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Is Corrosion Contagious?


This is a bit humiliating for me, however I will give it a shot anyway. I am a professional antique dealer and collector of fine antique toys. Throughout my life I have suffered off and on from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. I suppose it is a hereditary issue. Anyway, recently I have become overwhelmingly concerned with corrosion and the protection of my collection. It surfaced when I cleaned some battery terminal corrosion off of my car and became concerned some of it may have been tracked into the house on my clothing or shoes and spread around by myself or members of the family. Perhaps even the house cat!

 I then began obsessively cleaning everything that potentially may have been in contact with debris and it just continued to snowball. It has been going on for over a year now and I have also become concerned with the "contagious" potential of corrosion. I often obtain pieces made of brass, steel, cast iron, and early cast white metal. If I handle a piece that is badly corroded I become worried that it may "spread" to other pieces if I handle the corroded piece and then a clean piece. This is extremely annoying to me and although I try and try to just get over it, I just keep cycling back.

My therapist suggested I consult an expert and that it may help. I cannot answer these questions on my own as I hold a masters in history and well just did not have to take many science courses through college. I know this may sound absurd, but to me it is a very real problem, any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated as it appears you are the expert in this field. So i suppose to make my questions clearer:

  1. Is the corrosion found on the terminals of car batteries dangerous in small amounts long after it has been separated from the battery?
  2.  Is corrosion contagious from one piece of metal to the next?  Again I am mainly dealing with brass, steel, Cast iron, and pot metal.  

 Thank you sincerely in advance, perhaps you can help me put this behind me and get on with my life.


Thanks for your question. I hope my answer will make you feel better about corrosion so that you can find another topic to OCD on. Your question is very honest if you do not know what corrosion is, the chemical reaction of a metal exposed to the environment. So you need the metal itself, a more or less corrosive environment, and of course time. When the environment is very corrosive as in your car battery, which basically contains sulfuric acid, corrosion can be quite rapid. Corrosion would therefore be rapid if you were to pour this acid on your artifacts. But the corrosion products themselves are the result of the corrosion process and quite neutral in terms of their corrosivity. Basically the activity of the corrosive environment is spent by reacting with a given metal, the battery connectors in your case here. There is nothing living or contagious in the corrosion process.

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