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a before and after image of stainless steel treated with a passivation technique

Stainless Steel Passivation | When and Why

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When it comes to passivating stainless steel (SS), titanium (Ti), and other alloys, two commonly used methods are nitric acid passivation and citric acid passivation. While both methods are effective and detailed in industry standards like ASTM A967 and AMS 2700, there are significant differences to consider. This section will explore the distinctions between nitric and citric passivation, highlighting their environmental impact, safety aspects, historical background, industry standards, and more.

Nitric Acid Passivation:

  • Proven Method: Nitric acid passivation has a long-established history and is recognized as a reliable approach to passivating stainless steel.
  • Corrosion Risks: Certain grades of stainless steel have a higher risk of etching, known as flash attack, during nitric acid passivation. To mitigate this risk, options such as adding sodium dichromate, increasing nitric acid concentration, or raising the temperature may be employed.
  • Safety Concerns: Nitric acid is a hazardous chemical that emits toxic and corrosive fumes, requiring special attention to ventilation and safe handling. Sodium dichromate, used as an additive, is a known carcinogen.
  • Industry Standards: Nitric acid passivation is specified in industry standards like ASTM A967 and AMS 2700, with different types and parameters depending on the stainless steel grade.
possible nitric acid conditions that can be used for passivation

Citric Acid Passivation:

  • Environmentally Friendly: Citric acid passivation emerged as a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative in the 1990s. It does not produce nitrogen oxide vapors (NOx), contributing to smog, acid rain, or ozone layer depletion.
  • Employee Safety: Citric acid is a non-hazardous material that requires no special handling or regulatory oversight. It does not corrode other equipment and poses minimal risks to worker safety.
  • Industry Standards: Citric acid passivation is specified in industry standards such as ASTM A967 and AMS 2700, catering to various grades of stainless steel.
  • Process Efficiency: Citric acid passivation offers shorter cycle times, with parts typically processed in as little as 4 minutes compared to a minimum of 20 minutes with nitric acid.
  • Improved Formulations: Recent advancements in citric acid formulations have addressed concerns about potential organic growth and molding issues, making it more accessible to smaller manufacturers.
some conditions that can be used for citric acid passivation

Comparison Summary: Nitric Acid vs. Citric Acid Passivation:

This table provides a concise overview of the key distinctions between nitric acid and citric acid passivation:

Nitric and citric acid passivation comparison for stainless steel

By understanding the differences between nitric acid and citric acid passivation, businesses can make informed decisions regarding the most suitable method for their specific requirements. While nitric acid passivation remains a proven approach, citric acid passivation offers environmental benefits, improved safety, and comparable effectiveness in passivating stainless steel.

At Best Technology, we work closely with companies in aerospace and medical device industries, helping them transition from nitric to citric acid passivation. Our expertise and experience enable us to showcase the equivalency of these passivation methods, making the conversion process smoother and more efficient.


Both nitric acid and citric acid passivation are widely accepted methods for passivating stainless steel in various industries. While nitric acid has a longstanding history, citric acid passivation has gained traction due to its environmental friendliness, employee safety, and shorter processing times. By considering the specific requirements, safety concerns, and industry standards, businesses can choose the most suitable passivation method for their needs, ensuring optimal corrosion resistance and compliance with industry standards.

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FAQ - Nitric Acid vs. Citric Acid Passivation

Q1: What is passivation, and why is it important for stainless steel and titanium?

A: Passivation is a chemical process that removes impurities and contaminants from the surface of stainless steel and titanium, enhancing their corrosion resistance. It helps create a passive oxide layer that acts as a protective barrier against rust and other forms of corrosion.

Q2: What is the difference between nitric acid passivation and citric acid passivation?

A: Nitric acid passivation is a traditional method that has been used for many years. It offers proven effectiveness in passivating stainless steel but comes with safety and environmental concerns due to its hazardous nature. On the other hand, citric acid passivation is a newer, safer, and more environmentally friendly alternative. It has gained popularity for its ability to passivate stainless steel effectively and reduce risks associated with handling and disposal.

Q3: Which industries use nitric acid passivation, and which industries prefer citric acid passivation?

A: Nitric acid passivation has been widely used in various industries, including aerospace, automotive, and medical devices. Citric acid passivation, with its safer and environmentally friendly properties, is increasingly adopted in industries that prioritize worker safety and environmental impact. This includes medical devices, food processing, and pharmaceuticals.

Q4: Are both nitric acid and citric acid passivation methods compliant with industry standards?

A: Yes, both nitric acid and citric acid passivation methods comply with industry standards. Nitric acid passivation is detailed in ASTM A967 and AMS 2700 standards, while citric acid passivation is covered by the same standards, along with additional industry-specific standards such as ASTM A380 and AMS QQ-P-35.

Q5: How do nitric acid and citric acid differ in terms of safety?

A: Nitric acid is a hazardous chemical that emits toxic and corrosive fumes. It requires special precautions, including ventilation and appropriate safety equipment, to handle and dispose of safely. In contrast, citric acid is a non-hazardous material derived from citrus fruits, making it much safer for employees to handle. It does not pose significant risks to worker safety or the environment.

Q6: Which passivation method offers shorter process times?

A: Citric acid passivation generally offers shorter process times compared to nitric acid passivation. Parts can be processed in as little as 4 minutes using citric acid, whereas nitric acid passivation typically requires a minimum of 20 minutes.

Q7: Can citric acid passivation effectively passivate all grades of stainless steel?

A: Yes, citric acid passivation is effective in passivating nearly all grades of stainless steel. It is suitable for austenitic, ferritic, and duplex stainless steels, ensuring proper corrosion resistance across a wide range of applications.

Q8: What are the environmental benefits of citric acid passivation?

A: Citric acid passivation is considered more environmentally friendly compared to nitric acid passivation. Citric acid does not emit toxic or corrosive gases and does not contribute to smog or acid rain. Its use aligns with sustainable practices and minimizes the impact on the environment.

Q9: Are there any considerations when choosing between nitric acid and citric acid passivation?

A: When choosing between the two methods, factors such as safety requirements, environmental impact, process time, and specific industry standards should be taken into account. It is advisable to consult with passivation experts to determine the most suitable method for your specific needs and ensure compliance with relevant standards.

Q10: Can Best Technology assist in the transition from nitric acid to citric acid passivation?

A: Yes, Best Technology has extensive experience in assisting companies with transitioning from nitric acid to citric acid passivation. We can provide guidance, expertise, and solutions to help businesses make a smooth and successful conversion, ensuring the benefits of citric acid passivation are fully realized.

Note: The FAQ section provides general information and should not be considered as professional advice. For specific guidance regarding passivation methods and their suitability for your application, consult with passivation experts or refer to industry standards and regulations.

Author Bio Image

Ryan Wright

Ryan Wright is a chemical engineer and metallurgist with a passion for outdoor living. He has an ongoing love for research and is well experienced in whole animal spits, fire pits, and parrilla grilling.

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