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What Makes Stainless Steel "Stainless"?

Jan 09, 2017

Stainless steel, or inox steel (from the French word "inoxydable"), does not readily oxidize (rust) like ordinary steel does.

Elements such as nickel, chromium and molybdenum give stainless steel its corrosion resistance.

In 1913, Harry Brearly accidentally discovered that adding chromium to low carbon steel gave it "stain resistance".

A minimum of 10.5 - 12% chromium in steel allows the chromium molecules to combine with oxygen in the atmosphere creating a microscopic protective film of chrome containing oxide. This film creates a protective barrier between the underlying iron and oxygen and moisture. If this film is scratched, or otherwise disrupted, it quickly recovers if oxygen is present. Therefore, stainless steel performs poorly in low oxygen environments. Sea water can also be tough on stainless steel because the chlorides in salt water can destroy the film more quickly than it can repair itself.

In contrast, the iron in carbon steel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to create iron oxide (rust) which is brittle and flakes off exposing more metal underneath to further oxidation.

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Did You Know?

The difference between 304 and 316 stainless steel are the chemical properties. The key difference is that 316 has the addition of 2-3% molybdenum to the stainless steel. The addition of Molybdenum helps some applications due to the increased corrosion resistance, particularly to chlorides.

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