Weight loss, corrosion potential and EIS measurements were performed to understand the role of HCl in the pickling of oxidised 304 stainless steel in iron chloride-based electrolytes. The surface finish was analysed with SEM-EDX. The oxidised 304 stainless steel is active on immersion, resulting in a low corrosion potential and a high weight loss. After certain duration the stainless steel either remains active or becomes passive depending on HCl content. At low HCl contents, an ongoing active-to-passive transition results in localised corrosion at pits, grain boundaries and honeycombed recesses. The corrosion potential becomes high and the weight loss is suppressed. The weight loss decreases in the initial stage and rises on extended pickling with adding HCl. Because of anodic brightening, the 304 stainless steel is always active as HCl is concentrated. In contrast with the material that is passivated, the charge transfer resistance is considerably low and the double layer capacitance is large during that brightening. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.