the comments how it all goes.

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