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Eight Forms of Corrosion

by: Fontana & Greene, 1967

The idea of describing the various ways corrosion can damage metals by it appearance had be used by many before Fontana and Greene coauthored their famous book in 1967. McKay and Worthington were already discussing various forms of corrosion in their 1936 book on corrosion. following Alan Pollitt in his own book published thirteen years sooner, i.e. 1923. However, the classification that follows seems to have gained the widest acceptance with subtle variations between authors.

It is convenient to classify corrosion by the forms in which it manifests itself, the basis for this classification being the appearance of the corroded metal. Each form can be identified by mere visual observation. In most cases the naked eye is sufficient, but sometimes magnification is helpful or required. Valuable information for the solution of a corrosion problem can often be obtained through careful observation of the corroded test specimens or failed equipment. Examination before cleaning is particularly desirable. Some of the eight forms of corrosion are unique, but all of them are more or less interrelated. The eight forms are: (1) uniform, or general attack, (2) galvanic, or two-metal corrosion, (3) crevice corrosion, (4) pitting, (5) intergranular corrosion, (6) selective leaching, or parting, (7) erosion corrosion, and (8) stress corrosion. This listing is arbitrary but covers practically all corrosion failures and problems. The forms are not listed in any particular order of importance. Below, the eight forms of corrosion are discussed in terms of their characteristics, mechanisms, and preventive measures. Hydrogen damage, although not a form of corrosion, often occurs indirectly as a result of corrosive attack, and is therefore included in this discussion. (reference)

Uniform Attack

Uniform attack is the most common form of corrosion. It is normally characterized by a chemical or electrochemical reaction which proceeds uniformly over the entire exposed surface or over a large area. The metal becomes thinner and eventually fails. For example, a piece of steel or zinc immersed in dilute sulfuric acid will normally dissolve at a uniform rate over its entire surface. A sheet iron roof will show essentially the same degree of rusting over its entire outside surface.

Uniform attack, or general overall corrosion, represents the greatest destruction of metal on a tonnage basis. This form of corrosion, however, is not of too great concern from the technical standpoint, because the life of equipment can be accurately estimated on the basis of comparatively simple tests. Merely immersing specimens in the fluid involved is often sufficient. Uniform attack can be prevented or reduced by (1) proper materials, including coatings, (2) inhibitors, or (3) cathodic protection. (back to top)

Galvanic or Two-Metal Corrosion

A potential difference usually exists between two dissimilar metals when they are immersed in a corrosive or conductive solution. If these metals are placed in contact (or otherwise electrically connected), this potential difference produces electron flow between them. Corrosion of the less corrosion-resistant metal is usually increased and attack of the more resistant material is decreased, as compared with the behavior of these metals when they are not in contact. The less resistant metal becomes anodic and the more resistant metal cathodic. Usually the- cathode or cathodic metal corrodes very little or not at all in this type of couple. Because of the electric currents and dissimilar metals involved, this form of corrosion is called galvanic, or two-metal, corrosion. It is electrochemical corrosion, but we shall restrict the term galvanic to dissimilar-metal effects for purposes of clarity. (back to top)

Crevice Corrosion

Intense localized corrosion frequently occurs within crevices and other shielded areas on metal surfaces exposed to corrosives. This type of attack is usually associated with small volumes of stagnant solution caused by holes, gasket surfaces, lap joints, surface deposits, and crevices under bolt and rivet heads. As a result, this form of corrosion is called crevice corrosion or, sometimes, deposit or gasket corrosion.(back to top)

Pitting

Pitting is a form of extremely localized attack that results in holes in the metal. These holes may be small or large in diameter, but in most cases they are relatively small. Pits are sometimes isolated or so close together that they look like a rough surface. Generally a pit may be described as a cavity or hole with the surface diameter about the same as or less than the depth.

Pitting is one of the most destructive and insidious forms of corrosion. It causes equipment to fail because of perforation with only a small percent weight loss of the entire structure. It is often difficult to detect pits because of their small size and because the pits are often covered with corrosion products. In addition, it is difficult to measure quantitatively and compare the extent of pitting because of the varying depths and numbers of pits that may occur under identical conditions. Pitting is also difficult to predict by laboratory tests. Sometimes the pits require a long time-several months or a year-to show up in actual service. Pitting is particularly vicious because it is a localized and intense form of corrosion, and failures often occur with extreme suddenness.(back to top)

Intergranular Corrosion

Grain boundary effects are of little or no consequence in most applications or uses of metals. If a metal corrodes, uniform attack results since grain boundaries are usually only slightly more reactive than the matrix. However, under certain conditions, grain interfaces are very reactive and intergranular corrosion results. Localized attack at and adjacent to grain boundaries, with relatively little corrosion of the grains, is intergranular corrosion. The alloy disintegrates (grains fall out) and/or loses its strength.

