How to Recycle Gold from Old Plating Tanks

How to Recycle Gold from Old Plating Tanks

...Presto! Gold plating has happened. It’s a simple process that has been used for years to apply gold plating to jewelry and other metal items. But today’s post is not about recycling those items. It’s about reclaiming gold from the tanks where the process took place. Let’s take a closer look...

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Three Shady Precious Metal Scams You Should Know About

Three Shady Precious Metal Scams You Should Know About

If you called a precious metals refinery for an over-the-phone appraisal, you would be pretty excited to hear the words, “Your scrap could be worth an awful lot of money.” And you should be happy. The problem is, those words could lure you into one of the precious metal scams that are happening today.

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How Are Metals Plated onto Plastics, Ceramics, and Composites?

We’ve written about tank plating on this blog before – the process of plating a metal onto metal items that have been placed into plating tanks. For that process to work, the items to be plated must be electrically charged – in other words, they must be made of metal.

So that leads to an interesting question:

How can metals be plated onto surfaces of non-metallic materials like plastics, ceramics, or composites?

You have doubtless seen non-metallic items that have been plated with metal – they are nearly everywhere. There are metal-plated disposable plastic drink cups, plastic radio knobs, toys with bright shiny metallic coatings, and many other items.

Let’s look at some of the ways that precious and other metals can be coated onto non-metallic surfaces.

Sputtering and Other Vacuum Processes

Scrap sputtering targets, like the one shown above, can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

Scrap sputtering targets, like the one shown above, can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

Sputtering is the process of choice today for depositing thin films of silver and other metals onto plastics, ceramics, and other non-metallic materials.  Sputtering is done in the vacuum chamber of a special machine, in which atoms are ejected from a metallic disc called a “target” onto the surface of the material to be coated. Sputtering is now widely used to deposit thin films of silver onto photovoltaic solar panels. (The good news is that used sputtering targets that have outlived their useful lives on production lines contain trace amounts of the silver or other precious metals that they contained. They can be profitably recycled by a qualified precious metals refinery.) Interesting: A variety of other vacuum-coating processes have long been used to coat plastic surfaces with aluminum and other metals; in those processes, atoms of the coating metal are dispersed into a vacuum chamber, where they adhere to the surfaces to be plated.

Electroless Plating

The word “electroless” looks like a misspelling, but it is actually a word that was invented to describe a chemical process that deposits a metal onto plastic. In it, the plastic items to be coated are “etched” by being immersed in a special chemical solution that prepares their surfaces for plating. The items are then immersed in a chemical bath that contains the metal that will be used to plate them. Interesting: Electroless plating looks a lot like tank plating, only no electricity is used.


Yes, ceramics and plastics can be electroplated with gold or silver.  It can be done after those materials undergo the process of electroless plating (see just above). Once they have a thin metallic coating, they can be tank plated, just as metal objects are. Interesting: The items that have been plated using this process are often quite durable. One example? Chrome-plated plastic door handles that are used on automobiles.


Two different spraying processes – arc and flame spraying – can be used to apply metallic plating to nonconductive surfaces. In most cases, a powdered form of the metal is heated and then sprayed, using special equipment. Interesting: Spraying technologies can be used to apply a metal coating to just one part of a ceramic or plastic item; just as a painting technician can mask off parts of an item so they receive no paint, parts of the item to be spray-plated can be masked and receive no coating.

Precious Metals Can Be Recovered from Plastic Items

In virtually all cases, metals that have been applied to inexpensive plastic items are not precious metals. (Think of the shiny chrome-like finish that is applied to the bumpers and other bright pieces that you will find in a kit for a model car.) If, however, you own a quantity of ceramics or higher-end materials that have a coating of what seems to be silver or gold – and you do not know exactly what they are – they could be a source of valuable precious metals that can be extracted by a qualified precious metals refinery. Why not call us at 800-426-2344 to learn more?

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The Puzzling, Profitable Process of Refining Silver-Plated Scrap Items
Why Recycling Plating Tank Scrap Can Pay You More than You Expect
Why Money Can Be Found in Your Used Electroplating Supplies

A Commercial Real Estate Agent’s Guide to Finding Precious Metals in Buildings

If you’re a real estate broker or developer who deals in industrial or commercial properties, you don’t want to overlook precious metals that could be hiding in the properties that you have bought or represent.

