Difference between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel

Published on August 28, 2015

Carbon steel and stainless steel are metal alloys i.e. these are metals that are formed by combining two or more metal elements to enhance certain properties such as strength and reactivity. Each is suitable for specific applications. For instance, knives are made from both carbon steel and stainless steel and people prefer either of the two for specific situations. The following is a look at the difference between these two metal alloys to help you choose the correct knife for your needs.


Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel
Kitchen Knife Stainless Steel Cutting edge

Carbon steel is a metal alloy of carbon and iron that has a relatively low tensile strength whose surface hardness can be increased through carburizing. The amount of carbon used is usually less than 2 percent and no other metal elements are added. Carbon steel is the most abundantly produced of all steel products. It has a wide range of applications in the motor and electrical appliances sector due to its ferromagnetic nature.

Stainless steel is a metal alloy consisting of iron and chromium. The amount of chromium used with the iron usually varies from a minimum of 10 percent to 30 percent depending on the desired quality of the final product. Some other elements such as titanium and nickel may be added to enhance specific qualities of steel.  Unlike other metals, stainless steel does not rust or corrode.

Comparison Chart

 Carbon Steel Stainless Steel
An alloy of iron and carbonAlloy of iron and chromium
Can rustDoesn’t rust
Hard and wear-resistantSofter. The knife will not stay sharp for long.

Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel

What is the difference between carbon steel and stainless steel? The difference lies in their composition, uses, and whether they rust or not.

If you are looking to choose between a carbon steel knife and a stainless steel knife, here is a short guide. Both types of knives can do the job, but each has its own advantages. A carbon steel knife is made from a mixture of iron and carbon. This means that it can rust. However, carbon is a strong metal and therefore gives the knife a good measure of strength that you might need in some tasks. It also means that when sharpened, a stainless steel knife won’t stay sharper for longer than a carbon steel knife, which is more wear resistant. In addition, although carbon steel is stronger than stainless steel, it is much easier to sharpen than stainless steel. This is an important characteristic in making knives since knives don’t stay sharp enough for long if they are used frequently.

Stainless steel is made from chromium and iron. The chromium used gives it its anti-corrosiveness and aesthetic appeal. This makes it easy to use in moist environments. For most kitchen users, stainless steel knives are good enough, especially since they can be left unclean for a relatively long period without rusting and can be cleaned very easily later.

Carbon knifes are fragile to take care of because of the brittleness of the carbon in them. They can easily chip when dropped or tossed into the dishwasher. The can easily rust or stain. They cannot stand prolonged exposure to dirt or food since they can react to the food and become discolored or rusty.


Here is a video that discusses the differences between carbon steel knives and stainless steel knives: