what is stainless steel?

Do you hear the term “stainless steel” thrown around a lot but have no idea what it is? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Stainless steel can be found in everything from kitchen appliances to construction and automotive parts, making it an incredibly versatile material. Let’s dive into what stainless steel is, understand its different types and explore some of its key properties. Who knows – by the end of this post, you may even be adding some stainless steel items to your own home or workspace!

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel refers to a group of iron-based alloys that are known for their corrosion and heat resistance. One of the most important characteristics of stainless steel is its minimum chromium content of 10.5%, which gives it superior corrosion resistance when compared to other types of steel.

Stainless steel, like other steels, is primarily composed of iron and carbon, with the addition of several other alloying elements, the most prominent of which is chromium. Nickel, magnesium, molybdenum, and nitrogen are also common alloys found in stainless steel.

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Properties of Stainless Steel

Stainless steel has many desirable properties that contribute significantly to its widespread use in the manufacture of parts and components in many industrial sectors. Above all, because of its chromium content, it is extremely corrosion resistant. Steels with a minimum chromium content of 10.5% are approximately 200 times more corrosion resistant than steels without chromium. Other advantages for consumers include its high strength and durability, resistance to high and low temperatures, increased formability and ease of fabrication, low maintenance, long-lasting, attractive appearance, and environmental friendliness and recyclability. Once in service, stainless steel does not need to be treated, coated, or painted.

  • Corrosion resistance
  • Tensile strength is very high.
  • Extremely long-lasting
  • Temperature tolerance
  • Formability and fabrication are simple.
  • Low-maintenance (long-lasting)
  • Attractive physical appearance
  • Environmentally conscious (recyclable)

Grading systems for stainless steel

There are numerous numerical grading systems for stainless steel, which are classified based on their composition, physical properties, and applications. Each type of stainless steel is assigned a numerical grade after being classified by its series number. 200, 300, 400, 600, and 2000 are the most popular series numbers. The most common grades are 304 and 316, which are austenitic chromium-nickel alloys. The 400 Series, which is derived from ferritic and martensitic chromium alloys, contains cutlery-grade stainless steels. Surgical steel is known as type 420, and razor blade steel is known as type 440.

Types of Stainless Steel

The stainless steel family is divided into four major categories based on their crystal microstructure.

Ferritic Stainless Steel

Ferritic steels are 400 Grade stainless steels distinguished by their high chromium content, which can range between 10.5% and 27%. They also have magnetic properties and are resistant to corrosion, thermal fatigue, and stress-corrosion cracking.

Applications for Ferritic Stainless Steel

Ferritic stainless steels are commonly used in automotive components and parts, the petrochemical industry, heat exchangers, furnaces, and durable goods such as appliances and food equipment.

Austenitic Stainless Steel

Austenitic grade steels, the most common type of stainless steel, are high in chromium and contain varying amounts of nickel, manganese, nitrogen, and carbon. Austenitic steels are classified into the 300 series and 200 series subcategories based on the alloys used. The addition of nickel distinguishes the austenitic structure of the 300 series. Manganese and nitrogen are primarily used in the 200 series. The most common stainless steel grade is 304.

Applications of Austenitic Stainless Steel

It is used in kitchen equipment, cutlery, food processing equipment, and structural components in the automotive and aerospace industries. It is also known as 18/8 because it contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Another common stainless steel is grade 316.

It’s used to make a variety of products, including food preparation equipment, laboratory benches, medical and surgical equipment, boat fittings, pharmaceutical, textile, and chemical processing equipment.

Martensitic Stainless Steel

Martensitic stainless steels are part of the 400 Grade stainless steel series. They range in carbon content from low to high and contain 12% to 15% chromium and up to 1% molybdenum. It is used when corrosion and/or oxidation resistance, as well as high strength at low temperatures or creep resistance at high temperatures, are required. Martensitic steels are magnetic and have high ductility and toughness, making them easier to form.

Applications of Martensitic Stainless Steel

Compressor blades and turbine parts, kitchen utensils, bolts, nuts, and screws, pump and valve parts, dental and surgical instruments, electric motors, pumps, valves, machine parts, sharp surgical instruments, cutlery, knife blades, and other cutting hand tools are all applications for martensitic stainless steels.

Duplex Stainless Steel

Duplex stainless steels, as the name implies, have a mixed microstructure of ferrite and austenite. The chromium and molybdenum content is high, ranging from 22% to 25% and up to 5%, respectively, with very little nickel. Stainless steel has many desirable properties due to its duplex structure. For starters, it has twice the strength of standard austenitic or ferritic stainless steels, as well as superior corrosion resistance and toughness.


Applications for Duplex Stainless Steel

Duplex stainless steel, designated in the 2000 Grade series, is ideal for applications in demanding environments such as chemical, oil, and gas processing and equipment, marine, high chloride environments, pulp, and paper industry, cargo tanks for ships and trucks, and bio-fuels plants, chloride containment or pressure vessels, transportation, heat exchanger tubes, construction, the food industry, desalination plants, and FGD system components.


In conclusion, stainless steel is an incredibly versatile material that can be used in a variety of applications and settings. From kitchenware to medical instruments, the remarkable properties of stainless steel allow it to be used for almost any purpose. Its strength and durability make it resistant to corrosion, enabling it to remain strong and reliable even with exposure to water, detergents or other chemical agents. However, different types of stainless steel are best suited for different uses; therefore, understanding the various properties of this material is essential. By doing so, you can make sure that your selection fulfills all the requirements for its intended purpose. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the right grade of stainless steel for a range of applications.

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