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Everyday Science: What exactly is stainless steel?

Sometimes, people have an irrational apprehension of science. Maybe they have a grudging respect for it but for the most part, they play the social distancing card. Keep it away. And yet, over the course of a day, science is involved in every aspect of every human being’s life. 

Every Tuesday, we’ll sit down with our Google Assistant for a short Q&A about the science around us. Today, we’re talking stainless steel since it’s everywhere, especially in our kitchens. (By the way, big shoutout to Otter for dutifully transcribing this today’s installment of the Homo scientificus blog.)

SCINQ: What year was stainless steel invented?

Assistant: According to, in 1913, Harry Brealey of Sheffield, UK discovered rustless steel, although there had been many prior attempts Brealey has been credited with inventing the first true stainless steel, which had a 12.8% chromium content.

SCINQ: What is stainless steel?

Assistant: According to aperam, stainless steel is a corrosion resistant alloy of iron, chromium and in some cases, nickel and other metals was stainless steel made. According to Marlin Steel Wire Products, stainless steel metal is formed when the raw materials of nickel, iron or chromium, silicon, molybdenum, and others are melted together.

SCINQ: Tell me the truth. Is stainless steel really stainless?

Assistant: According to Scientific American, stainless steel remains stainless or does not rust because of the interaction between its alloying elements and the environment.

SCINQ: That sounds pretty incredible. It must cost an arm and a leg. Is stainless steel expensive?

Assistant: According to Metal Supermarkets, although different grades have varying costs, stainless steels are generally more expensive than carbon steels. This is due mostly to the addition of a variety of alloying elements in stainless steel, including chromium nickel manganese, and others.

SCINQ: Okay, and what is carbon steel?

Assistant: Here’s a summary from Metal Supermarkets… Although different grades have varying costs, stainless steels are generally more expensive than carbon steels. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is mostly composed of relatively affordable line and carbon elements.

SCINQ: Okay, you didn’t really answer my question. Let’s try again. What is carbon steel?

The Google Assistant silent treatment.

Assistant: According to Monroe Engineering, carbon steel is a special type of steel that, as the name suggests, has a higher concentration of carbon than other types of steel. Most types of steel have a relatively low carbon content of about 0.05% to 0.3%.

SCINQ: Thanks for clearing that up. Here’s my last question: Can stainless steel be stained?

Assistant: According to the Spruce, stainless steel can be damaged by abrasive pads, the wrong kinds of cleaners, and even ordinary things like water and salt. Despite its name and reputation, stainless steel can both stain and rust.

SCINQ: Wonderful. Thank you for your help!


SCINQ: Thank you for your help!


CREDITS: This article was written with the help of all sorts of consumer AI.

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