Difference between carbon steel and stainless steel

Choosing the right steel for your needs is one of the most important things.

However, before deciding on steel, you must first determine which type of steel you need to use.

Is it carbon steel or stainless steel?

This article will discuss the difference between carbon steel and stainless steel.

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Differences between carbon and stainless steel include:
  1. Corrosion resistance
  2. Mechanical properties
  3. Appearance
  4. Cost
Corrosion resistance

The most obvious difference between carbon steel and stainless steel is corrosion resistance.

As the name suggests, stainless steel is the more corrosion-resistant material of the two.

Both carbon steel and stainless steel contain iron.

Iron oxidizes when exposed to the environment, resulting in rust.

Chromium is added to stainless steel, which will increase the corrosion resistance of stainless steel, making stainless steel more corrosion resistant than carbon steel.

Chromium combines with oxygen more easily than iron.

When chromium attaches to oxygen, it forms a layer of chromium oxide that protects the steel from degradation and corrosion.

Carbon steel has a low chromium content, and a small amount of chromium cannot form the chromium oxide layer.

The combination of oxygen and iron will cause iron oxide and rust.

Therefore, if corrosion resistance is a key factor for you, then stainless steel is the steel of your choice.

Mechanical properties

Due to the differences in mechanical properties between carbon steel and stainless steel, it is difficult to generalize.

Stainless steels are generally more ductile than carbon steels, mainly because they have more nickel.

However, there are also stainless steels that are very brittle, such as martensitic stainless steels.

Carbon steels are easier to heat treat than austenitic stainless steels if they have a sufficient carbon content, say 0.30% carbon.


If you’re doing work that needs to be more aesthetically pleasing, you must consider the appearance of metal.

If the appearance factor is important, it is better to choose stainless steel with a special finish.

Although both can be sanded and polished for a bright, shiny look.

But carbon steel needs to be quickly coated with a clear coat or paint after the polishing process.

Without these, carbon steel will tarnish and eventually rust.


Another important consideration is the cost difference between carbon steel and stainless steel.

Although different steels have different costs, stainless steel is generally more expensive than carbon steel.

This is mainly due to the addition of various alloying elements in stainless steel, such as chromium, nickel, manganese, etc.

All of these extra elements in stainless steel add cost compared to carbon steel.

Carbon steel, on the other hand, consists mainly of the relatively inexpensive elements iron and carbon.

If your project is on a tight budget, carbon steel may be the best option.

how to choose?

When choosing steel, you need to carefully weigh the above factors into consideration.

If the metal is not exposed, then there is no need to consider the appearance of this thing.

However, if the steel is not exposed, but is subject to a corrosive environment, stainless steel may actually be the best choice.

In the end, which steel to choose will depend on your application and needs.

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