Mild Steel vs. Stainless Steel: What’s The Difference?
The use of steel in the US is constantly growing. During August 2021, 8,404,858 net tons of steel were shipped by US steel mills, up from 6,532,652 net tons the previous year.
When deciding what type of steel to use for a task, several different factors come into play. This includes things such as costs, required strength, or conditions the metal will endure. As such, comparisons can be made for mild steel vs stainless steel to determine which you may need.
Understanding the differences between these types of steel is essential, as making the wrong choice for your desired application could have devastating results. To get a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each type, and which one you will want to use, keep reading.
Differences between Mild Steel vs Stainless Steel
The different characteristics between these two types of steel come from the main alloying element.
The composition of mild steel mainly consists of carbon. Stainless steel uses less carbon and is instead alloyed with chromium. This may seem to be a small change, but these differing compositions are what give a variety of different properties between these two types of steel.
The chromium used in stainless steel gives it more corrosion resistance than mild steel due to the way it reacts with oxygen. It produces a layer of chromium oxide which makes it naturally corrosion-resistant, provided that the layer is not damaged.
This also makes it ideal if the metal will be in contact with any chemicals such as strong cleaning products.
Mild steel does not contain chromium to produce this protective layer but instead will have a layer of iron oxide on the surface. This will react with moisture producing more iron oxide, resulting in rusting of the metal. To prevent this, mild steel needs to be processed further for use in an environment where rust may occur.
This is possible through processes such as powder coating. This involves applying a dry powder to the surface of the metal via an electrostatic process. Powder coating is a cost-effective way of giving the metal a durable finish, which is more suitable for any application where the metal is visible or exposed to moisture.
Galvanization is a process that gives similar results, most commonly done by submerging the metal in molten zinc (known as hot dipping). This results in a protective layer on the surface of the metal, which helps to prevent corrosion.
The chromium used in stainless steel makes it harder and less malleable than mild steel, but also more brittle. Because of this, it is not as easy to alter as mild steel.
This means that mild steel is easier to fabricate than stainless steel, so it is more suitable if it will need to be bent or welded, for example.
If mild steel is being used but needs to be stronger, this can be done by adding more carbon or through galvanization.
There is a notable visual difference between mild steel and stainless steel. Stainless steel is famous for having a brushed/polished surface that is not present in mild steel. This is often seen as a desirable characteristic.
Mild steel is generally not considered to be as aesthetically pleasing, and as mentioned above is more susceptible to rust. Because of this, mild steel is more commonly used when the surface won’t actually be visible, such as internal structures.
When it is present in a situation where it will be exposed or visible, it will usually be painted or coated. This is to help prevent corrosion and give it a more visually appealing finish.
Due to the differences in the composition of mild steel and stainless steel, stainless is always the more expensive option upfront. This often makes it the less appealing choice. It is worth remembering that stainless steel is stronger and much more corrosion-resistant. Because of this, mild steel could actually cost more to maintain in the long run due to maintenance costs.
Uses of Each Type
The different characteristics of these two types of steel mean that each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
Due to the physical properties of mild steel, as well as how cheap it is, it is one of the most widely used types of steel in the world. Is mild steel better than stainless steel? That comes down to what it is being used for.
Some common applications of mild steel include:
- Structural/construction frames
- Machine parts
Due to its resistance to corrosion, high strength, and appearance, there are a number of applications that make stainless steel the better choice when compared to mild steel:
- Kitchenware (cutlery, sinks, pots/pans, etc.)
- Surgical tools/medical equipment
- Storage tanks
- Green energy production (solar, geothermal, hydro, and wind power)
- Food production/storage
Some common uses overlap between the two, due to both metals being ideal for the job. In instances like this, the more suitable type of steel would need to be determined based on the specifics of the application.
What to Do After Your Decision
Based on the information, in this blog you’ll now have some sort of an idea of which type of steel is suitable for you. If you are still unsure, the team at Bushwick Metals will be able to give you a more detailed explanation of mild steel vs stainless steel.
Bushwick Metals is one of the leading distributors in the Northeast and can supply you with everything you need. We supply mild steel, stainless steel, and more. Orders are processed around the clock and can be delivered in one or two days, so don’t hesitate to contact us and let us know what you’re after!