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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which keeps the iron in the steel from turning into rust. and palladium corrode. need painting or surface finishes. It releases small amounts of iron and chromium. a wide array of stainless steel products are available – knives. so substances with chlorine (as in some cleaners) and or salt should not be exposed to stainless steel for extended periods. or the chloride is very high (as in some swimming pools or sea water). Regular water has too low levels of chloride and enough oxygen to react with the chromium and no effect on stainless steel. And for good reason.5% chromium is added to iron and it immediately repairs itself when scratched. acid and absence of oxygen are the biggest dangers to the chromium oxide film. storage. containers and cookware. whose acids can destroy the film should not be stored or exposed to in some stainless steels for a longer time. An average 8% of our electricity bill is due to corrosion.000. you have to first look for things that destroy the chromium oxide film. IN THE KITCHEN Today. stainless steel has almost unlimited life expectancy. pots. Also food. Building of the Gateway Arch in St. stainless steel is the standard in commercial food processing. Also the acids in food.g. the usual environmental influences that lead to corrosion take effect. silverware. grime or bacteria. but the top arches were clad in shining 302 grade stainless steel. When built in 1928. and others. lower grade alloy screws) can lead to corrosion. A recent inspection of the building showed how well the material was suited for the job – no signs of corrosion or deterioration were found. in 1917.000. Because only when the film is destroyed. mild soap and a soft cloth. Louis 1963 / 886 Tons of 304 Stainless Steel CORROSION Corrosion is a big deal.England banned its production for anything else during WWI. you should never use abrasive powders or materials on stainless. Also stainless can rust when it loses it’s ‘corrosion shield’. The sign of modernity which stainless represented may be best embodied in the Chrysler building. and in some industrial countries it is the reason that 30% of the water never makes it from the water plant to the consumers. In general. utensils. measuring cups. But usually a long-term exposure is required for the corrosion to start taking effect. or contact with other metals (e. It is fingerprint resistant and doesn’t require aggressive cleaners. It doesn’t change the color or taste of food. Page 2 of 5 . For the home chef. But when the water has a very low PH (high acid). it was not only the city’s tallest building. The best way to keep stainless steel intact is immediate cleaning with water. Chloride. When looking for reasons why stainless steel corrodes under certain circumstances. Stainless steel’s surface has no pores or cracks to harbor dirt. stainless steel will corrode. To keep it shiny.000 dollars every year (4. This protection is a thin film (one ten thousandth of a human hair) of chromium oxide. Stainless steel doesn’t chip. all metals except gold. or there is very little oxygen (as sometimes in sea water with a large amount of algae). Proper care means keeping the chromium oxide film intact. It is estimated to cost the US 276. The film is automatically formed when a minimum of 10. which are healthy. transportation and preparation as well as for equipment and surfaces in modern restaurant kitchens. platinum.2% of the GNP). With proper care.

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

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

a lot of energy is needed for its production (also when recycled).ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Stainless steel is 100% ‘truly’ recyclable. Approximately 60% of all stainless steel comes from recycled steel. and 90% of all stainless steel is being recycled. As in all steel production. Truly. stainless steel products last hundreds of years. Page 5 of 5 . With proper care. 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). but this may be justified due to it’s long lasting qualities.