Ask Dr. Steel: “What are the Properties of Stainless Steel?”
Stainless steel is a versatile alloy with many applications in a wide variety of areas including construction, home décor, medical supplies and consumer products. Stainless steels tend to be used when corrosion or oxidation is a factor that may affect the overall life of the product. Stainless steel provides valuable anti-corrosion and anti-rust properties that cannot be duplicated by other materials for the same cost as stainless steel. It was a little over 50 years ago that it was discovered that a minimum content of 12% chromium would provide both corrosion and oxidation resistance to steel.
The most important property of stainless steel is its ability to maintain the same surface, color and structure even after years of use and exposure to elements. It is the ability to do so that makes stainless steel “stain less” when compared to other metals or alloys. The chromium content of the steel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a thin layer of protection over the entire steel surface. Should the steel become scratched or cut, the chromium quickly oxidizes and forms a new protective barrier.
Stainless steels are not all created the same. There are various types of stainless steel available depending on the intended use. Some contain higher amounts of chromium than others, though the basic chemical makeup remains the same. For example, stainless steel is used in a wide variety of surgical instruments. The steel used for these instruments is a higher grade than what would be typically found in stainless steel appliances. The stainless steel is more hardened to prevent breakage as well as protected with a thicker layer of corrosion protection necessary for medical use where bacteria and germs are of constant consideration.
Some stainless steels are also graded based on their physical properties. These grades represent hardness, manufacturing method (i.e., cold pressed, rolled, etc.), temperature range of use and tensile strength. Grades are maintained by a worldwide body which regulates stainless steel standards around the world for uniform quality and forging.
Stainless steel has the ability to withstand wide varieties of both atmospheric and environmental factors, which is one of the properties that make it a top choice in many construction and design projects. It can resist decades of fluctuations in temperature and weather conditions without affecting its structure or corrosion resistance abilities. Long term studies on stainless steel have shown that even after 50 years the steel can still be as strong and durable as it was when it was initially used.
Some consider the strongest property of stainless steel its versatility. It can be used from everything from kitchen appliances to building construction to art deco to automotive trim finish while still maintaining its “stain less” properties. More commercial and residential construction takes place with stainless steel today than any other time since its inception. Builders cite the fact it is versatile and aesthetically pleasing as two strong points as well as the fact it can outlive the lifetime of the typical structure as its biggest selling point.
Whatever the use for stainless steel, there exists an entire industry devoted to forging and producing this amazing alloy. Today the world over stainless steel is being used in ways that were never thought possible at its inception over 50 years ago.