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I have a doubt whether that in presence of tap water or salt water or air the nail gets rusted fastly

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The short answer is Yes, it does. The reason is, because "salt" (NaCl) is a strong electrolyte, which facilitates the flow of electrons in a naturally produced mini-circuit on the surface of the nail, which is in contact with both air (oxygen) and moisture (water).

The "mini-circuit" mentioned above is the consequence of the kind of reaction (oxidation and reduction occurring simultaneously, called a redox reaction) that an uncharged metal atom (like iron, Fe) can undergo because of its ability to lose its valence electrons (loosely held) that normally move around the outermost orbital of its nucleus. This kind of electron transfer spontaneously occurs (i.e., by itself without any outside help) only if the iron is able to come in contact with an atom of another element, or the ion of that other element (which can be a metal or not), that has an attraction for electrons (standard reduction potential) that is stronger than the attraction of electrons by the iron. For a more detailed and technical explanation, please see my "Solution 2" for this problem.

What's salt got to do with all this?

An electrolyte (pronounced, electro-lite), is so-named because it is a substance that can conduct electricity (electric current). Strong electrolytes (salts) dissolved in water, melted (molten) electrolytes (in absence of water), and pure metals are good electrical conductors*. What makes a strong electrolyte able to conduct electricity is its ionic nature, that is, its being made up of ions, which have charges. When NaCl ("salt") is dissolved in water, it immediately breaks up (dissociates) into its constituent ions (Na+ and Cl-). It's these ions that make the solution a good conductor. So, the more ions in aqueous solution, the more effective the solution can support the flow (transfer) of electrons (current) that are involved in the type of reaction (redox) occurring in the rusting of a nail.

*Exactly how these substances are able to act as conductors has been described in complex theories, but most chemistry textbooks omit them, except for how metals behave as conductors - see more about this using the key search term, electron-sea model, a very well developed theory of metallic bonding. Probably, one of the most essential characteristics of a good conductor is the mobility of its charged particles. For example, though a solution of ions is a good conductor, the pure solid form of the same electrolyte behaves as a non-electrolyte! So, it is reasonable to deduce that when an electron contributes to an electron current going through a solution of ions, it hops a ride on those charged particles, or that the very rapid collisions between them are very effective in allowing virtually instantaneous net electron movement across them.

You also asked about the effect of tap water. See my Solution 2 for this problem.


Posted on Jan 09, 2011

  • DubbleA Jan 10, 2011

    For a more theoretical and detailed explanation of about how the mini-circuit is formed from the reaction of the iron and air, and how water (tap and pure) and salt are involved, please feel free to post another question requesting it.



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We used the camera in the ocean first time 10 days ago. We did not wash it afterwards. Was working fine till today. The lens wont open. The camera is dead. It does charge. HELP!

Unfortunately you have effectively destroyed your camera. Salt water is up there with fire and crushing as the absolute great unrepairables when it comes to assessing damage. Plenty of owners can and do repeatedly get away with what you failed to do, but you only need to be unlucky once.

Your camera is designed to be waterproof down to 10m (33') for up to one hour, but as with all such devices it must be thoroughly rinsed in fresh water after each exposure to salt water and then left well ventilated to dry. The user manual also clearly states this and gives particular instructions on the way to do so with slight differences depending upon whether the camera has additionally been exposed to sand or soil. A further preventative measure to protect your camera is to have the seals replaced at least annually as recommended by all waterproof camera manufacturers.

If the camera is not rinsed then salt crystals and/or rust form (stainless steel isn't totally immune to rust, and rust can form extremely quickly, especially in salt water). Whether it's salt cystals or rust the effect is the same as they will both tend to shift the waterproof seals slightly and allow water inside. It only takes a tiny drop of saltwater to get inside where, once trapped, it will gradually deposit corrosive and conductive salt traces which effectively destroy the electronics. Once it's in there the only slight chance of a fix is to remove the battery and memory card and then flood the interior with de-ionised water, but this has to be done immediately to have any chance of working. Your camera has now been left too long and so the damage is irreversible and in any case I know of no owner (myself included) who would have dismantled an apparently working camera to flood it with water unless it was known for certain that water had got inside.

Unfortunately your only fix is to replace your camera and to learn from your expensive mistake. I know of no professional repairer who will even attempt a repair to a flooded digital camera; there are simply too many expensive parts which must be replaced and there's too much chance of subsequent ongoing corrosion if even the tiniest mineral deposits remain in the camera.

Sorry I cannot offer you a more positive outcome, but I hope that you now understand why rising is vital and that my advice saves you from repeating the error.

Please take a moment to rate my reply, or if you have further questions regarding my answer then add a comment and I shall respond as soon as I can.

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