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1. What is stainless steel?

The class of steels (alloys) that contain the common element of chromium is called stainless steel. The chromium must exist at a level of at least 10.5% for the steel to be called stainless steel. There might be other elements present in the steel, such as nickel, but it’s the chromium that gives stainless steel the great corrosion-resistant properties. It’s the chromium that reacts positively with oxygen so that a renewable protective layer of chromium oxide is created.

Stainless steel is good for the environment - it’s fully recyclable.

2. Can you tell me about the different types of stainless steel?

There are more than 150 different grades of stainless steel; approximately 15 grades are the most commonly used. These are the grades that are used in the everyday applications we are all accustomed to seeing stainless steel used in, such as industry, hospitals, food processing, in the home, farming and in aerospace applications.

There are three major classes of stainless steel. These are:

  • Austenitic
  • Ferritic
  • Martensitic
  • The most common grades of stainless steel are 304 and 316;316 is marine grade stainless steel. When you see exterior architectural fittings like railings, light fixtures and balustrades, those are commonly made from 316-grade stainless steel. When it’s close to marine environments, molybdenum is added to give 316-grade steel the added corrosion protection it needs. The stainless steel used in sinks, kitchen preparation areas, barbecues and work surfaces is usually 304-grade stainless steel and does not have molybdenum added.

    3. What is the difference between 304 and 316 stainless steel?

    Those references are about nothing more than the amount of chromium, nickel and other elements in the steel. 304 contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel, while 316 contains 16% chromium, 10% nickel and 2% molybdenum. The addition of the molybdenum helps the stainless to resist corrosion in marine environments (like deicing salts and sea water).

    4. Can stainless steel corrode?

    Though it’s more resistant to corrosion than regular carbon or alloy steels, stainless steel can corrode in some circumstances. It’s called “stainless” not “stainFREE”. When it corrodes, however, it doesn’t corrode the way unprotected carbon steel corrodes, when it forms layers of red flaking rust when it’s exposed to moisture and air. The rust (or iron oxide film) is an active component and accelerates corrosion by creating more iron oxide. Fortunately, stainless steel contains enough chromium to form a passive film of chromium oxide; this prevents additional surface corrosion. It also blocks the corrosion from spreading into the internal structure of the metal. The cause of corrosion in stainless steel is mostly damage to the chromium layer and contaminants becoming lodged on the surface of the stainless steel.

    5. What’s the best way to maintain stainless steel?

  • Interior stainless (such as sinks, appliances, etc.) – Use gentle care. If you use a soft cloth to wash and wipe the stainless, most fingerprints and surface makes will lift off easily. Dry the surface thoroughly with another soft cloth. If marks remain, you can repeat the procedure above, but use a mild detergent as well. If marks still remain, you can use a diluted cream cleanser. Don’t use a circular wiping motion or rub against the grain of the stainless steel because some detergent or cleanser residue can become trapped and scratch the stainless.

  • Exterior (marine fittings, architectural fittings, etc.) – Use fresh water for regular cleanings. If you clean stainless steel used in these applications this way, you can help to prevent the buildup of salt and environmental contaminants.

  • 6. What’s the difference between 18/8 and 18/10 stainless steel?

    The first number you see refers to the amount of chromium that’s contained in the stainless. Therefore the 18 in the description means there is 18% chromium. The second number refers to the amount of nickel in the stainless. In this case, then, 8 means 8% nickel. With the two examples above, then, 18/8 means the stainless contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel and 18/10 means the stainless contains 18% chromium and 10% nickel.

    The higher the numbers are, the more corrosion resistant the material can be. Both 18/8 and 18/10 stainless steel contain nickel, as we’ve learned, and both are part of the “300 series” grade family of stainless. Sometimes you’ll see 18/0 stainless steel; this means that there is no nickel in the stainless and this grade family is “400 series”.

    400 series is not as corrosion resistant as 300 series and is also magnetic. The 300 series stainless steels are not magnetic and are the stainless grades used mostly for restaurant preparation areas, food processing equipment, sinks, etc.

    7. What is the exact recycle content of stainless steel?

    Stainless steel can be 100% recycled. This means that all stainless steel can be re-melted to created new stainless steel. Generally the amount of recycled stainless steel “scrap” that is used to make new stainless steel is somewhere between 65% and 80%.

    8. I thought stainless steel didn’t rust. Does it?

    When you think of rust, you likely think about regular steel rusting with red oxide on the surface and that flaking off. Stainless doesn’t rust quite like that. Corrosion on stainless steel is usually caused by contaminants that settle on the surface of the stainless.