Difference Between Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel

Main Difference

The main difference these two forms of steel namely carbon steel and stainless steel is that carbon steel is an alloy of iron and carbon while stainless steel is an alloy of iron and chromium.

Comparison Chart

Basis of DistinctionCarbon SteelStainless Steel
DefinitionA form of steel with more carbon as a main alloying element and less resistant to rust and tarnishingA form of steel containing more chromium and resistant to rust and tarnishing
HardnessHighComparatively low
BrittleYesNo
Can RustYesDoes not
Chromium Oxide LayerNoYes
Thermal ConductivityHighLow
Corrosion ResistanceInsignificantHigh
Edge StabilityExcellentPoor
Wear ResistancePoorExcellent

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is a popular kind of steel containing carbon in the range of 0.12% to 2%. According to the definition of the American Iron and Steel Institute for steel to be carbon steel, it must be containing specified amount of copper, manganese, copper, and silicon. However, no minimum content is specified for the inclusion of cobalt, chromium, nickel, titanium, or those rests of the elements that are to be added to obtain a desired alloying effect. The term carbons steel is a general term that can be used for all those steel that are not specified as stainless steel. Carbon steel is also called as carbon steel because, during the time of production, the quantity of the carbon content get rises, steel has the ability to become stronger and harder through heat training. However, at the same time, it becomes less ductile. Four major classes of carbon steel are low carbon steel, medium carbons steel, high carbon steel and ultra-high carbon steel. One of the major disadvantages of carbons steel is that it can be rust easily. On the other hand, it is hardener and has excellent edge stability as compared to the stainless steel.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is the type of iron alloy containing a minimum of 10.5% chromium content by mass. One of the major characteristics of stainless steel is that it doesn’t readily rust, stain or corrode with water as compared to the conventional steel like carbon steel. There a various surface and grades finishes of stainless steel to suit the environment the alloy must endure. These type of steel most frequently used in the cases where both properties of corrosion resistance and steel are required. In addition to chromium, various other elements such as nickel, titanium, copper and molybdenum are included to develops its structure and properties such as strength, formability, and cryogenic toughness. One of the major requirements of stainless steel is that it should be corrosion resistant for a specified environment or usage. Additionally, there are various other physical and mechanical properties that must be considered to obtain the overall service performance requirements. As compared to carbon steel it has poor edge stability and also has low thermal conductivity. However, it is a widely used material when it comes to general consumer products and decorative items made of steel.

Key Differences

  1. Carbon steel can be rust while stainless does not rust.
  2. Carbon steel can be hard and wear-resistant while the stainless steel is softer.
  3. Carbon steel contains a higher carbon content that gives the steel a lower melting point and more durability and malleability. On the other hand, stainless steel contains a high chromium content that forms an invisible layer on the steel to prevent staining and corrosion.
  4. Stainless steel is lustrous and comes in multiple grades, whereas, carbon steel is dull and has a matte finish that is comparable to wrought iron fencing.
  5. Stainless steel contains an inbuilt chromium oxide layer that is lacking in the carbon steel.
  6. Carbon steel can corrode easily while stainless steel is protected from corrosion.
  7. Carbon steel is often used in manufacturing and production areas whereas stainless steel is used for consuming products and can be used for decorative constructions as well.
  8. Stainless steel has lower thermal conductivity as compared to the carbon steel.
  9. Carbon steel has a higher amount of carbon while stainless steel has a relatively low amount of carbon.
  10. Carbon steel is more expensive as compared to the stainless steel.
  11. As carbon steel is more brittle than stainless steel so it can break easily when compared to the stainless steel.
  12. Carbon steel can be further divided into two main groups; mild steel and high carbon steel while stainless steel has various types of grades denoted by a numbering system.
  13. Carbons steel tends to be easier to sharpen as compared to the stainless steel.
  14. Stainless steel is often more expensive as compared to the carbon steels because multiple types of alloying elements are added to the stainless steel.
  15. Pots and pans made of stainless steel are easy to clean as compared to that of carbons steel.
  16. Stainless steel tends to be harder to sharpen and get modified and holds the edge for a little less time as compared to the carbon steel that is often more durable.
  17. Stainless cannot successfully undergo heat treatments while carbon steel can successfully undergo the heat treatments.
Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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