Iron Corrosion Products

Only iron and steel rust. Other metals corrode. Rusting is an oxidation process. What we normally call rust is a flaky red-brown solid which is largely hydrated iron.The primary corrosion product of iron is Fe(OH)2 (or more likely FeO.nH2O), but the action of oxygen and water can yield other products having different colors:

  1. Fe2O3.H2O (hydrous ferrous oxide, sometimes written as Fe(OH)3) is the principal component of red-brown rust. It can form a mineral called hematite.

  2. Fe3O4.H2O ("hydrated magnetite" or ferrous ferrite, Fe2O3.FeO) is most often green but can be deep blue in the presence of organic complexants as shown here.

  3. Fe3O4 ("magnetite") is black

Red-brown flaky rust Black magnetite Blue/green unstable rust
Red-brown flaky rust Black magnetite Blue unstable rust

So, you are wondering, how did we make these experiments.

  1. For the first experiment we put a 5 cm finishing nail brushed with steel wool in a test tube containing 8 mL of tap water. The picture was taken three days later.

  2. The second experiment was carried out with an acidic solution containing 12% acetic acid. The second picture was taken an hour after the start of the experiment. You can produce a similar reaction with vinegar which typically contains 3% acetic acid in water. However, you will have to be more patient than we were.

  3. In the third experiment a pellet of sodium hydroxide (caustic 'Drano') was dropped in the test tube of the second experiment. The test tube was capped to prevent air to react with the solution. After three hours blue rust precipitates had more or less settled out as you can see in this picture.

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Oxidation State

Structure / comments

Fe2O3.H2O or Fe(OH)3

red brown


a-form Hematite, b-form used in recording tapes





Fe(OH)2 blue/green


soluble, the color going from yellow to green and blue by changing the pH of the solution from acidic to very basic





See also:Equilibrium reactions of iron in water, Iron corrosion products, Iron species and their thermodynamic data, Pourbaix diagram of iron, Rust chemistry, Rust converters, Steel corrosion

Hematite has several varieties, each with their own unique names. (reference) Hematite is an important ore of iron and it's blood red color (in the powdered form) lends itself well in use as a pigment. Hematite gets its name from a greek word meaning blood-like because of the color of its powder. Ancient superstition held that large deposits of hematite formed from battles that were fought and the subsequent blood that flowed into the ground. Crystals of Hematite are considered rare and are sought after by collectors as are fine Kidney Ore specimens.


The Hematite Group is a more or less informal group of closely related trigonal oxides. Their relationship is linked through their similar structures. The general formula for this group is A 2O3. The A cations can be either iron, titanium, aluminum, chromium, vanadium, magnesium, antimony, sodium, zinc and/or manganese. (reference)

The structure is composed of alternating layers of cations and oxygens. The cations occupy spaces in layers between the oxygen layers and each are bonded to three oxygens in the above layer and three oxygens in the bottom layer. Not all of the sites for these cations are occupied as only two out of three are filled. If all the sites were filled then the formula would be AO in stead of A 2O3.

In the Ilmenite Subgroup, alternating layers of cations are occupied by only titanium or antimony and the other cation layers are occupied by a dissimilar cation. This lowers the symmetry of this subgroup (bar 3); from the other members of this group (bar 3 2/m). The other members are not similarly affected because their A cations are all the same and thus there is no asymmetry to their stacking sequence. The same symmetry phenomena occurs between the Calcite Group and the Dolomite Group of carbonates.

These are the members of the Hematite Group:

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