Difference between Steel and Stainless Steel

Updated on August 28, 2015

Steel and stainless steel are metal alloys. They are both made from a combination of two or more metals in order to obtain certain desired properties suitable for different functions or uses. Each metal is good for a particular application because of these properties. Knowing which type of material a tool, equipment or appliance is made from is very essential since it can help you determine its suitability in whichever use you want to put it to. Here is a look at the differences between steel and stainless steel.

Definitions

Steel
Steel wire

Steel is a combination of iron and carbon. Usually, about one and a half percent carbon is used with iron to make a strong and malleable metal that we call steel. Steel dates back to about 1400 BC and is very common in the construction industry. Nowadays, technological advancements have enabled manufacturers to use other metals such as tungsten, vanadium, manganese and chromium to make steel that has broad mechanical advantages for specific applications in industry.

Stainless steel kitchen appliances
Stainless steel kitchen appliances

Stainless steel is a combination of iron and chromium. Chromium forms about ten to thirty percent of stainless steel. In most cases, other elements such as copper, aluminum, molybdenum, niobium, titanium, nitrogen and nickel are added to achieve specific properties of stainless steel. Stainless steel is very popular because of its anti-corrosiveness. It does not stain or corrode easily, making it very suitable for use in environments where there is moisture. The chromium content in stainless steel is the one responsible for its anti-corrosiveness. It reacts with oxygen to form an oxide film on the metal’s surface that makes it impassive to corrosiveness.

Comparison Chart

Steel Stainless steel
An alloy of iron and carbonAlloy of iron and chromium
Can rustDoesn’t rust
Used in making heavy equipment and in the construction industryUsed in making healthcare and kitchen products
Strong and malleableEasy to fabricate, relatively strong

Steel vs Stainless Steel

The most basic difference between steel and stainless steel is in their composition. Steel is made from a combination of iron and carbon. This combination produces a strong and malleable metal that is most suitable in the construction industry and for making heavy equipments. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is made from a combination of chromium and iron. The resultant metal is anti-corrosive and resistant to rusting. Stainless steel is easy to fabricate and has a pleasing, aesthetic appeal. These properties, coupled by the fact that it has hygienic properties, makes it common in making surgical instruments, cookware, hospital appliances, as well as pharmaceutical processing facilities.

When steel is subjected to air, the iron in it reacts with oxygen to form oxide of iron (rust). In contrast, stainless steel does not rust when exposed to air. The chromium present in the stainless steel reacts with oxygen to form a chromium oxide film on the metal’s surface which acts as a protective layer against rusting or corrosiveness.

Both stainless steel and steel are some of the most popular metals in the world and form a crucial part in the foundation of some of the world’s iconic skyscrapers and modern buildings. Advancements in technology have now led to the development of variants of steel and stainless steel to meet specific application requirements.

Video

For more information, here is a video showing the difference between steel and stainless steel countertop support brackets:

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