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Differences between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals


Time to Read: 2m 9s

While the main difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is iron, it is important to understand the characteristics of each type of metal. Ferrous metals have a chemical composition that includes iron. Non-ferrous metals have a composition that does not. When comparing different types of metals, it can be easy falling into a cycle of what metal is “best.” The truth is that there is no best metal. Whether ferrous or non-ferrous, the best metal for your requirements will depend on your project or application specifications.

Learn more about the differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals to help determine which type of metal will help you accomplish your building and project goals.

Ferrous Metals

With a composition of iron and other alloys, ferrous metals are comprised of high strength metals and used primarily for their tensile strength and durability. Often used for construction purposes and metal fabrication, ferrous metals provide you with the durability and functionality for a wide range of industrial projects. Common ferrous metals include:
  • Carbon Steel
    • Includes low (also known as mild steel), mid, and high carbon steel
  • Alloy Steel
    • Alloying elements include aluminum, copper, silicon, nickel, chromium, and titanium for added strength
    • Alloy steel provides high strength for large structural applications for the building and construction industries
    • Weathering steel is commonly used for bridgework
  • Stainless Steel
    • Inclusion of chromium makes stainless steel corrosion resistant when compared to other ferrous metals
  • Iron
    • Cast Iron
      • Iron content from 1.5%-4% with other alloying elements like silicon or manganese
      • Castable, with exceptional hardness
    • Wrought Iron
      • Little to no carbon content
      • Excellent corrosion resistance, with lower hardness
      • Suitable for ornamental purposes

Ferrous Metal Characteristics

Properties of ferrous metal include:
  • Exceptional tensile strength
  • Durable
  • High hardness
  • Dense
  • Prone to rust
  • Often magnetic

Differences between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

One of the main differentiators beyond metal types is the cost differential between ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Ferrous metals, although known for their strength, are commonly more cost-efficient than non-ferrous metals. Additional differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals include:
  • Ferrous metals are magnetic whereas non-ferrous metals are not
  • Ferrous metals are more prone to corrosion or rust due to the inclusion of iron where non-ferrous are more rust resistant
  • Non-ferrous metals are typically lightweight where ferrous metals are heavier
  • Non-ferrous metals are easily recyclable. Ferrous metals require a more detailed process
Common Uses of Ferrous Metals for Projects that Rely on Durability
  • Automobiles
  • Electrical appliances
  • Construction
  • Shipping containers
Common Uses of Non-Ferrous Metals for Projects Exposed to Outdoor Elements
  • Gutters and roofing
  • Signage
  • Street signs
  • Wiring applications

Find the Ferrous or Non-Ferrous Metal You Need

IMS stocks both ferrous and non-ferrous metal products. Our high-quality inventory of metals includes aluminum, steel, stainless steel, copper and brass, as well as specialty metals. Contact us or stop by one of our locations and get the metal you need today.