Stainless Steel The Long Lasting Shine of Modernity By Sebastian Kaufmannn | 15 Dec 09 Stainless steel is a material that’s easy

to fall in love with. It is sleek, shiny, strong, doesn’t flake or wear-off and has a nice smooth feel to it. And stainless steel’s beauty is long-lasting, which it owes to
its most notable characteristic – it doesn’t rust. Stainless steel has brought such vast changes to industries as automotive, aviation, food, machinery and medicine that it can easily be called the metal of the 21st century. Iron and steel production go back thousands of years B.C. In contrast, stainless steel has been discovered less than a hundred years ago. Harry Brearley (1871-1948) is mostly credited with its invention. In 1912, Brearley was working at the Brown-Firth Research Labratory in Sheffield, England, and in search for a corrosion-resistant steel for gun barrels, when he noticed that a combination of chromium and iron led to desired result.

C. Johnson Cutlery circa 1930s / Stainless Steel Blades with Bakelite Handles The word about Brearley’s invention spread fast in Sheffield, a town known for it’s fine cutlery since the 16th century. The cutlery industry highly embraced the new alloy. Up to that time kitchen utensils were mainly made out of carbon steel, which starts to corrode rapidly when in contact with food. Silver, then the only ‘affordable’ metal which was corrosion resistant, was too expensive for most people. A Sheffield cutlery manufacturer also coined the term “stainless steel”, hoping for a positive marketing effect (until then it was called ‘rustless steel’).

Corrosion Comparison Test / Visual Education magazine 1920 I’m not sure how much of stainless steel’s success can be credited to the name, but it soon paved the way for modern technology. It was used in car parts, airplane engines, toasters, vacuum cleaners, trains, kitchen equipment, tools, surgical instruments and jewelry. Stainless steel became so vital to the war industry that

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An average 8% of our electricity bill is due to corrosion. It releases small amounts of iron and chromium. but the top arches were clad in shining 302 grade stainless steel. In general. pots. For the home chef. And for good reason. or contact with other metals (e. and palladium corrode. When looking for reasons why stainless steel corrodes under certain circumstances. A recent inspection of the building showed how well the material was suited for the job – no signs of corrosion or deterioration were found. stainless steel will corrode.2% of the GNP). you have to first look for things that destroy the chromium oxide film.g. Stainless steel’s surface has no pores or cracks to harbor dirt.000. stainless steel has almost unlimited life expectancy. it was not only the city’s tallest building. whose acids can destroy the film should not be stored or exposed to in some stainless steels for a longer time. you should never use abrasive powders or materials on stainless.000 dollars every year (4. storage. a wide array of stainless steel products are available – knives.5% chromium is added to iron and it immediately repairs itself when scratched.000. mild soap and a soft cloth. the usual environmental influences that lead to corrosion take effect. all metals except gold. It is fingerprint resistant and doesn’t require aggressive cleaners. which keeps the iron in the steel from turning into rust. When built in 1928. Also food. Stainless steel doesn’t chip. Also stainless can rust when it loses it’s ‘corrosion shield’. Regular water has too low levels of chloride and enough oxygen to react with the chromium and no effect on stainless steel. Chloride. lower grade alloy screws) can lead to corrosion. in 1917. The sign of modernity which stainless represented may be best embodied in the Chrysler building.England banned its production for anything else during WWI. But when the water has a very low PH (high acid). containers and cookware. The best way to keep stainless steel intact is immediate cleaning with water. This protection is a thin film (one ten thousandth of a human hair) of chromium oxide. With proper care. transportation and preparation as well as for equipment and surfaces in modern restaurant kitchens. Also the acids in food. so substances with chlorine (as in some cleaners) and or salt should not be exposed to stainless steel for extended periods. IN THE KITCHEN Today. or there is very little oxygen (as sometimes in sea water with a large amount of algae). and in some industrial countries it is the reason that 30% of the water never makes it from the water plant to the consumers. utensils. measuring cups. and others. Louis 1963 / 886 Tons of 304 Stainless Steel CORROSION Corrosion is a big deal. Proper care means keeping the chromium oxide film intact. The film is automatically formed when a minimum of 10. platinum. Building of the Gateway Arch in St. or the chloride is very high (as in some swimming pools or sea water). stainless steel is the standard in commercial food processing. But usually a long-term exposure is required for the corrosion to start taking effect. grime or bacteria. It doesn’t change the color or taste of food. which are healthy. It is estimated to cost the US 276. To keep it shiny. need painting or surface finishes. silverware. Page 2 of 5 . Because only when the film is destroyed. acid and absence of oxygen are the biggest dangers to the chromium oxide film.

