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Make Your Own Etching Solution for Cheap

Etching Solution

Etching solutions used to be expensive to buy, but you can easily make your own in your home from common household chemicals. Making your etching solution allows you to save money. Still, it also allows you to customize the chemical solution so that it will etch the kind of material you need and use your choice of safe chemicals around children and pets. You’ll only need a few common household ingredients! Here’s how to make your etching solution at home.

What You Need

For etching, you will need a substrate that holds your design, whatever it may be. PCBs and glass slides are commonly used materials. You will also need a tank to hold your chemicals and a water bath to heat your chemicals at an even temperature for proper etching. Last but not least, you will need a chemical formulation that will vary based on what type of material you want to etch.

Getting Started

For any etching process, you’ll need an etchant. An etchant is typically a chemical solution that reacts with metal and converts it into an etched image. In electronic circuit fabrication, plating techniques apply metallic layers of copper or aluminum. But these techniques rely on expensive equipment and dangerous chemicals (such as hydrochloric acid).

Here’s how to use household ingredients to create your etchant using simple laboratory supplies. You can formulate safe, inexpensive solutions by making your chemical formulations at home from basic ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, and salt.

Etching Time

In general, how long you spend etching depends on how dark you want your final design to be and what material you’re using. Stronger solutions usually require more time. But if you decide to make your etchant, it’s a good idea to ask around before mixing chemicals that can burn skin and damage nearby objects (like furniture or carpet).

Each chemical formulation is slightly different in terms of potency and required time. Remember—if it doesn’t work at first, play with your formula or experiment with another material. For example, glass etches faster than metal, so if your experiments aren’t producing noticeable results after 30 minutes, try something else!

Rinse Phase

The rinse phase is necessary to remove any salt, leftover etchant, or dirty developer from your glass. After rinsing your glass in running water, dry it off as best as possible with a soft cloth. The next step is optional: if you have access to analytical laboratory equipment and want to bring your etch, put two drops of hydrochloric acid (HCl) onto your glass surface (refer to Table 1).

HCl will increase carbonate surface area and activate OH– ions on exposed SiO2 surfaces. A 3N solution of HCl should be diluted 50:50 with deionized water (DIW).

Patience Is Key

You must be patient when using copper etchant because it takes time to work. It might take 5-6 hours before your object is etched through. The good news is that you can do something else while your etchant works away at all that copper. Make sure you don’t cover your container, especially if it’s exposed to light, or change anything in your solution!

If any dust falls into it or if there’s a significant amount of sunlight hitting it, both will significantly slow down (or stop) your etch process. You may even end up ruining your chemical solution consumption and have to start from scratch, which isn’t cheap; remember, patience is key.

Post-etching Tips

  • Clean your copper board with an analytical laboratory cleaner to remove any residue, then rinse it in distilled water. Allow it to dry and then place it on a flat surface—like a window sill—so that air can circulate it.
  • Be careful not to place your board in direct sunlight, though; being etched is stressful enough without having to worry about light-fastness issues.
  • Air circulation keeps moisture from building up.
  • which can distort your etchings over time as copper oxides (which are less soluble than pure copper).
  • If you’re worried about display space, try hanging your work off a ceiling hook or tall structure. For example, if you were trying to hang a framed piece by its wire hanger and the wire wasn’t strong enough.
  • Drill two holes into the back of the frame and hang it with eye hooks screwed into the wall. That way, your frame doesn’t need much support but still has something holding it up.


In conclusion, there is no substitute for knowing your ingredients when it comes to solutions and reactions. The etching solution you buy at a store may be convenient. Still, it’s more expensive than making your own. As with any analytical laboratory reaction, getting your hands dirty (and not just figuratively) will help you remember how to do it next time. In my opinion, that’s worth every penny—or centiliter of hydrochloric acid.

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