Stainless Steel FAQs

1. What makes stainless steel stainless?

Stainless steel must contain at least 10.5 % chromium. This element that reacts with the oxygen in the air to form a complex chrome-oxide surface layer that is invisible but strong enough to prevent further oxygen from staining (rusting) the surface. Higher levels of chromium and the addition of other alloying elements such as nickel and molybdenum enhance this surface layer and improve the corrosion resistance of the stainless material.

2. What is the difference between 18/8 and 18/10 stainless steel?

The first number is the amount of chromium that is contained in the stainless, 18 is 18% chromium. The second number is the amount of nickel, 8 stands for 8% nickel. So 18/8 means that this stainless steel contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. 18/10 is 18% chromium and 10% nickel. The higher the numbers the more corrosion resistant the material. 18/0 is a misleading designation. Both 18/8 and 18/10 contain nickel and are part of the grade family "300 series" stainless. 18/0 means that there is 18% chromium but zero nickel. When there is no nickel the stainless grade family is the "400 series". 400 series are not as corrosion resistant as the 300 series and are magnetic, where the 300 series are non-magnetic.

3. Can stainless steel rust? Why?

Stainless does not rust as you think of regular steel rusting with a red oxide on the surface that flakes off. If you see red rust it is probably due to some iron particles that have contaminated the surface of the stainless steel and it is these iron particles that are rusting. Look at the source of the rusting and see if you can remove it from the surface. If the iron is embedded in the surface, you can try a solution of 10% nitric and 2% hydrofluoric acid at room temperature or slightly heated. Wash area well with lots and lots of water after use. Commercially available pickling paste can also be used.

4. What is the difference between 304 and 316 stainless steel?

304 contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. 316 contains 16% chromium, 10% nickel and 2% molybdenum. The moly is added to help resist corrosion to chlorides (like sea water and de-icing salts).

5. Is stainless steel magnetic?

There are several types of stainless steel. The 300 series (which contains nickel) is not magnetic. The 400 series (which just contains chromium and no nickel) are magnetic.

6. What is passivation?

When the amount of chromium (in an iron matrix) exceeds 10.5%, a complex chrome oxide forms instantaneously that prevents the further diffusion of oxygen into the surface and results in the passive nature of stainless steel and its resistance to oxidation (or corrosion). A chemical dip into 10% nitric acid plus 2% hydrofluoric acid bath will enhance the development of this passive oxide.

7. Can stainless steel be welded?

Yes. Stainless steel is easily welded, but the welding procedure is different than that used with carbon steel. The filler rod or electrode must be stainless steel.

8. Can Stainless steel be hardened?

Yes. The 300 series stainless steel can be hardened but only by work hardening. That is by cold working the material, either by cold rolling down to lighter and lighter gauges, or by drawing through a die or other size altering operation. Annealing stainless steel will remove the work hardening effect.

9. What does the "L" designation mean?

The use of the letter L after the grade number, i.e., 304L, means that the carbon content is restricted to a maximum of 0.03% (normal levels are 0.08% max. and in some grades can be as high as 0.15% max.). This lower level of carbon is usually used where welding will be performed. The lower level of carbon helps to prevent the chromium from being depleted (by forming chrome carbides at the weld site) and therefore allow it to remain over 10.5% so it can form the passive oxide layer that gives stainless its corrosion resistance.

10. What is the recycle content of stainless steel?

Stainless steel can be recycled 100%. That is all stainless steel can be re-melted to make a new stainless steel. The typical amount of recycled stainless steel scrap that is used to make new stainless steel is between 65 & 80%.

11. The stainless steel on my refrigerator door, dishwasher, and/or countertop is scratched. How can I remove the scratches?