In fact there are more than 180 different steel alloys that fall under the stainless steel category (containing a minimum of 10. machinability and production costs. titanium. But there are other factors that influence these qualities. Hardness can be measured in ‘Rockwell‘ or ‘Brinell’. Finishes. The addition of these metals and non-metals influence stainless steel’s properties. and usually have molybdenum and vanadium in their composition. carbon. and vice versa. which vary in smoothness and shininess. aluminum. silicon. because they might have properties that higher priced stainless steels don’t possess (e. nitrogen. the better the corrosion resistance. most importantly corrosion resistance. Page 3 of 5 . The best quality stainless steel knife blades have a high carbon content. machinability). but also molybdenum. affect the corrosion – the smoother the finish. hammering. copper. “L” is an indicator for low amounts of carbon. sulfur and others. Heat hardening achieves better results. The most commonly used rating for stainless steel is SAE grade. It consists of three to four digit numbers.5% chromium). Carbon makes stainless steel harder but also more sensitive to corrosion.g. and rolling. but not all stainless steels can be subjected to it. sometimes with the addition of he letter “L” or “H”. but cheaper stainless steel work better in some applications than higher priced ones. or stretching at low temperature (cold working). CORROSION RESISTANCE & MACHINABILITY Not all stainless steels are the same. You can generally speak of a quality difference (which also relates to the price) of stainless steel. hardness. Stainless steel can be hardened through a series of temperature changes (heat treatment). Nickel is most commonly added. vanadium.A Common Combination: Sterling Silver Handle with Stainless Steel Blade GRADES: HARDNESS. and “H” for high amounts of carbon.

and hot water tanks. they are referred to as low-grade for knives and some kitchen equipment. since they cannot be thermal hardened. They are excellent to weld and are superior for uses in very low-temperature environments. However. Due to their lower corrosion resistance.Handle of a Kitchen Utensil with 18-10 Austenitic Stainless Steel Stainless steels are also classified in four different types (see also chart at bottom) AUSTENITICÂ (SAE 300series) They make up 70% of total stainless steel production. but a high amount of carbon. the chromium needs to be increased in relation. when adding of carbon. since they can’t be formed into complex shapes. They are excellent in resisting chlorine. FERRITIC The second-largest class of stainless steel. In order to keep a good corrosion resistance. They are the preferred steel for knives. and through thermal treatment their hardness can be further increased. Austenitic stainless steels can be bent in shape easily. and the lower price of ferritic stainless steels. Austenitic stainless steels have a 4-22% content of nickel. However. without fracturing (for example in kitchen sinks). This makes them less corrosion resistant and less strong. They are used in automotive trim. MARTENSITIC Martensitic stainless steels contain no nickel. they are not suited for all purposes. which makes them especially well suited for the offshore oil and gas industry Page 4 of 5 . kitchen products made out of ferritic stainless steel should not be put in dishwashers (no matter what the label says). which makes them generally best in corrosion resistance (especially to food acids). constituting of approximately 25% of stainless steel production. Carbon makes them especially hard. mufflers. The complex production process as well as the high nickel content makes martensitic steels most expensive. Ferritic stainless steels contain no nickel. but cheap and well suited for high temperatures. DUPLEX Duplex stainless steels were developed to achieve a balance between the corrosion resistance of austenitic. interior architectural trim.

Truly. Approximately 60% of all stainless steel comes from recycled steel. and 90% of all stainless steel is being recycled. As in all steel production. With proper care. Page 5 of 5 . a lot of energy is needed for its production (also when recycled). but this may be justified due to it’s long lasting qualities.ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Stainless steel is 100% ‘truly’ recyclable. stainless steel products last hundreds of years. because there is no loss in quality no matter how many times it’s being processed (other than for example in plastics where re-processing usually goes along with a downgrade in quality).

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