Shown: business for sale sign, which could mean there are valuable precious metals waiting to be recycled inside. If you're a commercial real estate broker, contact Specialty Metals today.

Here is a checklist of places where precious metals could be found in the properties you are working with.

  • Batches of unused welding or brazing supplies – Welding rods and wires often contain quantities of silver and other precious metals that can be profitably reclaimed. Even if you only have scrap pieces of leftover welding rods, they can be valuable.
  • Drums of unused industrial chemicals – They are often worthless. Recycling them responsibly could be costly and difficult. Yet depending on what they were used for, they could contain quantities of precious metals that can be reclaimed.
  • Metals shavings, powder, small bits and other scrap – If metal was being machined in a facility that you have acquired, even the shavings that have piled up under lathes and milling machines could be valuable. Unless you have them analyzed, you will never know.
  • Sludge, sand and industrial byproducts – Depending on the type of processes that were taking place in the facility you own, seemingly worthless materials could contain precious metals.
  • Tanks, pipes, electrodes, and filters that were used in plating processes – If a factory was involved in electroplating, silver or even gold could be recyclable from older components.
  • Catalytic converters that were attached to old diesel or gas engines – They can contain quantities of platinum, palladium, rhodium and other valuable precious metals.
  • Chemicals or supplies that were used in photoprocessing or x-ray processes – Even in a time when the use of traditional films and papers is dwindling, supplies that are left over from those processes are worth recycling because they contain silver.
  • Older computers and electrical devices of all kinds – Older desktop and other computers and electronics, for example, contain gold that can be worth reclaiming.
  • Old gauges, safety cut-offs, and monitoring devices – They are lying around collecting dust in many old factories. But depending on what their purpose was, they could contain valuable components like thermocouples that contain precious metals.
  • Medical testing devices – Old x-ray, MRI, and other medical devices that have outlived their usefulness can still contain lots of valuable metals, including gold, silver and even platinum. They might look like they should be headed to the scrapyard. But don’t send them there until you know about the metals they contain.

Want to Know More?

We are here to help you understand where precious metals can be found. For a no-obligation conversation with our specialists, call us at 800-426-2344.

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The Next Time You Recycle Gold-Plated Items, Thank Luigi Brugnatelli

The art of modern electroplating was discovered in 1805 by an Italian chemist named Luigi Brugnatelli. In essence, he was tinkering with early battery technologies that had been discovered by his friend and compatriot Alessandro Volta. (Volta’s name, as you probably guessed, is the basis of the English word “volt.”) Brugnatelli noticed that quantities of gold could be deposited on silver items when they were immersed in a battery-like bath of electrolytic fluid. And he was off and running.

A portrait of Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli (1761-1818), the father of gold electroplating, from "Cenni su la vita di L. V. Brugnatelli" Biblioteca di farmacia (1836 gen, Serie 2, Volume 5)

A portrait of Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli (1761-1818), the father of gold electroplating, from "Cenni su la vita di L. V. Brugnatelli" Biblioteca di farmacia (1836 gen, Serie 2, Volume 5)

If you do a search for Brugnatelli’s name online, you will find a lot of biographical information, including an excellent history of his life on the website of Artisan Plating, a company that specializes in high-quality plating. (Artisan Plating is like a mirror image of Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners. It specializes in applying lavish layers of gold and other precious metals to other metal surfaces, while we are a precious metals refinery that extracts them.)

Here are some highlights from the life of Brugnatelli, which we have adapted from the information on the Artisan Plating website and other online sources. We’re telling you his story because it could help you understand more about the value that could be found in the gold scrap and gold-plated items that you might own.

In 1805 . . .

Brugnatelli was the first person to use the process of electroplating. He applied a layer of gold to silver plates. For some reason, Napoleon’s French Academy of Sciences didn’t like the discovery or report on it in its publications. The Academy, which was the leading scientific organization in Europe, also stopped other scientific journals from reporting that Brugnatelli had discovered electroplating.

Until about 1845 . . .

