Why Is Stainless Steel Such a Popular Material?

From kitchen appliances to medical equipment, stainless steel seems to be used everywhere. If you've ever seen or used stainless steel, you're probably familiar with at least some of its advantages. But how is it that stainless steel became such a popular material? And why is it still the top choice for so many applications and projects?

Stainless Steel
The Many Applications of Stainless Steel

If you look around your house or place of business, you’ll likely see stainless steel everywhere. Your appliances likely have stainless steel elements. You might have stainless steel cookware, or a full stainless steel outdoor kitchen. It’s used in architecture, energy, medical applications, construction, aircraft, and even aerospace. So what exactly is this wonder material and why is it so popular?

What Is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is technically an alloy, being a mix of different chemical elements with at least one metal. While stainless steel can be manufactured and presented in a variety of different ways, it's primarily an alloy of iron and usually contains chromium and nickel, as well as carbon. It's designed to be highly resistant to corrosion but also comes with a host of other benefits that make it fantastic for such a wide variety of applications.

One of the reasons for this is the development of a passive film on the surface of stainless steel, which grants the material some degree of protection and allows a type of self-healing as long as oxygen is present. This film can continuously regenerate, granting the material an absurd degree of durability and longevity.

The Benefits of Stainless Steel

These are some of the greatest benefits of stainless steel:

   * Resistance to corrosion. The main selling point of stainless steel and one of its greatest advantages is its resistance to corrosion. Unlike other metals and alloys, which have a tendency to corrode in the presence of oxidizing materials and in certain environments, stainless steel has a high level of robustness. It can even stand up to saline environments that corrode most other metals quickly.

   * Resistance to heat and fire. Similarly, stainless steel is somewhat resistant to heat and fire. It can and does melt, but it does so at a much higher temperature than other metals and alloys. This makes it ideal for applications that need a metal that can withstand a tremendous degree of heat without melting, warping, or sustaining long-term damage.

   * Easy cleaning and sanitization. Most people immediately understand how easy it is to clean stainless steel. The surface can be quickly and easily wiped down, and because the material is so hygienic, it's also easy to sanitize. Stainless steel is nonporous and can be sterilized reliably, making it ideal for cooking and medical applications.

   * Durability. You may also be familiar with stainless steel’s durability. It lasts a long time and can hold up to a variety of intense conditions. · Impact resistance and strength. Similarly, stainless steel has tremendous impact resistance and strength. It takes tremendous power to dent or damage this material.

   * Visual aesthetics. Though it's a bit subjective, many people appreciate the aesthetics of stainless steel. This slick, modern, silvery material looks almost futuristic in the right places – and can instantly beautify a kitchen.

   * Environmental sustainability. Stainless steel is also considered environmentally sustainable, in part because it’s 100 percent recyclable. If and when you're done with a stainless steel object, you can melt it down and reuse the material for some other application. This does require some energy expenditure, but stainless steel is still one of the most sustainable materials we have.

   * Relative inexpensiveness. Compared to other materials with similar strength, durability, and versatility, stainless steel is relatively inexpensive. The complexity of manufacturing does artificially increase the cost, but not to a degree that it puts the material out of budget for most people.

   * Overall value. When you consider all the benefits and costs of stainless steel, the overall value is hard to ignore; it offers so much for so little. Are there any downsides or drawbacks to stainless steel?

Yes and no. It's not a perfect material for every application, but it's hard to consider that a drawback. And the real weaknesses are more than made up for by the benefits. Among the “true” drawbacks are difficulty in manufacturing and susceptibility to visible smudges; if you've ever left a fingerprint on a stainless steel appliance, you know how annoying that can be.

Still, stainless steel is one of the most interesting and useful manufactured materials available, and it's likely to continue providing value to consumers for centuries to come. Even if you're not a fan of the aesthetics of stainless steel, you should at least be able to appreciate its strength, durability, and practicality.