Science Project on Nails That Rust

By Lee Johnson; Updated April 25, 2017
Nails are generally used in experiments that investigate oxidization.

The oxidization or rusting of nails is an interesting topic for a science project. There are many different scientific experiments that can be done to further investigate the causes of rusting and the ways in which it can be prevented. Learning some basic information about a few different science projects involving nails that rust is a good way to decide which direction you want to take with your science project.

Basic Rusting

This project involving rusting and nails is very basic, but is easy to replicate and shows the reasons for rusting. The project requires two iron nails, two containers, a tiny bit of oil and some ordinary tap water. One nail is placed in the first container, along with enough water to wholly cover the nail. The second nail is placed in the second container covered with water that has been boiled and cooled down. Add some vegetable oil to the second container so it forms a layer over the water. The jars are then left for a few days, after which the nail in the first container has rusted, but the nail in the second has not. Water and air are necessary components for rusting to take place. The first container has air in the water, but the second one has had the air molecules boiled out of the water, and the oil prevents new air from getting in.

Salt and Rusting

This experiment involves mixing up a large jug of salt water, and then adding it in varying degrees to four different cups. There is an iron nail in each of the cups, and after the salt water has been added, the cups are all filled with ordinary water. The first cup should contain no salt water, the second should be filled a quarter of the way with salt water, the third cup should be filled half way, and the fourth should be entirely salt water. The cups should be labeled accordingly. After the cups have been topped up with water, they are left in a safe place. The salt in the water causes the electrons to transfer more rapidly and therefore speeds up the rusting process.

Moisture and Rusting

This experiment requires the use of a desiccator, which is container with two layers separated by wire gauze. The purpose of this container is to allow compounds to interact without being physically mixed. A few dry, iron nails are placed in the top half of the desiccator, and some calcium chloride crystals are placed in the bottom. Calcium chloride crystals absorb all the moisture in the air around them. Wet some nails and hang them to dry outside of the desiccator as a “control” group. The nail inside the desiccator will not rust because they are not exposed to moisture.

Organic Bacteria and Rusting

This experiment investigates whether or not organic bacteria has any effect on the rusting process. Three (or more) jars are used, each containing boiled water. One jar is used as a control, so the nail is simply placed into boiled water. The second jar has some yeast added, and the third has some natural yogurt added (equal amounts). If you are using more jars, you can also test other materials such as soil and pond water. All the jars have an iron nail placed inside. After a week, the levels of rust are measured. The jars containing yeast and yogurt shouldn't rust, because both yeast and yogurt ferment and produce carbon dioxide as opposed to oxygen, which is required for rusting.

About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005. His articles have appeared in "Sandman" magazine, the "Crewe Chronicle" and on the website Beyond Hollywood. He is primarily a music journalist but has written on many subjects. Johnson has a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.