A very confusing term, since the common usage has taken on a different meaning than the technical definition. In past experience, users (including engineers) of commercial fasteners seldom mean the old technical terminology. Technically, passivating is not cleaning but is a process of dipping fasteners into a nitric acid solution to rapidly form a chromium oxide on the surface of the material, creating a passive film that protects stainless from further oxidation (see PASSIVE FILM). The purpose of passivating is to remove both grease left from manufacturing and traces of steel particles which may have rubbed off manufacturing tools onto the fastener. In common commercial parlance (meaning non-military and aerospace), passivating means cleaning to users, and the terms “passivating” and “cleaning” are used interchangeably. A wide range of cleaning methods using different mixtures containing nitric, phosphoric and other acids or simply exposing cleaned stainless fasteners to air for a period of time will result in a “passivated” condition. For fasteners that have been properly cleaned, it is impossible to determine the method of cleaning or passivation that was used.

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