How to Tell If Something is Stainless Steel – 7 Ways to Test

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Determining if a metal item is a stainless steel or not is an important task. Because stainless steel looks a lot like many types of metals, like aluminum and metal plated items.

However, other materials do not give you the same service quality and durability. That’s because, for example, aluminum can get corroded when the coat is ruined and that results in pitting. However, stainless steel does not get those types of problems.

That is why you’ll want to know how to tell if something is stainless steel to determine the metal type for the use of home goods or newly bought items. This is especially true for items bought for the kitchen and bathroom, locations where the items need to be durable and non-reactive against wetness and heat.

The determination of the metal type helps the user calculate the usability of the item and the lifetime durability of the metal. So, you can guess the durable lifecycle of a stainless steel item if you can determine it is certainly its element.

how to tell if something is stainless steel

A stainless steel is an iron-based metal alloy that has a chromium in it. It also contains some other metals in it only in a very small ratio. Some examples are aluminum, carbon, copper, nickel, nitrogen, silicon, titanium, and many more. The addition of chromium and nickel makes it resistant to corrosion and rusting.

As a whole, the combination forms the stainless steel metal that is found in households, cars, constructions and many others.

The combination makes the metal malleable, magnetic, resistant to corrosion, resistant to electrical currents, erosion, and abrasion. And for these reasons, this metal alloy is preferred for daily household items or even the hard mechanisms in cars.

It brings stand out features across many industries and sectors. That is why it is important to determine if something is stainless steel or not so that you can tell whether it is safe to use around the home and family.

It should not be confused with other household metals such as chrome or nickel, or chrome plating and nickel plating. These metals are often referred to as “stainless” but they are not resistant to corrosion and strong like stainless steel.

When it comes to identifying stainless steel, there are some things that you should look for. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you identify genuine stainless steel.

How to Tell If Something is Stainless Steel: 7 Methods to Help You Determine

There can be multiple ways that can help you to determine if your metal is stainless steel or not.

Although you can always take the metal to the professionals to check. This is usually for an expensive item that is important to you.

But to determine the metal of the common things around your home, you can do try to do it yourself. And you may not need to pay much the testing of the common household cookware or item.

Read on to determine if your household items are stainless steel or not.

Method 1: Hardness check process by scratching or filing

Stainless steel is a relatively tough metal at the Mohs hardness scale of 5.5 to 6.3. This metal alloy is often tougher than many types of iron (Mohs 4.5), and much harder than its popular cousin, aluminum (Moh of about 2.2).

However, it is also less strong than some types of steel, such as the case hardened file steel with a Mohs rating from 7.8.

You can use a similar process to what geologists use in the wild. This method helps them identify the types of materials.

Use a stainless steel knife

Grab a knife that you know is stainless steel, perhaps a brand name one with lots of credentials. Then, use it to scratch the surface of the metal item you are testing.

If you are having a tough time making a scratch, then the hardness of the metal item in question is going to be approximately similar to stainless steel. This means it could be stainless steel.

Instead of a knife, you can also use a stainless steel buffer. Again, you need to be sure that the buffer is stainless steel. This is a good way to test the hardness of your metal item. Try to file some part of it off and seeing how easy it chips off. If the metal chips away with little effort, then you have something that is definitely not stainless steel because it is way too soft on the Mohs scale.

If the material is too hard and very strong, then your stainless steel filing buffer would wear out quickly. Again, you may not have stainless steel on your hands.

However, if it appears to go toe to toe at each other while you’re carefully rubbing them together, it’s likely you have 2 of the same material. You may have a stainless steel object after all.

Method 2: Attaching a magnate to check the magnetic field

One of the features of stainless steel is that it is magnetic. Whereas some other metals like aluminum, is not. The iron of the stainless steel creates the magnetic field in the metal.

So, one of the first tests you should try is to see if the metal is sticking magnets on it. Then, the metal could be stainless steel. Or else it is probably one of the common household metals like aluminum or any other metal-like substance.

But make sure that the magnet is held firmly by the metal.

That’s because aluminum is still able to generate weak magnet attraction due to the presence of iron oxide in small quantities.

So, when determining the type of metal, it is necessary to check how firm the magnetic hold is. If the metal strongly holds the magnet in place, then it could be stainless steel. On the other hand, if it weakly sticks a magnet on it, then it is aluminum or something else.

Method 3: Check the number label

This method can help determine the metal type of the rods used for home renovation. Each of these rods has a number label, also known as the bar identification. So, take a closer look.

Look for the number label on the rods and see if those have an ‘SS’ marking on it or not. If you see an ‘SS’ marking, this means the rod is constructed from stainless steel. But if the label has some other sign, then it is made of different steel types or other types of metal.

