What Puts The Stainless In Stainless Steel?

stainless steel cookwareStainless steel is used in everything from cookware to cars and even construction, but have you ever wondered why stainless steel is so called? If you have then great – stick around and read on. If you haven’t – then still stick around because at the very least you’ll have some useless facts you can impress your friends and family with.

In 1913 An English metallurgist called Harry Brearly was working on a project to improve the rifling on gun barrels. Accidentally he discovered that by adding chromium (12% to be exact) to low carbon steel, it gave it a resistance to staining.

So how does it work?

In essence the chromium combines with oxygen in the air to form a thin layer of coating which forms naturally on the surface of the steel. This layer (known as a passive film) is completely invisible. Because chromium atoms and oxygen atoms are similar in size they’re able to pack tightly together on the surface of the metal to form a barrier. What’s more if the passive film is disrupted by a cut or scratch, more oxygen atoms will quickly form over the surface of the metal so that contaminants such as rust can’t get in. Because stainless steel needs oxygen to be able to self-repair it tends to corrode in low-oxygen environments. In seawater for example, chlorides from salt will attack and destroy the film rendering it useless.

So is stainless steel completely stain free?

In a word no! Despite the fact that stainless steel is highly resistant to imperfections, discolouration, and blemishes it isn’t completely impenetrable. Over a period of years the passive layer can start to break down and as it does so rust and decay can start to form. So in essence, stainless steel is really steel that ‘stains less’ than other metals and is not stain free.

So what does this mean for you?

For householders for example, just because appliances, worktops, or sinks are crafted from stainless steel they still need to be cleaned. Most of the time, good old fashioned soap and water does the trick but be careful to dry off any water marks. Some swear by olive oil or window cleaning agent to remove any finger or water marks, while a mild vinegar solution is thought to give it a better longer lasting sheen.

Stainless steel vs stainless steel plate

It’s important to note that many metals advertised as stainless steel are in fact stainless steel plate. The plate part is the protective layer but if the metal is scratched deep enough, it will be susceptible to damage. For obvious reasons, stainless steel plate is cheaper than stainless steel and this is something that buyers should be aware of when purchasing.

So there you have it….everything you need to know about stainless steel!

If you’re in need of steel fabrication or you have a particular one off metal project then talk to Metro Steel. We’ve been fabricating steel for over 20 years and have a highly experienced team who can turn your ideas into a reality. Call us on 07 3204 1000 for a competitive quote today.