Carbon or Stainless Steel? Important Factors

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Carbon or Stainless Steel? Important Factors

Illustration of products of the different form from metal

For many working in the steel project world, one big question often crops up during the material selection process: Carbon steel or stainless steel?

These two forms of steel have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages, and this may also depend on the exact grades involved. At Wasatch Steel, we can help you make these kinds of decisions based on all the important factors involved. Here are some basic differences between the two, split up by important areas.

Mechanical Properties

This is an area where specific grades play a big role – without knowing which grade you want, it’s tough to make general statements here. Stainless steels generally have higher quantities of nickel than carbon steels, making them more ductile, but there are some stainless grades that are actually very brittle. Carbon steels with low carbon may not match the strength of certain stainless grades, but in general, if there’s enough carbon it will be more readily heat treated than stainless steel.

Corrosion Resistance

This is the most obvious difference between the two types of steel. Even the name itself implies the quality here – stainless steel is generally more resistant to rust and other forms of corrosion.

Both these metals contain iron that can rust when exposed to the environment, but stainless steel also includes chromium – this causes corrosion resistance when it attaches itself to oxygen more easily than iron. This protects the rest of the material from the oxide layer that generally causes rust.


Different grades have different costs, as always, but for the most part, stainless steel is more expensive than carbon steel. This is because of the additional alloying elements used in stainless steel, including the chromium for rust resistance that we discussed above.

Visual Appearance

Many steel working jobs require an aesthetic element, and in these cases, you could go either way. Stainless steels are often preferred here, but both types can be sanded and polished for a shiny look. Carbon steel will require a clear coat or paint quickly after this polishing to avoid rust, however, so some people choose stainless steel to avoid this issue. Stainless steel is also better with dealing with scratches.

For more on choosing between carbon steel and stainless steel, or to buy steel online from our experts, speak to the staff at Wasatch Steel today.