What is the Hexavalent chromium and its disadvantage

Hexavalent chromium

Hexavalent chromium plating, also known as hex-chromeCr6+, and chrome (VI) plating, uses chromium trioxide (also known as chromic anhydride) as the main ingredient. Hexavalent chromium plating solution is used for decorative and hard plating, along with bright dipping of copper alloys, chromic acid anodizing, and chromate conversion coating.

A typical hexavalent chromium plating process is: (1) activation bath, (2) chromium bath, (3) rinse, and (4) rinse. The activation bath is typically a tank of chromic acid with a reverse current run through it. This etches the work-piece surface and removes any scale. In some cases the activation step is done in the chromium bath. The chromium bath is a mixture of chromium trioxide (CrO3) and sulfuric acid (sulfate, SO4), the ratio of which varies greatly between 75:1 to 250:1 by weight. This results in an extremely acidic bath (pH 0). The temperature and current density in the bath affect the brightness and final coverage. For decorative coating the temperature ranges from 35 to 45 °C (100 to 110 °F), but for hard coating it ranges from 50 to 65 °C (120 to 150 °F). Temperature is also dependent on the current density, because a higher current density requires a higher temperature. Finally, the whole bath is agitated to keep the temperature steady and achieve a uniform deposition.


One functional disadvantage of hexavalent chromium plating is low cathode efficiency, which results in bad throwing power. This means it leaves a non-uniform coating, with more on edges and less in inside corners and holes. To overcome this problem the part may be over-plated and ground to size, or auxiliary anodes may be used around the hard-to-plate areas.

From a health standpoint, hexavalent chromium is the most toxic form of chromium. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency regulates it heavily. The EPA lists hexavalent chromium as a hazardous air pollutant because it is a human carcinogen, a "priority pollutant" under the Clean Water Act, and a "hazardous constituent" under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Due to its low cathodic efficiency and high solution viscosity, a toxic mist of water and hexavalent chromium is released from the bath. Wet scrubbers are used to control these emissions. The discharge from the wet scrubbers is treated to precipitate the chromium from the solution because it cannot remain in the waste water.

Maintaining a bath surface tension less than 35 dynes/cm requires a frequent cycle of treating the bath with a wetting agent and confirming the effect on surface tension.Traditionally, surface tension is measured with a stalagmometer. This method is, however, tedious and suffers from inaccuracy (errors up to 22 dynes/cm have been reported), and is dependent on the user's experience and capabilities.

Additional toxic waste created from hexavalent chromium baths include lead chromates, which form in the bath because lead anodes are used. Barium is also used to control the sulfate concentration, which leads to the formation of barium sulfate (BaSO4), a hazardous waste.