Because Brugnatelli’s big news had been hidden, two cruder ways to plate gold onto other metals remained in widespread use. One – the more common and the more poisonous – was a process that used gold leaf and mercury to deposit layers of gold onto heated surfaces. Another was called water gilding, in which the object to be gold plated was immersed in a solution of gold chloride and water, with no electricity used. That technology could deposit only a thin layer of decorative gold.

In about 1839 . . .

Henry and George Elkington, two English scientists, independently discovered gold electroplating and started to use it commercially. At about the same time, Russians starting using it too. According to the Artisan Plating website, the process was first used in Russia to apply gold plating to metals that would be used in cathedral domes. The size of those electroplating tanks must have been pretty big!

After 1850 . . .

Tank electroplating became the method of choice for applying layers of gold onto silver and other surfaces, replacing the use of processes that exposed people to noxious mercury gas.

Brugnatelli finally had his day, even though he was not around to see his electroplating discovery gain almost universal application.

If Brugnatelli Were Alive Today . . .

He would sputter to see the way that gold sputtering targets are now used to apply thin, yet durable, layers of gold onto other metals. The thick layers of gold that he liked to apply to other metals are now nearly a thing of the past, at least in the way eyeglass frames and other items are coated with gold.

If you have gold items – especially gold-filled older items such as eyeglass frames and jewelry that is more than about 40 years old, they could contain valuable quantities of gold that are worth recycling. So do your used gold sputtering targets. To learn more, call us at 800-426-2344.

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Why Gold Plating Tank Scrap Could Be Worth More than You Think

Have you acquired an old factory where a company used to perform gold-plating operations? Does your business currently plate gold onto other metals, and do you have old tanks and other equipment that need to be cleaned or discarded?

In either case, it’s worth knowing that more dollars than you expect can be hiding in gold plating tank scrap. Here are some reasons why.

Gold Travels

Shown: Photo of gold electroplating tank scrap that customers have shipped to Specialty Metals for recycling.

Shown: Photo of gold electroplating tank scrap that customers have shipped to Specialty Metals for recycling.

It could have adhered to tank walls and electrodes – the easiest-to-see parts of a tank-plating operation. But it could also be hiding on filters, perforated drain covers, sponge that is made of other metals, and even on the inside walls of drain pipes that connect the plating tank to other tanks where used electrolytic solution is collected. With gold currently trading above $1,240/troy ounce, even small amounts of gold are well worth reclaiming.

Stuff that Doesn’t Glimmer Could Still Be Gold

When gold is found in mines and in riverbeds, it glitters and is easy to see because it doesn’t combine with other metals in its natural state. In plating operations, however, it can be harder to spot because other metals can become plated to its surface. The result? The surfaces of plating tanks and other plating equipment may not look as valuable as they are.

Valuable Gold Could Be Hiding in Sludge and Gunk

Sludge and used electrolytic plating fluid might not look valuable, but it is a mistake to toss them out – and an environmentally irresponsible mistake too. Remember too that although dried-up sludge and fluids from old plating operations might look like dirt, they could still contain valuable quantities of gold, platinum, palladium and other precious metals.

Watch this Video to Learn How Gold Plating Works

Here’s a video that shows a simple gold-plating process. Although it shows non-industrial plating being done by a hobbyist, it provides a fascinating review of the basics of electroplating gold onto other surfaces.

To Mine the Value of the Gold You Have . . .

Call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344. We’ll be happy to discuss your gold plating scrap and help you recoup the gold that’s hiding in it.

Related Posts:

Why Recycling Plating Tank Scrap Can Pay You More than You Expect
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Let’s Get Wet - What Liquids Contain Valuable Precious Metals?

Certain liquids contain quantities of precious metals that can be recycled. But before we discuss what those liquids are, let’s state something important . . .

Only larger quantities of liquids that contain precious metals are generally worth recycling!

Photo of skids of drums filled used manufacturing fluids containing traces precious metals that can be recycled profitably by Specialty Metals.

If you have a gallon or two of the liquids that are described below, you should not expect to receive a lot of money for recycling them. (In such cases, your responsibility is to dispose of them in accordance with local environmental laws.) But if you have larger quantities – skids of cans of metallic paint, drums of sludge – then it is worth calling us at 800-426-2344 to discuss recycling them.

