Carbon steel vs Alloy steel vs Stainless steel: What You Need to Know Before Making a Choice

There are numerous types of steel available to consumers, builders, and manufacturers. Three of the main categories of steel are carbon, alloy, and stainless.

Each has its own subcategories, but understanding these differences will help you select the right type for your application. Let’s take a look at the three so you can make the best choice for your next project.

What is Alloy Steel?

All steel products are, by definition, alloys. (An “alloy” is simply a substance made from two or more metals.) Steel is an alloy because it’s a mixture of iron and a small percentage of carbon.

“Alloy steel” however, is a steel that has been mixed with additional properties, which may include manganese, nickel, chromium, or boron, among many others. It is strong, hard, and generally tough, and it can usually resist wear and damage better than other steels.

Usually alloy steels are divided into two subcategories: low and high alloy. Low alloy has less than 8% of other elements, and they often have better hardness and are resistant to wear. However, high alloy steels usually have better tensile strength.

Common applications for Alloy Steel

Different alloys have different uses, but most of the time an alloy steel is selected for construction and architecture, especially when strength and corrosion resistance are crucial. While often used for massive structures, alloys can also be used for jewelry, cutlery, and cooking wear.

At Service Steel, we provide a chromium-molybdenum-nickel low alloy steel that is ideal for medium-strength parts including automotive components. This steel is often chosen for camshafts in vehicles, as well as fasteners and gears. Oil pumps, piston rods, and piston pins are often good candidates for an alloy steel.

What is Carbon Steel?

Carbon steel is an alloy that combines iron and a high percentage of carbon. As we discussed above, all steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, but what is known as “carbon steel” in the industry simply has more carbon content than other steel.

In this category, there are low-carbon steel and high-carbon steel. Low-carbon steel is strong and tough, and it can be case-hardened when required. High-carbon, on the other hand, can be heat-treated to make it much harder. But when heated, it becomes more brittle, so it may not fit all applications and it can be difficult to work with.

Common applications for Carbon Steel

There are many reasons that people choose carbon steel. It is an ideal material for tubes, plates, and bolts. It can be used for signs as well as furniture, and many common metal parts are made with low-carbon steel.

High-carbon steel is often the top choice for kitchenware, such as knives. It also plays an important role in manufacturing and construction, as it’s a top choice for drill bits, saws, and masonry nails. Anchor bolts, rods, fasteners, and gears are often made with high-carbon steel.

What is Stainless Steel?

One of the most common and best-known steels, stainless steel serves many purposes and can be used in a variety of applications. However, it is not as hard and therefore isn’t used when strength and hardness are factors.

This material is made with steel combined with chromium, which helps it resist corrosion. Stainless steel is best for parts and products that will be in constant contact with water, and it will last much longer than other metals.

There are numerous varieties of stainless steel, and each one has its own unique characteristics.

Common applications for Stainless Steel

At Service Steel, we stock many of the top stainless steel types. We have, for example, austenitic stainless steel, which is one of the most popular metals for dairy and food-processing materials.

We also have ferritic stainless steel, which is often used in the automotive industry to build exhaust systems, axles, and shafts.

When you work with our team, you can order duplex stainless steel, which has a two-phase micro-structure. This is twice as strong, and it’s often used when chemicals need to be transported.

From the aerospace industry to kitchen knives, there is a stainless steel to meet practically any purpose.


Carbon vs. Alloy vs. Stainless: Steel Grades You Might Buy in China

Alloy Steel Bars

Carbon Steel Bars

Stainless Steel Tubing