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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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And for good reason. and palladium corrode. IN THE KITCHEN Today. The film is automatically formed when a minimum of 10.England banned its production for anything else during WWI. The sign of modernity which stainless represented may be best embodied in the Chrysler building. When looking for reasons why stainless steel corrodes under certain circumstances. Stainless steel doesn’t chip. Stainless steel’s surface has no pores or cracks to harbor dirt. Regular water has too low levels of chloride and enough oxygen to react with the chromium and no effect on stainless steel. Louis 1963 / 886 Tons of 304 Stainless Steel CORROSION Corrosion is a big deal. or there is very little oxygen (as sometimes in sea water with a large amount of algae).000. lower grade alloy screws) can lead to corrosion. stainless steel is the standard in commercial food processing. you should never use abrasive powders or materials on stainless. Building of the Gateway Arch in St. stainless steel has almost unlimited life expectancy. A recent inspection of the building showed how well the material was suited for the job – no signs of corrosion or deterioration were found. Page 2 of 5 . It is estimated to cost the US 276. in 1917. Also food. With proper care. The best way to keep stainless steel intact is immediate cleaning with water. mild soap and a soft cloth. so substances with chlorine (as in some cleaners) and or salt should not be exposed to stainless steel for extended periods. and others. stainless steel will corrode. This protection is a thin film (one ten thousandth of a human hair) of chromium oxide. But when the water has a very low PH (high acid). grime or bacteria. it was not only the city’s tallest building. silverware. you have to first look for things that destroy the chromium oxide film. platinum. Because only when the film is destroyed.g. But usually a long-term exposure is required for the corrosion to start taking effect. It releases small amounts of iron and chromium. acid and absence of oxygen are the biggest dangers to the chromium oxide film. all metals except gold. the usual environmental influences that lead to corrosion take effect. It doesn’t change the color or taste of food. pots. To keep it shiny. storage. An average 8% of our electricity bill is due to corrosion. Proper care means keeping the chromium oxide film intact. a wide array of stainless steel products are available – knives. whose acids can destroy the film should not be stored or exposed to in some stainless steels for a longer time. need painting or surface finishes. Chloride. In general.2% of the GNP). or the chloride is very high (as in some swimming pools or sea water). For the home chef. which keeps the iron in the steel from turning into rust. measuring cups.000. When built in 1928. It is fingerprint resistant and doesn’t require aggressive cleaners. Also stainless can rust when it loses it’s ‘corrosion shield’. and in some industrial countries it is the reason that 30% of the water never makes it from the water plant to the consumers. which are healthy. transportation and preparation as well as for equipment and surfaces in modern restaurant kitchens.5% chromium is added to iron and it immediately repairs itself when scratched. utensils.000 dollars every year (4. or contact with other metals (e. Also the acids in food. but the top arches were clad in shining 302 grade stainless steel. containers and cookware.
which vary in smoothness and shininess. most importantly corrosion resistance. Hardness can be measured in ‘Rockwell‘ or ‘Brinell’. carbon. the better the corrosion resistance. Heat hardening achieves better results. You can generally speak of a quality difference (which also relates to the price) of stainless steel.A Common Combination: Sterling Silver Handle with Stainless Steel Blade GRADES: HARDNESS. and “H” for high amounts of carbon. or stretching at low temperature (cold working). because they might have properties that higher priced stainless steels don’t possess (e. titanium. but also molybdenum. hardness. aluminum. Stainless steel can be hardened through a series of temperature changes (heat treatment). hammering. and rolling. 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. sometimes with the addition of he letter “L” or “H”.5% chromium). Nickel is most commonly added. The addition of these metals and non-metals influence stainless steel’s properties. affect the corrosion – the smoother the finish. CORROSION RESISTANCE & MACHINABILITY Not all stainless steels are the same. sulfur and others. Finishes. silicon. It consists of three to four digit numbers. machinability). The best quality stainless steel knife blades have a high carbon content. vanadium. nitrogen. and usually have molybdenum and vanadium in their composition. The most commonly used rating for stainless steel is SAE grade. Carbon makes stainless steel harder but also more sensitive to corrosion. and vice versa. “L” is an indicator for low amounts of carbon. but not all stainless steels can be subjected to it. machinability and production costs. Page 3 of 5 . copper.g. but cheaper stainless steel work better in some applications than higher priced ones.
since they cannot be thermal hardened. the chromium needs to be increased in relation. In order to keep a good corrosion resistance. However. Due to their lower corrosion resistance. Ferritic stainless steels contain no nickel. mufflers. MARTENSITIC Martensitic stainless steels contain no nickel. They are the preferred steel for knives. since they can’t be formed into complex shapes. DUPLEX Duplex stainless steels were developed to achieve a balance between the corrosion resistance of austenitic. They are used in automotive trim. and through thermal treatment their hardness can be further increased. without fracturing (for example in kitchen sinks). and hot water tanks. FERRITIC The second-largest class of stainless steel. they are not suited for all purposes. constituting of approximately 25% of stainless steel production. kitchen products made out of ferritic stainless steel should not be put in dishwashers (no matter what the label says). but cheap and well suited for high temperatures. when adding of carbon. which makes them especially well suited for the offshore oil and gas industry Page 4 of 5 . Austenitic stainless steels have a 4-22% content of nickel. They are excellent to weld and are superior for uses in very low-temperature environments. interior architectural trim.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. However. Carbon makes them especially hard. The complex production process as well as the high nickel content makes martensitic steels most expensive. Austenitic stainless steels can be bent in shape easily. and the lower price of ferritic stainless steels. which makes them generally best in corrosion resistance (especially to food acids). they are referred to as low-grade for knives and some kitchen equipment. They are excellent in resisting chlorine. This makes them less corrosion resistant and less strong.
a lot of energy is needed for its production (also when recycled). but this may be justified due to it’s long lasting qualities. stainless steel products last hundreds of years. and 90% of all stainless steel is being recycled. 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). Approximately 60% of all stainless steel comes from recycled steel. With proper care.ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Stainless steel is 100% ‘truly’ recyclable. Truly. As in all steel production. Page 5 of 5 .
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