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Carbon steel and stainless steel are two different types of steel used for a variety of industrial purposes. If you are making a comparison of carbon steel vs stainless steel for your steel requirement, then there are multiple factors you should consider.

Carbon steel vs stainless steel: Differences

Have a look at the distinguishing features of carbon steel and stainless steel:

  • Composition

As the name suggests, carbon steel is mainly composed of carbon and iron. Different types of carbon steel  have different variations of carbon content; low or mild carbon steel has 0.05% while ultra-high-carbon steel has 3%.

On the other hand, stainless steel contains iron, chromium, carbon, silicon, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, nickel, molybdenum, titanium, nitrogen, and cuprum, etc. The additives in stainless steel vary with different stainless steel grades.

  • Weight

Carbon steel’s density is around 7.84 g/cm3, while the density of stainless steel is around 8.03 g/cm3.

  • Strength

There are two different kinds of strength parameters when it comes to metals, tensile strength and yield strength.

Carbon steel possesses a relatively high yield strength but a lower tensile strength. It can maintain its shape until the breaking point but breaks quickly once it surpasses the breaking point.

Stainless steel has low carbon content making it softer than carbon steel. It has low yield strength and is less resistant to bending and denting compared to carbon steel.

  • Temperature resistance

Stainless steel has superior heat resistance properties and can withstand temperatures of up to 1000° Fahrenheit. Carbon steel can also withstand high temperatures but does not perform well as stainless steel when exposed to heat over long periods.

  • Machinability

Stainless steel is soft steel and therefore it requires specialised machining tools and techniques ot be cut and shaped.  Carbon steel on the other hand is hard and easily machinable.

  • Weldability

Stainless steel has a higher melting point which makes welding more complex.  Carbon steel, on the other hand, is easy to weld because of its lower melting point.

  • Corrosion resistance

As you know, stainless steel is the best corrosion resistant steel used for industrial purposes. It has even taken over the cookware industry as the best metal for manufacturing cooking utensils. It is also known to reject bacteria and other pathogens making it easy to clean.

Carbon steel is relatively less corrosion resistant. It must be maintained regularly to ward off corrosion and rust. It is not recommended to be used in wet conditions.

Also read: Steel corrosion: Causes, impact and prevention

Carbon steel vs Stainless steel
Have look at the differences between stainless steel and carbon steel in a tabular form:

Features Carbon steel Stainless steel
Composition Iron and carbon Iron, carbon, chromium, silicon, manganese, nickel, etc.
Yield strength High yield strength Low yield strength
Tensile strength Low tensile strength High tensile strength
Heat resistance Excellent heat resistance but performs poorly when exposed to heat for a long time Performs well in extreme heat and exhibits relatively superior heat resistance
Machinability Easily machinable Needs specialised machine tools
Weldability Easily weldable due to low welding point Complex to work with due to its high melting point
Corrosion resistance Relatively low corrosion resistance Highly corrosion resistant

Applications of carbon steel

Carbon steel is used to manufacture:

  • Automobile body panels
  • Steel wire products
  • Rails, railway wheels and rail axles
  • Axles
  • Couplings
  • Gears

Applications of stainless steel

Stainless steel is used to make:

Carbon steel and stainless steel are further divided into categories. Based on these categories, their mechanical and physical properties will differ. When you choose between carbon steel and stainless steel, you must consider the purpose you will be using the steel for and the grade of steel you wish to use.

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Also read: Steel vs stainless steel: Key differences in compositions, properties, and other factors