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Differences between Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel

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As two commonly used metals, stainless steel and carbon steel offer you versatile options for a wide range of construction and industrial purposes. Understanding the characteristics of each metal type as well as the differences and functionalities can help you decide which metal type is best for your project requirements.

Stainless Steel Characteristics

With at least 10% chromium, stainless steel has a base made of carbon steel and iron. Additional alloying elements can be added in different stainless steel grades. With the addition of chromium, stainless steel is a corrosion resistant metal type with exceptional tensile strength. Other benefits of stainless steel include: stainless steel pipes
  • Low-temperature resistant
  • Durable
  • Long-lasting
  • Recyclable
  • Formable and easily fabricated
  • Polished finishes
  • Hygienic
Stainless steels can be categorized by type. Stainless steel types include austenitic, ferritic, duplex, martensitic, and precipitation hardened subgroups.
  • 300 series austenitic stainless steel is one of the most common stainless steels due to its versatility.

Stainless Steel Metal Options

Stainless steel products are readily available in a wide range of sizes, finishes and alloys. Common stainless steel metal shapes include:

Carbon Steel Characteristics

Also known as mild steel, low carbon steel contains carbon and iron. Carbon steels are categorized by their carbon content. low carbon steels containing less than 0.25% carbon, medium carbon steels with 0.25%-0.60% carbon, and high carbon steels containing 0.60%-1.25% carbon. Low carbon steel benefits include:
  • Economical/affordable
  • Malleable
  • Easily machinable
  • Low carbon steel is lighter than high carbon steel

Carbon Steel Metal Options

Low carbon steel products are available in a wide range of steel grades including 1018, A36, A513, and more. Steel shapes include:

Main Differences between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel

While both carbon steel and stainless steel comprise of iron and steel, carbon steel includes the addition of carbon whereas stainless steel incudes the addition of chromium. Additional differences between carbon steel and stainless steel include the following:
  • Stainless steel is corrosion resistant due to the chromium content where carbon steel can corrode and rust.
  • 300 series stainless steel is non-magnetic and carbon steel is magnetic.
  • Stainless steel has a bright finish whereas carbon steel has a matte finish.

Is Carbon Steel or Stainless Steel Stronger?

With the inclusion of carbon properties, carbon steel is stronger than stainless steel. Carbon steel is also harder and more durable than stainless steel. The downfall of steel is that it oxidizes when exposed to moisture which make it prone to rust. Stainless steel is corrosion resistant, with better ductility than carbon steel.

When to Use Stainless Steel

Due to its hygienic properties and corrosion resistance, stainless steel is suitable for the following applications:
  • Commercial kitchen equipment
  • Aerospace components
  • Marine fasteners
  • Automotive parts
  • Chemical processing

When to Use Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is ideally suited for a variety of commercial and industrial applications, including:
  • Building and Construction
    • Bridge components
  • Automotive components
  • Machinery applications
  • Pipes

Find Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel Products from a Trusted Metal Supplier

Whether you are looking for stainless steel or carbon steel products, IMS is the best source for high-quality metal. Our expansive in-stock inventory is available for will-call pickup or next day delivery. Order online or stop by one of our locations today.