I want to know whether increasing the concentration of salt, specifically $\ce{NaCl}$, increases or decreases the rate of rusting. There are conflicting theories that explain opposite outcomes:

  1. Increasing concentration of salt decreases the amount of dissolved oxygen and thus decreases the rate of rusting
  2. Increasing concentration increases electron mobility and thus increases rate of rusting

I haven't been able to how rusting works in full detail nor have I been able to understand why there are two contradicting theories present. It seems that people write it more out of opinion than with factual basis.

Can someone please clarify?


1 Answer 1


In general, salt (particularly NaCl) will increase the rate of corrosion (rusting).

To understand why, consider metallic iron $\ce{Fe}$ which rusts (oxidises) to iron(II) oxide $\ce{Fe2O3}$ in the presence of oxygen $\ce{O2}$ and water $\ce{H2O}$.

$$\ce{4Fe +3O2 +6H2O->4Fe(OH)3}$$

Corrosion (rust) is a 'redox' reaction, which means it involves reduction of oxygen into hydroxide ions and oxidation of metallic iron to iron cations.

For any redox reaction to take place, electrons are transferred. In this case, from the metallic iron which loses electrons to oxygen. The presence of salt (or any electrolyte) in the water accelerates the reaction because it increases the conductivity of water, effectively increasing the concentration of ions in the water and so increasing the rate of oxidation (corrosion) of the metal.

The situation is complicated by the fact that salt dissolved in water actually reduced the amount of dissolved oxygen present in the water. This is because the water molecules are attracted to the dissolved ions from the salt (solvation), which has the tendency to decrease the weak affinity of non-polar oxygen molecules to water, thereby deriving dissolved oxygen out. So if the metal is totally submerged in water, higher salt concentrations can actually reduce the rate of corrosion, if the water is not aerated.

So it depends upon the amount of oxygen getting into the water and onto the metal. For example, underwater plants can release oxygen in salty water which will accelerate the rate of corrosion of the submerged metal. Of course, if the metal is not completely submerged in salt water but only partially submerged, or is affected by salt water 'spray', it will be still be exposed to oxygen and will rust faster.


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