Intergranular corrosion can be caused by impurities at the grain boundaries, enrichment of one of the alloying elements, or depletion of one of these elements in the grain-boundary areas. Small amounts of iron in aluminum, wherein the solubility of iron is low, have been shown to segregate in the grain boundaries and cause intergranular corrosion. It has been shown that based on surface tension considerations the zinc content of a brass is higher at the grain boundaries. Depletion of chromium in the grain-boundary regions results in intergranular corrosion of stainless steels.(back to top)

Selective leaching

Selective leaching is the removal of one element from a solid alloy by corrosion processes. The most common example is the selective removal of zinc in brass alloys (dezincification). Similar processes occur in other alloy systems in which aluminum; iron, cobalt, chromium, and other elements are removed. Selective leaching is the general term to describe these processes, and its use precludes the creation of terms such as dealuminumification, decobaltification, etc. Parting is a metallurgical term that is sometimes applied, but selective leaching is preferred. (back to top)

Erosion Corrosion

Erosion corrosion is the acceleration or increase in rate of deterioration or attack on a metal because of relative movement between a corrosive fluid and the metal surface. Generally, this movement is quite rapid, and mechanical wear effects or abrasion are involved. Metal is removed from the surface as dissolved ions, or it forms solid corrosion products which are mechanically swept from the metal surface. Sometimes, movement of the environment decreases corrosion, particularly when localized attack occurs under stagnant conditions, but this is not erosion corrosion because deterioration is not increased.

Erosion corrosion is characterized in appearance by grooves, gullies, waves, rounded holes, and valleys and usually exhibits a directional pattern. In many cases, failures because of erosion corrosion occur in a relatively short time, and they are unexpected largely because evaluation corrosion tests were run under static conditions or because the erosion effects were not considered.(back to top)

Stress-corrosion cracking

Stress-corrosion cracking refers to cracking caused by the simultaneous presence of tensile stress and a specific corrosive medium. Many investigators have classified all cracking failures occurring in corrosive mediums as stress-corrosion cracking, including failures due to hydrogen embrittlement. However, these two types of cracking failures respond differently to environmental variables. To illustrate, cathodic protection is an effective method for preventing stress-corrosion cracking whereas it rapidly accelerates hydrogen-embrittlement effects. Hence, the importance of considering stress-corrosion cracking and hydrogen embrittlement as separate phenomena is obvious. For this reason, the two cracking phenomena are discussed separately in this chapter.

During stress-corrosion cracking, the metal or alloy is virtually unattacked over most of its surface, while fine cracks progress through it. This cracking phenomenon has serious consequences since it can occur at stresses within the range of typical design stress. Exposure to boiling MgCl2 at 310F (154C) is shown to reduce the strength capability to approximately that available at 1200F.

The two classic cases of stress-corrosion cracking are "season cracking" of brass, and the "caustic embrittlement" of steel. Both of these obsolete terms describe the environmental conditions present which led to stress-corrosion cracking. Season cracking refers to the stress-corrosion cracking failure of brass cartridge cases. During periods of heavy rainfall, especially in the tropics, cracks were observed in the brass cartridge cases at the point where the case was crimped to the bullet. It was later found that the important environmental component in season cracking was ammonia resulting from the decomposition of organic matter.

Many explosions of riveted boilers occurred in early steam-driven locomotives. Examination of these failures showed cracks or brittle failures at the rivet holes. These areas were cold-worked during riveting operations, and analysis of the whitish deposits found in these areas showed caustic, or sodium hydroxide, to be the major component. Hence, brittle fracture in the presence of caustic resulted in the term caustic embrittlement. While stress alone will react in ways well known in mechanical metallurgy (i.e., creep, fatigue, tensile failure) and corrosion alone will react to produce characteristic dissolution reactions; the simultaneous action of both sometimes produces the disastrous results.(back to top)