Platinum is scarce, but it’s also extremely valuable. Being able to identify a platinum nugget could mean the difference between a worthless rock and a pricey treasure. However, it can be pretty difficult to spot the slight dissimilarities that separate platinum from other materials.
To identify a platinum nugget, check for a shiny silver-white material that’s not magnetic. Hydrofluoric acid and hydrogen peroxide won’t melt platinum, but they can melt similar metals. This process lets you know if you have raw platinum. You could also use an acid scratch kit to identify platinum.
Throughout this article, I’ll show you all of the best ways to identify a platinum nugget. I’ll also provide you with a few practical solutions that you can use at home.
Check the Platinum’s Appearance
Platinum has a unique appearance since there are only a couple of other materials that look similar. However, people often confuse it with silver, titanium, and aluminum. There are several subtle appearance differences to keep an eye out for if you want to know if you have a platinum nugget instead of a less valuable metal.
Here’s a list of ways to know if you have a platinum nugget:
- The University of Waterloo explains that platinum is shinier than silver. Silver is surprisingly dull in its natural state. If the material is platinum, you should be able to rotate it and see a glare or shine coming from it. Silver doesn’t reflect as much, but steel, titanium, and aluminum have subtle shines.
- Platinum is incredibly dense and non-malleable. You won’t be able to move it with your hands or easily crush it with a hammer. Platinum is one of the densest materials. If you can move it or break it with your hands, then the nugget you have isn’t made of platinum.
- Platinum nuggets have a whitish shine to them. This is one of the biggest separating features when comparing platinum and silver. Most platinum nuggets outshine silver, but they also look pearlescent. Silver nuggets are dull and don’t have a white or gold shine to them.
- A lot of platinum nuggets have chromite or iron in and around them. These materials form in the same areas as platinum. When found together, it’s much more likely that you’re dealing with platinum. Keep in mind that the presence of iron could make the rock magnetic, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have platinum in it.
- True, natural platinum is never pure. You won’t find a solid rock of pure platinum. If you find a nugget without other minerals, there’s little to no chance that it’s platinum, but it could be silver. Natural platinum has to be refined to remove impurities and use it in various industries.
It’s important to note that platinum can be found with silver. You could find a rock with both metals, but you shouldn’t discard either of them since they’re both very valuable. It can also be found near gold.
Use Magnet and Metal Detectors
Magnets and metal detectors are some of the most common tools used by prospectors. However, they don’t work on every material. For example, platinum isn’t magnetic. If you use a magnet on the potential platinum nugget, it shouldn’t react. Furthermore, it shouldn’t react to a low-frequency metal detector.
If you don’t have access to either tool, you can download an app on your phone. Try the Metal Detector app on your smartphone. It’ll only register magnetic metals, which means your potential piece of platinum shouldn’t show up. If it moves the meter, you don’t have platinum, silver, or palladium (or any other platinum-group metal, for that matter).
Pour Hydrofluoric Acid on the Material
Hydrofluoric acid is very corrosive, so it’ll tear through most materials. However, it won’t do anything to platinum nuggets. People often pour hydrofluoric acid on a material (or drop the material in an acidic solution) to extract precious metals from rocks. This acid is very dangerous and should be handled with care.
If you use hydrofluoric acid to extract or identify platinum, make sure you wear safety gear and have the necessary permits. Once you have everything ready to go, follow these steps:
- Place an acid-resistant vial in a ventilated area. Hydrofluoric acid puts off a lot of toxic gases. It’s best to use it in an area with machine-powered ventilation or outside. Make sure it’s on a stable surface, too. Hydrofluoric acid spills can tear through concrete, clothes, asphalt, and more.
- Put the potential platinum nugget in the vial, then fill it with hydrofluoric acid just above the nugget. You don’t need to use a lot of the solution to check for a reaction. It’ll start bubbling right away. There’s a good chance that some of the material will corrode since platinum nuggets have acid-sensitive impurities.
- Wait for a few seconds, observing how the material reacts to the acid. If it’s platinum, you don’t have to worry about it corroding or breaking apart. Most other materials (including low-value metals and minerals that look like platinum) will break down. Regardless of the material, there will be a lot of bubbling due to the chemical reaction.
- Remove the nugget with prospecting tweezers and wash it off with water before handling it with your bare hands. Never use your hands to pull materials out of hydrofluoric acid, even if you’re wearing gloves. You could also use a spoon to scoop the nugget out of the solution if the vial is wide enough.
Hydrofluoric acid dissolves most materials, which means it’ll remove the outer impurities surrounding the platinum. It won’t dissolve gold, though (which is good for those who might’ve found gold connected to the potential piece of platinum). Dispose of the hydrofluoric acid by pouring it into a hazardous waste bin.
Try an Acid Scratch Kit
Acid scratch tests are simple at-home tests that help you identify various materials. Some metals can scratch a surface, while others can’t. For example, gold can’t scratch most materials. These kits also use acid that reacts with the dust left behind from the scratch. If there’s an interaction, then you don’t have a platinum nugget.
Here’s how to use an acid scratch kit:
- Wikihow suggests scratching the provided stone with a 1.5” (3.81cm) mark using the piece of metal. If you have a platinum nugget, it’ll have no problem scratching the stone. Most other materials will scratch acid scratch kit stones, but if they don’t, then there’s no point in continuing the test.
- Place two drops of the provided acidic solution on the area you scratched the stone. You don’t need to use too much of the solution to create a natural interaction. That being said, I recommend checking the solution’s label since the instructions may vary. Always wear safety gloves when using acid scratch kits.
- Inspect the acidic solution on the scratch mark, checking to see if it dissolves or changes colors. The scratch left by a platinum nugget won’t dissolve under the solution. If the scratch dissolves or bubbles, it’s something else. Make sure you’re using the silver-white portion of the nugget since it likely has other materials on it.
Acid scratch test kits are much safer and easier to use than hydrofluoric acid. Furthermore, they don’t require special permits like you’d need if you want to use hydrofluoric acid. The only downside is that you can’t use an acid scratch kit to extract platinum from other rocks as you can with other acids.
Test the Platinum Nugget With Hydrogen Peroxide
Much like hydrofluoric acid, platinum won’t dissolve when it touches hydrogen peroxide. That being said, it definitely interacts with hydrogen peroxide and other acids. You can use almost any concentration of hydrogen peroxide (ranging from 3% to 10%) to test potential platinum nuggets.
Follow this process with H2O2:
- Rock Seeker suggests that beginners should fill a small bowl or vial with 2% or 3% hydrogen peroxide. While you can use any hydrogen peroxide concentration, anything above 3% starts to get pretty bubbly and hard to manage. It can bubble over the bowl, not to mention the fact that it could damage other minerals in the nugget.
- Gently drop the nugget into the solution. You don’t need to use prospecting tweezers if you’re using low-concentration hydrogen peroxide. However, it’s best to wear gloves since the solution could dry out your skin and cause itchiness and irritation.
- Look for bubbles and corrosion. Platinum will bubble within a couple of seconds of touching hydrogen peroxide. Fragile sediments will break apart, but nothing with any value. If the material doesn’t bubble, then it’s not platinum, palladium, or silver. Don’t worry, though; hydrogen peroxide can’t damage platinum.
Identifying platinum doesn’t have to mean heading to a metallurgist or another professional. There are plenty of ways to check if you have platinum nuggets, grains, or jewelry without leaving your house. Once you identify the platinum, you can decide whether you want to collect it or sell it.