How to Refine Gold by the Aqua Regia Acid Method
The two acids which are used in this process are concentrated hydrochloric and nitric acids. Nitric acid is very corrosive. When combined with hydrochloric acid, the fumes become much more corrosive. So corrosive, in fact, that they will rust the highest grades of stainless steel with less than 1 second of exposure. For this reason, if you're using nitric acid, it must be done outdoors, away from anything that may be damaged by exposure to these fumes. If you're using a nitric acid substitute, it should still be outdoors, or within a self-contained system that neutralizes fumes.
Refining large quantities? See: Large Scale Gold Refining by Aqua Regia Acid Method
Having described its hazards, it must be pointed out that, like most industrial processes, refining gold in acid is quite safe when performed under controlled conditions. In addition, the results of doing your own refining can be quite lucrative. Based upon feedback we've received from several hundred shops, approximately 6-10% of your gold profit can be saved by refining gold yourself.
To refine gold in acid, you will need the following items:
1. Melt your gold and make shot
This is optional, but recommended if you are using nitric acid instead of a substitute. Small open-up granules are best. If you are refining filigree or jewelry, shotting is not necessary.
2. Pour the shot into one or more Pyrex or plastic containers.
For every ounce of scrap gold you are going to refine you will need a capacity of 300 milliliter. So, for example, if you are refining 10 ounces, you need a 3,000 milliliter (3 liter or 3 quart) container.
3. Add your reagent to the container.
If you are using nitric acid, add 30 ml to the container for each ounce of metal. If you are using MX3 or other nitric acid substitute for each ounce of metal.
If you're using a nitric acid substitute: add 120 ml of hydrochloric (or muriatic) acid to the container, along with your substitute reagent. The MX3 will not have any effect until this acid is added. Hydrochloric (or muriatic) acid is available in most hardware, paint, or pool supply stores.
4. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 30 minutes
This allows the reagent to dissolve your metal. You may or may not get a strong reaction with brown fumes.
Usually, but not always, the acid reacts slowly at first. After some minutes have passed, however, the acid will become very hot and brown, very corrosive fume (nitric oxides and other fumes) will be generated. Wait a minimum of one hour after the fumes have disappeared before pouring off or filtering the acid. If you can, wait overnight. This will ensure that the acid has had sufficient time to completely dissolve the gold.
5. Pour the acid into another, larger container.
Do not allow any particles to be poured off. If you have a filter funnel, preferably a Buchner filter funnel, use it. If any particles are poured off with the acid, they will contaminate your gold.
The acid will be an emerald green color and should be clear (not murky or cloudy). If the acid is murky, it may contain particles and should be refiltered.
6. Take one quart of tap water and heat it to boiling.
Remove from heat and add one pound of urea to the water. Despite the unpleasant name, this is just a harmless industrial chemical that has no smell and you will use to adjust the pH of the acid.
7. Add your water/urea mix to the acid.
Be sure to do this slowly, to ensure no gold particles are lost. The acid will foam with the addition of the water/urea mix.
Do not add the mix so quickly that the acid foams out of its container. When the acid stops reacting to the addition of water/urea mix, stop. This will raise the pH of the acid from 0.1 To 1.0, neutralizing the nitric acid but not the hydrochloric.
8. Add your precipitant to the solution
There are many different selective precipitants that can be used when refining gold. All will do the job well. However, your local supply house has one or two that they may favor. We recently developed Quadratic Precipitant to overcome many of the problems that refiners commonly experience. For whichever selective precipitant you decide to use, follow the instructions that accompany the product.
Take a quart of water and heat it to boiling in a Pyrex or Visionware container. Remove it from the heat and add to the water one ounce of storm precipitant for every ounce of metal you are refining. If you are refining many ounces of scrap gold, you may need to use more than one quart of water. Do not put your face near the opening of the container. The smell is very strong and pungent.
Add the water/precipitant solution slowly to the acid. Immediately the acid will change to a muddy brown appearance as brown particles of gold form in the water. This brown "mud" is, despite its appearance, pure gold.
9. Give the precipitant about 30 minutes to do its job.
10. Test the acid for the presence of dissolved gold.
Testing is generally done with an aqueous mixture of stannous chloride, hydrochloric acid and pure tin. Generally it's more convenient to buy this premixed rather than concoct it yourself (see: ready-made detection liquid). The premixed is commercially available as Precious Metal Detection Liquid. Precious metal detection liquid will detect the presence of dissolved gold down to 4 parts of gold per million parts of acid, detecting the presence of about 1/1000th of 1 gram of dissolved gold. Testing for the presence of dissolved gold is absolutely necessary to insure that no dissolved gold is thrown away with the waste acid.
- First immerse the end of the stirring rod in the acid.
- Remove it and touch that end to a paper towel to make a wet spot.
- Put a drop of gold detection liquid on the wet spot on the paper towel.
If any gold is still dissolved in the acid, the wet spot will turn a purple-black or a purple-brown. If you see this color change then give the precipitant more time to work and/or add more precipitant, and repeat the test until you determine that no gold is dissolved in acid.
11. Pour and rinse your pure gold with acid
The acid should now be a clear amber color with a brown mud at the bottom. Pour off the acid into another container. If you have a filter, use it. Do not pour off any of the mud. The mud is pure gold.
When all the acid is poured off, add tap water to the mud. Stir and let the mud settle. Pour off the water into the container with the acid. If you have a filter, use it. Do not pour off any particles of brown. Repeat this rinsing 3-4 times or more.
Rinse once with aqua ammonia. White vapors will appear. The aqua ammonia cleans impurities from the gold mud while, at the same time, it neutralizes any acid still clinging to the gold mud.
12. Give your gold a last rinse, this time with distilled water
Using distilled water, wash the mud into a small Pyrex beaker Visionware pot. Give the mud a chance to settle and then pour off the water.
Put the beaker on a hot plate to dry the mud. Do not preheat the hot plate or thermal shock may cause the beaker to break.
13. Melt your dried gold (now a powder)
If using a torch, first wrap the powder in tissue paper and then soak that in alcohol. We also recommend using a Burno crucible, to keep your gold from being blown away by the gas pressure of the torch.
The gold will again take on the appearance of metal. If you've followed the procedure carefully and used filters, the gold should be 99.95% pure with negligible losses.
If you had platinum in your gold, it will not dissolve, to any appreciable degree, in the room temperature aqua regia. It will be left behind when you pour off the aqua regia, prior to precipitation. To insure high purity of the platinum, you will need to re-refine this material. Put this material in a fresh aqua regia bath. This time, however, heat the acid to simmering. Continue heating until all the platinum is dissolved (that may take 1-2 hours). When completely dissolved at 1 ounce of ammonium chloride for every ounce of dissolved platinum. The platinum will precipitate as a red mud. If you want to leave the iridium in the platinum, then wait for it to precipitate before recovering the platinum. Iridium will precipitate as a blue-black mud after the platinum precipitates. Platinum group metals will also show up on the stannous chloride test. Platinum turns red, palladium. Palladium turns orange and iridium turn blue-black.