Is Stainless Steel a Ferrous or Non-Ferrous Metal?

Stainless steel is a ferrous metal because it contains iron, like other ferrous metals (steel, cast iron, wrought iron). Non-ferrous metals, such as copper, aluminum, or nickel, do not contain a significant amount of iron. 

The term “ferrous” comes from the latin name for iron– “ferrum”. Ferrous metals are durable, magnetic and less expensive, making them an excellent choice for many environments. Several industries, such as construction, automotive, and machinery manufacturing, rely on ferrous metals every day. What makes stainless steel a unique ferrous metal?

stainless steel drums and a stainless steel wine barrel with stainless steel drum accessoriesstainless steel drums and a stainless steel wine barrel with stainless steel drum accessories

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is formed from the combination of iron, chromium, carbon and sometimes nickel and other metals. It is a strong, heat-resilient metal able to endure heavy weight in harsh conditions.

Stainless steel is also hygienic, meaning it is easy to disinfect. This makes stainless steel a great choice for food and beverage-related applications, such as wine barrels for brewing and drums for food processing and other purposes.


Is Stainless Steel the Only Ferrous Metal That Doesn’t Rust?

Most ferrous metals have a high carbon content, making them vulnerable to rust. Stainless steel’s chromium content makes it exceptionally corrosion and rust-resistant. The chromium protects stainless steel from oxidation and rusting, giving it its “stainless” quality.

However, stainless steel is not entirely immune to rust. If exposed to chemicals, moisture, heat and other extreme conditions for prolonged periods of time, stainless steel is capable of rusting. 

Does Steel Rust?

Standard steel can rust. Steel is formed from iron and carbon, meaning it is ferrous but lacks the corrosion-resistant and rust-preventing qualities stainless steel gets from chromium. 

Does Carbon Steel Rust?

Carbon steel, one of the most popular types of ferrous metals, is susceptible to rust when exposed to water. There are several other differences in properties between carbon steel vs stainless steel.

Does Iron Rust?

Iron, another ferrous metal, is susceptible to rust, especially when exposed to oxygen and water.

rust on metal drumsrust on metal drums

When Was Stainless Steel Invented?

Due to steel’s ability to rust easily, stainless steel pioneered as a desirable type of “rustless steel”. In 1913, during the onset of WWI, English metallurgist Harry Brearly attempted to fix the problem of erosion in gun barrels. He created the first successful version of stainless steel with a 12.8% chromium content.

Although stainless steel has only been around for little over a decade, developments on it occurred rapidly following Brearly’s discovery. Around 1925, stainless steel’s corrosion properties were further established as stainless steel tanks were used to store nitric acid.

Stainless steel quickly grew to become a key player in kitchen, brewing, chemical storage, food processing, medical, locomotive, and aircraft spheres, as well as many others.

stainless steel ibc totestainless steel ibc tote

What Are the Most Common Types of Stainless Steel?

There are five families of stainless steel designated by their shared behaviors, as well as a multitude of grades based on specific properties. Grading systems are usually determined by a country or organization, such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). All types of stainless steels are ferrous, but they differ in common grades, uses and applications.

Family Magnetism Corrosion Resistance Weldability Popular Grades* Common Applications
Austenitic Generally not High Very High 303, 304, 316, 310, 321 Most popular worldwide choice. Aerospace, power plants, architecture, chemicals, food processing, heat, medical devices, automotive, etc.
Duplex Yes Very High High 2205, 2507 Created for specific industrial concerns, chemical processing, desalination, offshore platforms
Ferritic Yes Medium Low 405, 409, 430, 439, 446 Most cost-effective. Kitchenware, domestic hardware, sinks, exhaust systems, heat exchangers, decorative trim
Martensitic Yes Medium Low 410, 420, 601-604, 610-613, 614-619  Knives, cutlery, scissors, razors, surgical & medical tools, bearings, valves

Precipitation

Hardening

Yes Medium High 630-635, 17-4PH, 15-5PH  Aerospace, marine, oil & gas, fuel tanks, bolts, shafts, pump parts

* Grades according to Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards

Austenitic Stainless Steel

Magnetism: Generally not

Corrosion Resistance: High

Weldability: Very High

Popular Grades*: 303, 304, 316, 310, 321

Common Applications: Most popular worldwide choice. Aerospace, power plants, architecture, chemicals, food processing, heat, medical devices, automotive, etc.


Duplex Stainless Steel

Magnetism: Yes

Corrosion Resistance: Very High

Weldability: High

Popular Grades*: 2205, 2507

Common Applications: Created for specific industrial concerns, chemical processing, desalination, offshore platforms


Ferritic Stainless Steel

Magnetism: Yes

Corrosion Resistance: Medium

Weldability: Low

Popular Grades*: 405, 409, 430, 439, 446

Common Applications: Most cost-effective. Kitchenware, domestic hardware, sinks, exhaust systems, heat exchangers, decorative trim


Martensitic Stainless Steel

Magnetism: Yes

Corrosion Resistance: Medium

Weldability: Low

Popular Grades*: 410, 420, 601-604, 610-613, 614-619

Common Applications: Knives, cutlery, scissors, razors, surgical & medical tools, bearings, valves


Precipitation Hardening Stainless Steel

Magnetism: Yes

Corrosion Resistance: Medium

Weldability: High

Popular Grades*: 630-635, 17-4PH, 15-5PH

Common Applications: Aerospace, marine, oil & gas, fuel tanks, bolts, shafts, pump parts


* Grades according to Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards


Why Choose The Cary Company?

At The Cary Company, we recognize the importance of quality, dependable containers and items that leave you feeling confident in your purchase. Enjoy the corrosion-resistance and versatility of stainless steel at great prices, shipped your way by our proactive logistics team. Whether you're looking for drums and IBC totes, filter vessels and air filters, pumps and mixers, or valves and parts washers, we have the stainless steel solutions for you. Just give us a call at 630.629.6600 or email us at sales@thecarycompany.com!

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