Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel

Understanding the Two Most Common Types of Steel

We can find steel in various products and industries ranging from domestic use in culinary products to industrial engineering purposes. The two most common steels are stainless and carbon steel. We know they differ from each other, but how? How do I know which type is the most fitting for my application? In this article we will help you uncover the difference between both steels, what each of their own unique properties consists of and which metal best suits your needs.

Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel ProductsCarbon Steel vs Stainless Steel Products

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is a very strong type of metal made of high carbon content. Because of this, carbon steel is used from industrial gears, bolts, springs, wires, cables, cutting machinery to culinary knives for its sharp edge.

Is Carbon Steel Stronger than Stainless Steel?

While carbon steel is more brittle in comparison to stainless steel, it has a higher resistance to wear and tear. Because carbon steel is stronger, it is used in environments that can withstand more force.

Carbon Steel DrumsCarbon Steel Drums

What Can I Store in Carbon Steel?

Carbon steel drums are often used to ship and store chemicals, oil, lubricants, food, and solid or liquid hazardous materials. These drums have the multiple types of linings to help prevent rusting or deterioration.

Does Carbon Steel Rust?

When carbon is exposed to water, it creates a reaction called oxidation that causes the steel to rust. Since this metal contains high carbon content, it is subjected to a quick rust and corrosion outcome.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a type of metal containing chromium that acts as a protective barrier against corrosion and rust. Stainless steel is used for culinary uses, industrial chemicals, automotive applications, medical/surgical equipment, manufacturing, and architectural materials. This metal is a popular choice due to its shiny, sleek appearance, high-rust resistance, and its easy sterilization capabilities.

Stainless Steel DrumsStainless Steel Drums

Is Stainless Steel Stronger than Carbon Steel?

Stainless steel is not as brittle as carbon steel. However, stainless steel has a lower resistance to wear and tear in comparison to carbon steel.

Does Stainless Steel Rust?

Although stainless steel has high resistance to oxidation, naturally, over time, metal rusts when it reacts to air as well as strong chemicals, saline, grease, moisture or heat for long periods of time.

What Can I Store in Stainless Steel?

Depending on the type of steel chosen (304 or 316), stainless steel drums and pails are a great option to store materials that require purity such as food, water and wine. Stainless steel drums and pails can also be used for industrial materials like paints, coatings and chemicals. These drums have great tensile strength and reusability.

304 Stainless Steel

304 stainless steel is commonly used in food and culinary industries because it meets FDA sanitary regulations. The medical and architectural industries also use this steel because it can withstand cleaning chemicals without corroding. This type of steel has a high melting point.

316 Stainless Steel

This type of steel is known for its high resilience to chlorides (sea water and de-icing salts) and chlorinated solutions as well as other corrosives like sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide and more. 316 stainless steel can withstand exposure to harsh chemicals or hazardous materials making it a reliable and desirable option to store industrial applications.

Summary: What’s the Difference Between Carbon Steel & Stainless Steel?

Physical properties

  • Carbon steel has high carbon content that, when exposed to moisture, can corrode and rust quickly.
  • Stainless steel has high chromium content that acts as a protective layer against corrosion and rust.


  • Carbon steel is brittle but stronger than stainless steel.
  • Stainless steel is durable but contains a lower resistance to wear and tear in comparison to carbon steel.


  • Carbon steel is utilized the most for industrial applications such as bolts, cogs, and springs due to its strength and longevity.
  • Stainless steel's smooth, glossy appearance and quick disinfection properties is used to create decorative, medical and culinary products.

Browse Our Drums Today!

Interested in storing materials in carbon steel or stainless steel? Shop the most diverse selection of drums and barrels to meet all of your needs today! The Cary Company has a variety of drums whether you need to store liquids or solids from sectors such as the chemical, pharmaceutical, or food industry! Looking for larger containers? Our wide selection of IBC totes, tanks, & bins offers a range of materials and styles for your application needs.