Anode vs. Cathode Terminology

January 25, 2011

A reader named Scott suggested that I may have made an error:

“On your Anodizing page,  point #3 & #4 are backwards. The anode is negative and the cathode is positive. The work goes on the negative side (the anode) and we are ‘anode-izing’

“Just the first few words of each line are backwards.”

His contention is that the “Anode” should be the negative side. I guess that he is familiar with batteries or sacrificial anodes, where the polarity is opposite that of the electrolytic process that I use.

Rather than just calling him “wrong”, I thought that I would explain it here, in case it comes up again:


The anode is the side of an ion exchange that supplies positive ions.

In the case of an electromotive source (like a galvanic cell, “battery”) you would be correct. The immersed source of positive ions into the solution (anode) produces the negative voltage by pumping electrons around the circuit to balance the positive ions lost to the solution. So in a battery, the anode is the negative side.

But in an electrolytic cell, like an anodizing or plating bath, the anode is where the positive external voltage pumps positive ions into the solution. So the anode is the positive side.

For my purposes, I need to bond oxygen to titanium. Oxygen is a negative ion (2-), pulled toward the positive electrode by the external power source.  The anode simply absorbs electrons from the solution and oxygen is split from the water to keep the accounts balanced. Titanium loves oxygen, so sucks it up as long as there is current. Hydrogen (+) bubbles off at the cathode (negative electrode).

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Anodes, if you want to corroborate what I’m saying and follow to even more authoritative sources.

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