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Understanding the Difference Between 201 and 304 Stainless Steel

Author: It Straps On, Inc. - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When referring to metals, stainless steel is a term that is thrown out often and used to describe several different types of metals. The two most commonly used stainless steel metals are 201 and 304. These metals contain at least 50 percent of stainless steel, while at least 11 percent is made from chromium. Each type of metal has its own unique composition, which is why you’ll find differences in the metals’ strengths, weaknesses and appearances. These unique compositions also make certain metals ideal for certain projects.

What made the 201 grade of stainless steel so popular in the first place was the price and availability of nickel. It was so high priced, it made making 304 too expensive to produce, let alone to be used in transportation and construction projects. There was a niche to be filled in the market, which was quickly filled with 201. This grade of stainless steel used less nickel and in turn, was more cost effective.

The 201 grade is made from nickel, chromium and manganese. It’s estimated to be 30 percent stronger than 304, plus is cheaper to make and purchase. The downside is that because 201 is stronger, it’s more difficult to form and weld compared to 304. Furthermore, 304 is corrosion-resistant and can be used in just about any application, whereas 201 has limited versatility.

In general, both 201 and 304 are strong, durable and versatile, so they can be used across applications. For example, you’ll find that both grades of stainless steel are used for architectural, automotive and railway projects. Both metals are also found in household appliances, cooking utensils and food prep industries.

Although 201 is cost-effective and uses less nickel, it does have its limitations. You’ll find that 304 is used in marine environments that can cause the stainless steel to corrode over time. Fortunately, most applications can take either 201 or 304, making it easy to erect construction, railway and building projects with the strongest and most economical steels available. Yet when it comes to specific areas such as those that will expose the steel to corrosive seawater, it’s best to stick to 304 that will hold up to the excessive corrosion.

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