MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: How can I tell the difference between stainless steel and aluminum?

Date: Wed Mar 18 11:02:13 2009
Posted By: Barry Kamrass, Consulting Engineer
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 1235925019.Ch

Wow!  You've asked a tough question!  In the absence of elemental 
analysis, there are a few suggestions I can offer you.

In the first place, the strainer that you're talking about is probably 
made of chrome-plated carbon (regular) steel wire.  It will be magnetic.  
This is because regular steel can be drawn into fine wire, with the 
chromium plating added for corrosion resistance.

Aluminum:  most commercial alloys have a little silicon added.  It's 
shiner than stainless, relatively easy to machine, non-magnetic, but 
subject to corrosion.  Aluminum tends to be a bit too brittle to be drawn 
into fine wire, such as would be used in a strainer, but in a fancy 
kitchen store you might find an aluminum semi-strainer with punched holes 
in it.  Aluminum is also less dense than stainless, so something made of 
aluminum will feel lighter than something made of stainless.

Stainless:  most alloys are iron with (typically) 18% chromium and 8% 
nickel added.  "300" series stainless steels are not magnetic, 
while "400" series stainless (stronger and more expensive) is magnetic.  
Compared to aluminum, stainless is a little duller and grayer looking.  
All series of stainless are miserable to machine, and, like aluminum, are 
rarely drawn into fine wire.  Stainless is relatively dense and feels 

Hope this helps!

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