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The apparatus for testing consists of a closed testing chamber, where a salted solution (mainly, a solution of 5% sodium chloride) is atomized by means of a nozzle.

This produces a corrosive environment of dense saline fog in the chamber so that parts exposed in it are subjected to severely corrosive conditions.

Typical volumes of these chambers are of 15 cubic feet (420 L) because of the smallest volume accepted by International Standards on Salt Spray Tests - ASTM-B-117, ISO 9227 (400 litres) and now discontinued DIN 50021 (400 litres). It has been found very difficult to attain constancy of corrosivity in different exposure regions within the test chambers, for sizes below 400 litres.

Chambers are available from sizes as small as 9.3 cu ft (260 L) up to 2,058 cubic feet (58,300 L). Most common machines range from 15 to 160 cubic feet (420–4,500 L).

Tests performed with a standardized 5% solution of NaCl are known as NSS (neutral salt spray). Results are represented generally as testing hours in NSS without appearance of corrosion products (e.g. 720 h in NSS according to ISO 9227). Other solutions are acetic acid (ASS test) and acetic acid with copper chloride (CASS test), each one chosen for the evaluation of decorative coatings, such as electroplated copper-nickel-chromium, electroplated copper-nickel or anodized aluminium.

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Some sources do not recommended to use ASS or CASS test cabinets interchangeably for NSS tests, as it is claimed that a thorough cleaning of the cabinet after ASS or CASS test is very difficult. ASTM does not address this issue, but ISO 9227 does not recommend it and if it is to be done, advocates a thorough cleaning.

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