To the layperson, steel is just a type of metal, and most people probably think that one type of steel is very much like the rest. However, there are actually several distinct types, and each one is suited to particular applications more than others.
Tool steel and carbon steel are two varieties you might come across, but one of the steels most often found in the home is the stainless variety. Stainless steel has some incredibly useful properties that make it ideal for certain environments and uses. Here's what you need to know about this versatile metal:
What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is one of the varieties of basic steel. It's produced by using a unique combination of base metals in its alloy mix, which allows their best properties to come together.
What's special about it?
The main benefit of stainless steel – as suggested by its name – is that it resists rust and other types of corrosion. Because of this, stainless steel is useful for any situation where it might get wet regularly, as it won't succumb to rust like many other metals would.
In addition to its water-resistance, stainless steel also survives well after being in contact with acids.
How is it composed?
All steels are alloys, comprised of a mix of different metals, usually at least containing iron and carbon. The thing that makes stainless steel special is the inclusion of at least 10.5% chromium in the mix. This chromium is what's responsible for stopping corrosion compared to steel without it, and allows the metal to retain its strength.
Where is it used?
Because of the water-resistance, you can find stainless steel in use anywhere there's excessive water, in pipes and other fixtures.
Stainless steel is frequently found in kitchens and other food preparation areas, often in knives and other tools. Its properties help keep hygiene levels high and stop bacteria from spreading. For similar reasons, stainless steel is also widely used in hospitals for surgical implements and other medical tools.
Are there any downsides?
While stainless steel normally resists corrosion, this is less effective in some environments. Most commonly, high levels of salt will affect its performance, so it isn't suitable for use at sea. It's also less effective where the air circulation is bad or where there's low oxygen.
Also, in environments with a lot of moisture or the presence of acids, stainless steel can cause a form of corrosion in other metals that touch it.
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