Stainless steel has been around for a long time. Numerous industries have used stainless steel to construct skyscrapers, memorials, and even kitchen utensils since the 1990s.
You’re probably surrounded by stainless steel objects, such as saucepans, handrails, pen springs, or watches. And you probably use stainless steel every day at work if you use shipping containers, exhaust systems, cable trays, or process piping.
But have you ever stopped to think about what makes stainless steel so unique? Here are some little-known facts about stainless steel—it may surprise you just how versatile stainless steel can be.
1. Some Stainless Steel Can Be Magnetic
Stainless steel is a non-magnetic material, in most cases. However, this is not true for all types of stainless steel. Stainless steel’s magnetic properties depend on its microstructure.
Stainless steel can be divided into five groups:
- Precipitation Hardening
Each type features a different combination of metal alloys. For example, austenitic stainless steel has a combination of 18% chromium and 10% nickel. This combination makes austenitic stainless steel non-magnetic.
Martensitic stainless steels contain 12-15% chromium, as well as 0.2-1% molybdenum. Martensitic stainless steel also contains no nickel, and 0.1-1% carbon. This particular combination is ferromagnetic. Its magnetic properties depend on the strength of the applied magnetizing field. Martensitic stainless steel will exhibit permanent magnetic properties if it becomes magnetized during its hardening process.
Ferritic stainless steels contain between 10.5% and 27% chromium and little to no nickel. Like martensitic stainless steel, ferritic stainless steel is ferromagnetic. However, ferritic stainless steel’s magnetic behavior isn’t as strong as martensitic stainless steel’s.
2. Stainless Steel Can Stain
Stainless steel comes from a family of materials that resist corrosion and oxidation. This gives it the ability to resist rust and unsightly blotches. When exposed to oxygen and moisture, stainless steel produces a thin oxide film that coats the metal. It essentially repairs itself.
Yet despite its name and resistant nature, stainless isn’t impossible to stain. The protective film will break down over time, leading to pitting and corrosion.
To maintain stainless steel, you must regularly clean its surface and ensure the steel has an adequate supply of oxygen.
3. Stainless Steel Is Recyclable
Steel is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, approximately 88% of the world’s steel is recycled. Further, two out of three tons of new steel come from old steel.
The steel industry also recycles steel byproducts, including mill scale, steelmaking slags, and processing liquids. Steelmaking dust and sludge can also be recovered and reused to make other metals, like zinc.
4. Stainless Steel Can Be Made into “Soap”
Many reputable manufacturers produce stainless steel soap, which is essentially a piece of stainless steel in the shape of a soap bar.
While stainless steel soap does not kill germs or other bacteria like regular soap would, stainless steel soap can neutralize strong odors on the hands. Simply rub the bar on your hands after handling garlic, onion, or fish. The smell should disappear.
Why does stainless steel have this unique property? Some researchers hypothesize that the stainless steel binds to sulfur compounds in various substances, which reduces odors.
5. Stainless Steel Expands and Contracts
Stainless steel is valuable in the nuclear power and aerospace industries because it has a high temperature oxidation resistance. While it has a much higher resistance than many other metals, stainless steel still expands and contracts when the temperature varies.
Because of this, construction industries have to account for thermal expansion when creating a steel frame for a building. The Eiffel Tower, for example, is approximately 984 feet tall (not including the antenna) during the summer. But on cold days, the metal tower is approximately 6 inches shorter.
6. Stainless Steel Can Be Woven and Worn
Stainless steel is incredibly ductile, which means it can be drawn out into a thin wire without losing its toughness. Many stainless steel manufacturers produce stainless steel mesh that is fine enough and pliable enough to wear.
Stainless steel clothing is thermal and radiation resistant, so it is often used in the electrical and textiles industries.
Stainless steel thread is a key component in the tech industry and is often used in touchscreen gloves. Capacitive touchscreens can detect the presence of an electrically conductive object (such as a finger). Stainless steel gloves conduct electricity in a way that mimics a finger’s electrical current.
Additionally, some manufacturers weave stainless steel fibers into carpet. The stainless steel prevents the buildup of static electricity, reducing the likelihood of static electric shock.
Because stainless steel’s unique properties have applications in a variety of situations, this metal alloy has the ability to make your life easier. Take the time to appreciate what stainless steel can do for you, and be sure to ask a stainless steel distributor for additional information.