Chemistry Fun: Copper-plate a nail

What cool thing  can you do with some old pennies & a nail?

Chemistry doesn’t have to be intimidating or limited to older kids.   There are lots of fun experiments for the whole family to participate in!

Today, you’ll see what happens when you put an iron nail in a penny-laden cup of lemon juice.


1/4 cup lemon juice

pinch of salt

plastic or paper cup (you must throw cup away after you’re finished)

20 dull pennies


iron nail (not galvanized)

steel wool scouring pad

What to do:

Pour the lemon juice into your disposable cup.   Place all the pennies in the lemon juice.   Add a pinch of salt & set your timer for 3 minutes.   While you’re waiting, rub the  pointy end of the  nail with the steel wool & rinse it off.

Put the rubbed side of the nail into the lemon juice & wait for an hour.

Pour off the lemon juice & rinse off the nail.   Do you notice anything different?   Use a magnifying glass and observe the difference of the two parts of the nail.   Why is the bottom darker?

You’ve copper-plated your nail!

The copper from the pennies dissolves a bit in the lemon juice, which produces copper ions.   When you put your nail into the lemon juice (acid), the copper ions are attracted to the iron in the nail and build up over the hour, layer by layer.

Now your nail has a new, fancy copper coat!

This experiment came from the book  Fizz, Bubble, Flash by Anita Brandolini, PhD.   We are using this book for our Chemistry for the Grammar Stage & the experiments are all quick, little-kid friendly, & most of them use stuff you’ve got around the house already.




  1. I’m going to try this experiment in Feb during President’s Day week when we talk about Abraham Lincoln on the penny. Thanks.

  2. Very cool. Perfect to link into a theme on money.

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