What do you know about stainless steel

Recognize stainless steel

How can I recognize stainless steel?

For consumers, stainless steel is not always easy to recognize in everyday life. We will show you which features you can look out for in order to distinguish real stainless steel from other steels.

In a nutshell: what is stainless steel?

Stainless steel is alloyed crude steel. The steel alloy consists of various elements such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum, manganese and vanadium. The properties of stainless steels are determined, among other things, by the proportions of these "additives". Depending on these additives, stainless steel is divided into different classes. V2A stainless steel, for example, must contain less than 0.12 percent carbon and between 17 and 19 percent chromium.

A common characteristic of all types of stainless steel is resistance to corrosion. This distinguishes stainless steel from iron or other materials such as aluminum or untreated sheet steel.

Possible identifying features:

•    Material number: The quickest way to find out whether the material at hand is "real" stainless steel is via the material number. The material numbers can be clearly assigned to a specific chemical composition. A typical material number is, for example, 1.4301 (V2A) or 1.4404. Designations such as V2A or V4A stainless steel are less precise, but more common. In the case of kitchen utensils such as knives or appliances, the material numbers have often been lasered into the material.

•    Trademark "stainless steel": If you choose a product from the “stainless steel” brand, you can be sure that it is real stainless steel with all its advantageous properties.

•    magnetism: In everyday life, consumers are often faced with the question of whether stainless steel is magnetic or not. In fact, stainless steel can be either magnetic or non-magnetic. Ferrites in the alloy are responsible for the magnetism of stainless steel. Depending on how the steel is processed, some areas are more magnetic than others. So if you have a workpiece in front of you, it can very well be magnetic, despite the stainless steel. However, the adhesion of magnets is significantly weaker and more uneven than with pure steel. However, the “magnet test” is not a clear indication of stainless steel.

•    Spectral analysis: A very professional method for determining stainless steel would be spectral analysis. The chemical composition of the metal is determined by evaluating the spectral colors emitted by this metal. On the basis of the chemical substances, in turn, it could be determined which material group the steel belongs to. In practice, the spectrum analysis is of course not available for laypeople, because it would be too time-consuming.

•    flying sparks: A more martial method would be to saw the steel element. If there are a lot of sparks, it could indicate that there is a lot of carbon in it. If sparks are generated while the magnetism is low, the probability is high that it is stainless steel. But who would want to saw through the material every time to find out whether it is "real"?

•    own material sample: Anyone who is knowledgeable about chemistry could dip a few metal shavings in hydrogen peroxide and watch how they behave. If rust forms quickly, it may not be stainless steel. What could also work: If you have hydrochloric acid at home, soak the stainless steel. If the material throws bubbles, it would not be stainless steel. But even these methods are rather unsuitable for laypeople, especially since stainless steels are corrosion-resistant to different degrees.

•    Weight: Stainless steel has a very high density. You could work with this, for example, if you want to know whether it is a pipe made of aluminum or stainless steel. With the same size, the aluminum component would be many times lighter.

•    Sanding down: To distinguish chrome-plated metal from stainless steel, all you have to do is grind the workpiece a little. Because with chrome-plated material you would grind off this chrome layer and darker metal would appear. In the long run, you would recognize chrome-plated material anyway by the fact that it rusts quickly when it becomes damp.


As you have seen, there are many possible starting points for identifying stainless steel. However, only a few methods are really 100 percent precise and difficult to carry out in practice for laypeople. Therefore, when buying stainless steel, you should rely on trustworthy dealers who, for example, belong to the "Stainless steel group" and who always understand their products with the corresponding material number or who give honest feedback on which material numbers the material is.

Tests with a magnet or rust tests can only give possible indications. But as you probably know, stainless steel can be magnetic and rust. It depends on the quality and not on the general name.