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Differentiating 304 & 316 Stainless Steel

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Stainless steel 304 and 316 alloy grades are synonymous with corrosion resistance. Both grades are known for possessing some of the best corrosion resistant properties within the world of metal. In addition, each alloy grade maintains its own unique properties, providing variations that allow 316 and 304 stainless steel to be used for both similar and differentiating industrial applications.

When comparing 304 versus 316 stainless steel, it is important to note that 316 is regarded as the superior alloy of the two grades. However, with that designation comes an increased price point and performance advantages that, depending on your application, may or may not be worth the extra cost.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is one of the most popular and well recognized metals, known for its attractive appearance, low maintenance requirements, and resistance to corrosion and staining. Unlike regular carbon steel, stainless steel does not readily corrode in the presence of water. When the strength and toughness of steel are required, along with the need for corrosion resistance, stainless is often the answer.

Stainless Steel Boat Steering Wheel

Steel is an alloy, a combination of several metals. Steel always contains iron and carbon, along with small percentages of other elements. The amount and type of elements that are added during fabrication result in many different classes and grades of steel. So, for example, all types of stainless steel contain at least 10% chromium by weight.

High Performance 316 Stainless Steel

Premium grade 316 stainless steel is composed primarily of iron with added chromium, nickel, silicon, manganese, carbon, and molybdenum properties. The added molybdenum content within 316 allows for enhanced corrosion resistance and protection against acids and chlorides, allowing it to be used in all types of marine applications.

Stainless steel 316 advantages:
  • Increased corrosion resistance over 304
  • Good strength at high temperatures
  • Good resistance to pitting in chloride ion solutions
  • Effective in acidic environments
  • Enhanced long-term value
316 Stainless Steel Applications:
  • Food service equipment
  • Medical equipment & devices
  • Marine environment structural steel
  • High alkali & acid environments
  • Coastal regions
  • Commercial kitchen surfaces

Stainless Steel 316 Chemical Composition

The chemical composition of 316 stainless steel includes:  
Element Composition %
Chromium 16-18
Nickel 10-14
Molybdenum 2-3
Manganese 2 (Max)
Iron Balance

Austenitic 304 Stainless Steel

Regarded as the most common austenitic stainless steel in existence, 304 displays a nickel and chromium content that provides good corrosion resistance. Stainless steel 304 is also easy to sanitize, making it ideal for a wide range of applications within the food production industry. Due to its minimum of 18% chromium and 8% nickel, type 304 stainless steel is often referred to as 18-8 stainless steel is available in a variety of forms and can be easily formed and fabricated.

Stainless Steel 304 Advantages:
  • Excellent corrosion resistance
  • Resists organic chemicals
  • Impact resistant
  • Enhanced aesthetic value
  • Easily recyclable
304 Stainless Steel Applications:
  • Appliances
  • Storage tanks
  • Indoor electrical enclosures
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Automotive trim
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Stainless Steel 304 Chemical Composition

The chemical composition of 304 stainless steel includes:
Element Composition %
Chromium 18
Nickel 8
Manganese 2 (Max)
Iron Balance

Stainless Steel 304 & 316 Machining Qualities

When it comes to machinability, grade 304 is much easier to machine than 316 grade stainless steel. Since it is less expensive and easier to fabricate, stainless steel 304 alloy is the most widely used austenitic stainless steel in the world. In fact, to properly machine stainless steel alloy 316 special tools are required, which means that 316 is often reserved exclusively for applications that require its unique properties.

Does Stainless Steel Rust?

Due to its chemical nature and self healing capabilities, stainless steel does not rust. The elements within stainless steel interact with the oxygen in the air to form a protective layer that shield the iron within the stainless steel from oxidation, which leads to rust. Since type 316 stainless steel contains molybdenum, its corrosion resistant properties exceed those of 304.
Rusted 304 Steel

Purchase Premium Quality 304 & 316 Stainless Steel Products Today

With a huge selection and massive inventory of high quality alloy grade 304 and 316 stainless steels in stock and ready to ship, Industrial Metal Supply has the stainless steel products you need. Stop by one of our locations or contact us for more information.
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