Scratches are difficult to remove. Most kitchen appliances, sinks, and counters have a polished finish with short directional polishing lines. Restoring a polished finish to its original appearance requires a professional such as a company that specializes in fabricating or polishing stainless steel. If the refrigerator or dishwasher door panel is replaceable, purchasing a new panel is normally more cost effective than professional refinishing. The homeowner may want to consider obtaining replacement panels with angel hair, distressed, swirl, or embossed finish. These finishes help to hide light scratching and can be obtained from companies that specialize in stainless steel finishes. Counters and appliance doors that are not easily removable must be refinished in place. When the counter is refinished, it may have long rather than short polishing lines. If a slightly different finish is acceptable and cost is a consideration, a homeowner can refinish the counter or appliance using a non-metallic abrasive pad such as a Scotch Brite® pad. This can be done by rubbing the surface with the pad using long uniform strokes in the same direction as the current polishing lines. This will not eliminate deep scratches. A professional may offer this finish as a less expensive option. The resulting finish is normally referred to as a hairline or long grain finish. Some appliance companies are starting to offer this finish.

12. What is the annealed condition?

Stainless steel is usually sold in the annealed condition. It just means that the material is in the soft or annealed condition. The 300 series of stainless steel cannot be hardened by heat treatment (like carbon steel) but can be hardened by cold working. This cold work can be eliminated by a heating treatment (annealing) that will restore the original soft condition.

13. What does the term "CRES" mean?

CRES is something used to designate stainless steel. It stands for Corrosion RESistant steel. It does not necessarily mean that the steel is in fact stainless steel as there are other materials that are corrosion resistant but not stainless steel.

14. Can stainless steel be used at very low and very high temperatures?

Yes. Stainless steel has excellent properties at both extremes of the temperature scale. Stainless steel can be used down to liquid nitrogen temperatures and up to about 1800┬░ F.

15. What are AISI Specifications for stainless steel?

The AISI (American Iron and Steel Institute) was the originator of the 300 and 400 series numbering system (i.e., Type 304 stainless steel). They also published a Stainless Steel products manual that listed these designations and the chemical analysis as well as most mechanical and physical properties of each individual grade. They are not specifications as such, just definitions of the individual grades. Most specifications that are used with stainless steel are from the ASTM (American Society for Testing Material).

16. Can stainless steel be machined?

Yes. However the standard grades of stainless steel are usually gummy and will not produce a clean chip when machined or turned. To solve this problem, many companies produce free-machining grades of stainless where they add a chip-breaker to the matrix. Grade 303 is the free-machining equivalent to grade 304.

17. I have a stainless steel kitchen with a tile floor and when the tile grout was cleaned with muratic acid the stainless discolored. How can I repair this problem?

The stainless steel that is used on kitchen appliances and vent hood etc. is usually type 304. This is a very good grade of stainless steel, but it is not resistant to muratic acid. Cleaners that are used with grout around title and stone etc. Should not be used if stainless steel is present. It is not even necessary that the acid touch the stainless steel, just the fumes from it will cause a discoloration of the stainless.

The chances of repairing this discoloration depend on the extent of the discoloration and the depth of the attack. If possible the entire panel of stainless steel should be replaced. If that is not possible you can try to repair the damage by following the procedure for removing scratches.

18. I have a stainless steel refrigerator and since some stainless steels are non-magnetic I cannot attach items to the surface magnetically. What is the best way to attach something to stainless steel?

We suggest Remount Spray Adhesive for temporary, light weight and repositional bonding. For stronger or more permanent bonding Super 77 (from 3M) is a good suggestion. Removal using 3M Citrus Base Adhesive Remover should easily take care of any residual adhesive.

19. What is the difference between the annealed condition and the dead soft condition for stainless steel?

The usual condition that stainless steel products (sheets, plates, bars, wire etc.) are supplied to, is the annealed condition. That means that the last operation is to heat the material up to a temperature where the residual stresses of manufacturing can be relieved, and the material will be in the soft condition. Most flat rolled products however are made in coils and when a sheet is cut from the coil it is usually flattened which does add some small amount of stress to the material. Bar products are usually straightened and that adds some small amount of stress as well. The term dead soft usually refers to a product where the even this small amount of stress is removed, but as a practical matter, this condition is not readily available.

20. Do you need to preheat stainless steel before welding?

Austenitic stainless steel (the 300 series) does not need to be preheated before welding.