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I'm restoring a motorcycle and have a small homemade DIY zinc plating operation which consists of vinegar, epsom salt, a piece of zinc and a power supply.

When I plate a steel piece such as a bolt or small hardware piece, the piece in the solution starts forming small bubbles and it appears to be "gassing off" something. I was wondering what type of gas this may be and if it's harmful to breathe.

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  • $\begingroup$ Vinegar and Epsom salt would not create anything. Vinegar and zinc, though, would create hydrogen. No, it will not poison you. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Nov 24 '16 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ You're creating hydrogen gas at your part. No toxicity hazard. You need a substantial zinc concentration in the solution before you'll plate much metal -- are you sure you're actually putting zinc down? When I get a chance, I'll try to post a more thorough answer (unless I get beaten to the punch...). $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Nov 24 '16 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you both for answering my question. @hBy2Py Yea, I'm laying zinc down nicely on the parts. It just has a hard time getting into concave areas such as inside a nut or irregular shaped hardware piece $\endgroup$ – Stuart Nov 24 '16 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, throwing into the insides of features is a common plating challenge. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Nov 24 '16 at 14:07
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You're most likely forming $\ce{H2}$ gas at the part.

If you're plating anywhere above about $2~\mathrm V$, that is probably sufficient overpotential to cause part of the passed current to go toward electrolysis of water.

There is negligible toxicity hazard to inhaling the small amounts of hydrogen that would be generated from an electrolytic cell on this scale.

There's a small ignition hazard if anything sparks near electrolyte of the plating cell as it's operating, but as long as you're not running it inside a tightly closed, small space you should have nothing to worry about with how small the cell is.

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