The two most popular and widely used varieties of stainless steel are 304 and 316 stainless. Stainless steel must endure a variety of environments, so understanding the difference between the types is important when choosing a material based on the needs of your product or purpose.
Upon first glance, the difference between the two types can be difficult to spot. 304 and 316 look nearly identical and their differences are easy to miss.
Both steels are durable and provide excellent resistance to rust and corrosion. They are also fairly similar in appearance and chemical makeup, but do have several key differences.
How do you know whether to choose 304 or 316 stainless steel? To understand the answer to this question, you should first understand the subtle differences between the two.
Understanding the features, benefits, and chemical composition of each type of stainless steel can help you choose which material is right for your needs.
Here is what you need to know:
304 Stainless Steel
304 stainless steel is the most widely used stainless steel in the world. It is highly resistant to corrosion and cheaper than 316 stainless steel, making it versatile and accessible for a number of different applications. Its cost effectiveness also makes it a highly sought after material across multiple industries.
In terms of composition, 304 stainless steel contains high nickel content and a high amount of chromium. It is also composed of manganese, silicon, carbon, and iron.
This mix gives 304 stainless steel its high corrosion resistance. Grade 304 stainless steel is a basic but high-quality and universal material that can get a variety of jobs done.
Typical applications of 304 stainless steel include:
- Refrigerators, dishwashers, and other appliances
- Commercial food processing equipment
- Construction material
- Electrical outlets
- Structures that are in environments that might make them susceptible to corrosion
316 Stainless Steel
316 stainless steel has an even higher corrosion resistance than 304 stainless steel, which also makes it more expensive, but useful in situations that call for salt exposure or deal with other powerful chorosives.
316 stainless steel’s high corrosion resistance makes it worth the extra cost in certain applications because it will need to be replaced less frequently.
Just like 304 stainless steel, 316 stainless steel is composed of high amounts of chromium and nickel. It also contains silicon, manganese, carbon, and iron.
The most drastic difference in chemical composition, however, is the amount of molybdenum in 316 stainless steel. This is what gives 316 stainless steel its high corrosion resistance, whereas only trace amounts of molybdenum are found in 304 stainless steel.
This makes Grade 316 stainless steel the heavier duty version of Grade 304, for environments and products that require even higher corrosion resistance.
316 stainless steel is typical used for:
- Marine applications or environments
- Boat fittings
- Lab equipment and furniture
- Chemical processing and storage equipment
- Medical devices
Which Grade Should You Use?
The type of stainless steel you choose depends on the application. Stainless steel 304 is adequate for most applications, while 316 might be better for any environment that is going to be highly corrosive.
304 grade stainless steel is the most widely used for applications like laboratory use due to its versatility and resistance to general wear and tear. It is easy to fabricate and clean, making it a go-to resource for environments that need to stay contaminant-free.
On the other hand, 316 stainless steel is a heavy-duty alternative because it has a superior ability to resist corrosion and chemical damage. It is a long term investment that needs to be repaired and replaced far less often than 304, which can lead to long-term savings.
At the end of the day, both of these types of stainless steel have their place. The one you choose simply depends on what you’re using it for and, most importantly, what type of environment the material will need to withstand. If you don’t need the added resistance of 316, 304 is a similar material at a lower price point.
By matching the grade of stainless steel to your intentions for the material, you can easily optimize both your financial investment and the physical benefits of the stainless steel you choose.
Which Type of Stainless Steel is Better for Me?
A manufacturer can help you decide which type of stainless steel is best for your application. OnePointe Solutions manufactures stainless steel furniture, casework, countertops, and more for laboratories using 304 or 316 grade stainless steel. Regardless of application or environment, OnePointe Solutions provides the highest quality stainless steel for durable, long-lasting, and safe use. Browse our selection today.
Need Stainless Steel 304 or 316?
Give us a call today at (866) 612-7312 to speak to a lab consultant to get you the right stainless steel for your environment.