Now that we’ve gotten that issue out in the open, let’s take a look at some liquids that could contain valuable quantities of precious metals.

Used Fluids from Electroplating Processes

If your company electroplates in tanks, the electrolytic fluid from them could contain quantities of the gold, silver, or other metals that you are plating onto other metals.

Unused Chemicals that Contain Silver or Other Metals

Some chemical liquids that are used in production processes contain trace elements of valuable metals. You might think that chemicals used in photo processing would contain quantities of silver, but silver halide is found in negatives and film, usually not in processing fluids. Still, it is worth reviewing the unused chemicals that you have to see whether they contain silver.

Sludge Left Over from Plating Operations

If your organization operates large-scale gold-plating or silver-plating operations in tanks, the sludge that accumulates in them (or “downstream” in other tanks that capture the sludge) could contain gold or silver that can be profitably recycled. Again, let’s point out that only large quantities of sludge are generally worth recycling – just a gallon or two won’t yield large enough quantities of precious metals.

Unused Metallic Coatings and Paints

If you have large quantities of decorative or industrial metallic coatings, they could be worth recycling. Remember, however, that the old saying “all that glitters is not gold” applies. A gold-hued or silver-hued metallic paint could contain more reflective mica powder and colorings than real gold. You’ll need to read the ingredients to see if any real precious metals are there or, in some cases, send a sample to a top precious metals refinery like Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners to let us take a closer look.

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Why Money Can Be Found in Your Used Electroplating Supplies

Does your company electroplate thin layers of one metal onto another? Or have you recently acquired quantities of used e-plating equipment or scrap from another company? In either case, you could have something of value on your hands.

Shown: Electroplating tank scrap that customers have shipped to Specialty Metals for the recycling of precious metals at the best prices.

Shown: Electroplating tank scrap that customers have shipped to Specialty Metals for the recycling of precious metals at the best prices.

Here are the answers to some questions about how electroplating works and where dollars could be hiding.

Why Is Electroplating Done?

Electroplating can be used to beautify metals or protect them from corrosion. Remember the “chrome cruiser cars” of the 1950s, with acres of chrome-plated trim? Similarly, jewelry and tableware can be coated with silver or gold to make them more beautiful. Electroplating is also used to make metals less likely to oxidize – that’s why “tin cans” are actually steel cans that have been electroplated with tin so that the steel will not react chemically with the can’s contents. In addition, durable metals like platinum and palladium are sometimes plated onto softer metals to make them harder or abrasion-resistant.

How Is Electroplating Done?

Let’s look at the most basic way of coating one metal onto another – in an electroplating tank. First, that tank is filled with liquid, called the electrolytic bath, which contains a solution that contains the metal like platinum that will be used as a coating. The object to be plated is immersed in the bath, and connected to the negative terminal of a source of electricity that will flow through the bath. (In other words, the object to be plated becomes the cathode.) Next another piece of metal – one that will not be plated – is connected to the positive terminal and immersed in the liquid. (It becomes the anode.)

When electricity flows through the bath, electrodes of the metal that will become the plating (i.e., silver) adhere to the object that is being plated.

That basic process can vary, depending on the nature of the metal that will form the plating, the object to be plated and other variables. Sometimes, for example, the anode can be made of the metal that will be used as a coating; electrodes from it will flow to the object to be coated. But even though there are variations, that’s basically how tank e-plating works.

Why Can Used E-plating Materials and Supplies Be Worth Money?

There are several reasons. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Tanks, filters, mesh screens, piping and other equipment can have become coated with quantities of the gold, palladium or the other precious metals that have been used as platings.
  2. If a tank has been used to apply alloys of precious metals, the “used” cathodes can still contain quantities of precious metals that can be quite valuable.
  3. The used electrolytic fluid, and any “sludge” that accumulated on the bottom of tanks or elsewhere, can contain quantities of the precious metal that was used as a plating.

Want to Know What Your Used E-Plating Materials are Worth?

Several factors can determine how much value you have in used electroplating supplies – the kind of metal that was used as plating, for example. If you have quantities of these potentially valuable recyclables on hand, why not call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344. Tell us what you have and we’ll be pleased to help you claim the hidden dollars that could be hiding in it.

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