What is Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an alloy of Iron with a minimum of 10.5 % Chromium. Chromium produces a thin layer of oxide on the surface of the steel known as the ‘passive layer’. This prevents any further corrosion of the surface. Increasing the amount of Chromium gives an increased resistance to corrosion.


Stainless steel also contains varying amounts of Carbon, Silicon and Manganese. Other elements such as Nickel and Molybdenum may be added to impart other useful properties such as enhanced formability and increased corrosion resistance.

ForĀ stainless steel stockholders based in the uk

There is a widely held view that stainless steel was discovered in 1913 by Sheffield metallurgist Harry Brearley. He was experimenting with different types of steel for weapons and noticed that a 13 % Chromium steel had not corroded after several months. However, the picture is much more complex than this. For a comprehensive view read The Discovery of Stainless Steel.

Stainless steels of various kinds are used in thousands of applications. The following gives a flavour of the full range:

Domestic– cutlery, sinks, saucepans, washing machine drums, microwave oven liners, razor blades

Architectural/Civil Engineering– cladding, handrails, door and window fittings, street furniture, structural sections, reinforcement bar, lighting columns, lintels, masonry supports

Transport– exhaust systems, car trim/grilles, road tankers, ship containers, ships chemical tankers, refuse vehicles

Chemical/Pharmaceutical– pressure vessels, process piping.

Oil and Gas– platform accommodation, cable trays, subsea pipelines.

Medical– Surgical instruments, surgical implants, MRI scanners.

Food and Drink– Catering equipment, brewing, distilling, food processing.

Water– Water and sewage treatment, water tubing, hot water tanks.

General– springs, fasteners (bolts, nuts and washers), wire.

To mark the centenary of stainless steel we examine ‘what is stainless steel used for?’.

Stainless Steel is in fact an umbrella term which covers a huge range of alloys, the varying properties of which make them suitable for use across a very broad spectrum and in a vast number of different industries. Amongst the fields which make great use of stainless steel are the following:.

Architecture and Construction.

The fact that stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, is highly flexible, strong, easy to work with and can be finished in a variety of different ways means that it is increasingly being used as a building material on large scale, high impact buildings. Whilst it has always been fairly common for buildings to utilise stainless steel in the construction of handrails, counter tops and the like, it is now being used on a larger scale as the exterior cladding of buildings.

The dazzling range of forms into which it can be moulded, rolled and shaped makes it perfect for the creation of stunning, experimental buildings such as Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Other examples of the large scale use of stainless steel include the Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo, London and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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