Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel: Which One Is Best?

The global market size for carbon steel is valued at almost 900 billion dollars. But what is carbon steel? How is it different from stainless steel?

There is a long-held debate regarding which material is better between carbon steel or stainless steel. Make an informed decision for your next project by reading on.

What Is Carbon Steel?

There are two different things people could mean when they talk about carbon steel. There is a strict definition from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), and then there is a broader term used commonly in industry.

carbon tube

By Definition

The definition of carbon steel given by the AISI requires the following conditions to be met:

  • The minimum copper content is not more than 0.4%
  • The maximum copper content is not more than 0.6%
  • The maximum silicon content is not more than 0.6%
  • The maximum manganese content is not more than 1.65%
  • There is no specified minimum content for chromium, cobalt, nickel, titanium, tungsten, molybdenum, vanadium, zirconium, or niobium

While this definition may look complicated, it essentially means there can’t be high amounts of alloying metals. It must be almost completely made of just carbon and iron.

Broader Use

The term carbon steel is used in a broader sense in industrial settings to mean any alloy of iron that contains a high percentage of carbon. This means they can include higher amounts of alloying metals than traditional carbon steels.

Because they contain more alloying metals, these carbon steels are often stronger, more rigid, and less susceptible to corrosion.

What Is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel can refer to a wide variety of iron alloys, but it is most notable for its resistance to corrosion. Because they contain relatively high amounts of chromium and low amounts of carbon, they are very good at standing up to the elements.

Because they do so well in resisting corrosion, they are good for outdoor applications. Stainless steels can be made with different alloys to be either malleable or extremely hard, depending on the circumstance.

Which One to Use?

There are many things to consider when trying to decide whether to use carbon steel or stainless steel.

For instance, if you want to use metal in a situation where it will be exposed to nature or some corrosive substance, stainless steel would be a good choice.

Stainless is also a good choice if you’re concerned about how the product will look. If what you want to make will be easily visible and you want it to look good, stainless is the way to go.

If, however, you don’t need to resist corrosion, it may be cheaper to invest in carbon steel. Even though it is somewhat susceptible to corrosion, carbon steel is typically stronger and more durable than stainless steel.

Carbon steel can be made into a carbon tube for a wide variety of applications, including heat exchangers and pressure tubing.

Next Steps

Now that you know all about carbon steel and stainless steel, you can decide for yourself which one is right for you.

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