Some of the bar markings for steel types are:

  • SS for Stainless Steel
  • S for Carbon Steel
  • W for Low-Alloy Steel
  • CS for Low-Carbon Chromium

Method 4: Chip the metal to determine

One of the ways to determine whether a piece of metal could be stainless steel is to chip it with a hammer. It may be obvious that this method is best used for inexpensive items. For example, perhaps you wanted to know whether a budget friendly ladle is really stainless steel, and you are prepared to replace it with the same one.

To determine whether the metal item could be stainless steel or not, first, make the object steady with clamps. Lay it on a workshop bench made for using this type of force.

Then grab a chisel and hammer. These tools can do a good job of breaking off a small piece or creating a dent.

If the metal exterior flakes off and reveals something else inside, then it is not stainless steel.

Also, the stainless steel interior features a shiny or light gray texture. The color would be relatively consistent all the way through. If this is what the inside of the metal looks like, then you may have real stainless steel on your hands. Other materials used for household items don’t usually have such a polish. The worst offenders are metal-coated items that often have a discolored interior with a grey silver, stainless steel-like exterior.

Method 5: Spark test

You can also use this method to check the metal type in the construction area. For this, you will need a bench grinder and have the metal item placed on it.

Before turning on the device, make sure it is positioned on an edge of the metal. Then, turn on the machine and place it on one corner of the metal. If the sparks are even and long, then it could be stainless steel.

Otherwise, if they are uneven and short, this means that another type of metal was used.

NOTE: When using this approach to test metal, take the regular safety measures and precautions, such as wearing goggles, gloves, etc.

Method 6: Weight matters

The stainless steel is usually observed to be heavier and more dense than the aluminum. When you hold a stainless steel item, it will surely feel heavy than the aluminum object.

So, if you hold two same size pots, one of stainless steel and one of aluminum, then you can easily tell the difference.

Holding them in the two hands will make you feel the weight difference which can help you to determine the metal type of two different utensils.

However, taking a measurement of the weight, and size, and then use it to calculate the density, is the most accurate way to determine whether an object could be made of stainless steel.

For example, 300 series stainless steel has a density of about 0.29 lb/in³. In comparison, the density for 6061 aluminum alloy is much lower at 0.0975 lb/in³ (2.7 g/cm³). While these numbers vary slightly from series to series, the difference between stainless steel and aluminum is significant.

Method 7: Muriatic acid test

If you don’t mind damaging this metal item a bit, then you can try this method.

The other way to test if the metal is stainless steel is by using muriatic acid.

Are you prepared to damage the stainless steel metal? If yes, here’s what you need to do.

First, be prepared with all the safety precautions for handling a strong acid, such as gloves and goggles.

Next, acquire some muriatic acid and a dropper. Then, drop a few drops on the metal.  After adding a maximum of 3-4 drops of muriatic acid, allow it to sit for up to 60 minutes.

Then check whether or not it develops a rusted discoloration. You may have to wipe off the acid with a clean paper towel.

If the metal has developed this changed color, that looks like rust spots, then it could be stainless steel.

FAQs

How Can You Discern Stainless Steel?

One way is by the color of the metal. Stainless steel will not be shiny like coated or plated metal, and usually have a relatively dull finish. It also doesn’t change color, like develop rust spots, when exposed to air or water over time. 

Another way to identify stainless steel is by how it reacts with acid and saltwater. Unlike many other common household metals, it doesn’t react to these substances.

What Are the Best Ways to Tell if Something is Stainless Steel?

Scratch it with another stainless steel item to see if there are any scratches. If it scratches easily, then it is not stainless steel. Find out more in Method 6.

You can also put an acid, such as concentrated cleaning vinegar, on the surface of the metal object. Wait to see if rust spots appear. If rust spots appear, then it could be stainless steel.

Takeaway

Stainless steel is used in many items around the home, and it is one of the most sought after common household material. We love many of our kitchen and bathroom items made out of stainless steel because it withstands daily use.

Stainless steel is also found in many industries from architecture to food production. This metal is magnetic and has a high degree of resistance to corrosion and rust. These are some facts to consider if you are wondering how to tell if something is stainless steel.

Using these simple methods, you can test the metal item to identify the metal type. Like at the lab, you’ll likely have to try a few methods to check the metal type.

How to Polish Stainless Steel Watches

Learn How to Clean Coffee Stains from Stainless Steel Mug Easily

How to Get Scratches Out of Coated Stainless Steel Appliances – 1 Hack & 2 Easy Ways

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