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What is anodizing hero What is anodizing hero

What Is Anodizing?

Anodizing is an electrochemical process that creates a thick protective finish on a piece of metal in a rapid and controlled manner.

This finish is strong, durable, corrosion resistant, and highly porous. The porosity also allows it to be used for decorative purposes. Dyes and sealants easily seep into the anodized surface and stay there. This is how you get all those brilliantly colored aluminum products, for example.

Japanese scientists developed and patented the process in 1923, initially using it to protect aluminum-copper alloy parts on seaplanes from corrosion.

Old japanese sea plane Old japanese sea plane

What Can Be Anodized?

While any nonferrous metal can be anodized, aluminum is the most common. Titanium is the second most common, but it is nowhere near as popular as aluminum. If you try to anodize ferrous metals, such as alloy steel, they will just corrode and damage the material.

Online Metals’ carries anodized aluminum angle, rectangle bar, square bar, sheet/plate, rectangle tube, round tube, and square tube.

How Does Anodizing Work?

Without being overly technical, the metal is submerged in a tank filled with an acid electrolytic solution. Next you pass an electrical current through the aluminum, which serves as an anode. Then place a cathode into the tank, usually made from aluminum or lead. The resulting electrical current pulls oxygen ions out of the electrolytic liquid. This causes rapid, controlled, oxidation on the surface of the piece.

Aluminum and titanium do naturally oxidize, but the layer created through anodization is thicker than what happens in nature.

Anodizing metals anodizing diagram Anodizing metals anodizing diagram

There are numerous methods and types of acids used for the process. However, those are a bit complicated and beyond the scope of this blog post

What is Anodizing Used For?

Anodized metal, especially aluminum, is used for all sorts of applications, some are literally out of this world.

NASA uses anodized aluminum on spacecraft and satellites. Spacecraft see massive temperature swings in space, depending on if they are exposed to sunlight or not. But anodized metal is less thermally conductive, reducing the impact of these rapid and dramatic changes. NASA also anodizes its handrails a bright gold color to help them visually stand out to astronauts.

More down to earth uses include architectural structures, appliances, interior decoration, food preparation equipment, sporting goods, boats, oil rigs, docks, motor vehicle components, firearm components, jewelry, and artwork.

In daily life, you are most likely to encounter anodized aluminum smartphones, multitools, flashlights, cookware, cameras, window frames, roofs, pocketknives, and jewelry.

With excellent durability, low maintenance, superb corrosion resistance, and ease of applying cosmetic features, anodized metal has countless uses.

Anodized metal stacked together Anodized metal stacked together

What Makes Anodizing More Durable?

Largely this is because it isn’t a clear separate layer. Consider paint or plating, where you have a thin layer of material attached to an underlying layer of metal. This can be scratched, scraped, or flaked off. Anodizing physically changes the outer layer of the material, so it is melded to the rest of the metal. It therefore cannot be scratched or scraped off since it is part of the metal. The only way to remove the anodizing is to gouge the metal straight through the oxide. And if that is happening, you’ve got bigger problems than flaking or peeling.

The anodized layer is an oxide too, so it won’t oxidize further, which is what makes it so corrosion resistant. And due to the porosity of the anodizing layer, it's both durable and can be given sealants, paints, and other hardening surfaces to further enhance toughness. These sealants seep into the metal and bond with it in a much stronger fashion than just putting a layer on top.

Other Benefits of Anodizing

Beyond the durability of both the finish and any applied colors, there are numerous other reasons to choose anodized metals. Generally, components with an anodic oxide finish wind up having a lower cost. The process itself is inexpensive, and the durability of the finish results in lower maintenance costs and superior long-term value. Further, it is chemically stable and will therefore not decompose. The finished metal is also non-toxic, and heat resistant.

Can You Weld Anodized Metals?

Welding is the only real weak spot for this process. Because the anodic oxide layer is very hard and not thermally conductive, you can’t really weld it easily. Furthermore, the melting point for the oxide is typically higher than that of the base aluminum below. This adds extra complications with welding. Lastly, due to the rigidity of the material, it is more likely to crack from the heat than melt and weld. As such, it is inadvisable to attempt to weld anodized aluminum.

Shot of multiple anodized metal pieces Shot of multiple anodized metal pieces

How Does Anodizing Impact the Environment?

This is another great benefit for the anodizing process! It is one of the most environmentally friendly metal finishing processes available. A little bit of aluminum hydroxide and aluminum sulfate are produced, both of which are easily recycled. This leaves a small amount of waste, typically halogens and volatile organic compounds, that are easily disposed of.

We hope this answers your questions about anodizing and helps inspire some ideas about what this fascinating finish can do for you!

About Online Metals

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Online Metals is the world’s leading eCommerce metal supplier, specializing in small quantity cut-to-size metals and plastics, delivered in a fast and reliable manner.

Since 1998, Online Metals has expanded our catalog to over 85,000 different cut sizes, grown our national footprint to seven pickup locations across the U.S., and continued to improve upon our best-in-class customer experience.

Check out our materials: Alloy Steel, Aluminum, Anodized Aluminum, Beryllium Copper, Brass, Bronze, Carbon Steel, Copper, Cast Iron, Nickel, Nickel Silver, Plastic, Stainless Steel, Titanium, Tool Steel, Unistrut®, Wrought Iron, & Zinc

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