It’s not uncommon to wonder about the differences between different types of steel. At least, it’s not uncommon around here. In our industry, understanding the small, unique differences between different steel varieties is big business. After all, choosing the best material for a given application is an important step in any project. In the case of metal materials, the characteristics of different materials will show up when they are cut, bent, punch-pressed, and otherwise processed.
In today’s post, we’re taking an in-depth look at surgical steel vs. stainless steel. If you’ve ever wondered what’s different — and similar — about these steels, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started.
What is Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel is a steel alloy, mostly composed of iron and about 10% chromium. Small amounts of other metals like nickel, titanium, and copper may also be present. Additionally, carbon is a common non-metal additive in stainless steel.
Stainless steel’s chromium content is largely responsible for increasing the alloy’s corrosion resistance — it prevents the iron from oxidizing. If there’s no oxidation, there’s no opportunity for rust to develop.
Of the four main types of steel (stainless, carbon, tool, alloy), stainless steel is known as the most corrosion resistant. Still, stainless steel isn’t completely resistant to corrosion. Under certain conditions, like repeat exposure to highly concentrated salt water, even stainless steel will corrode.
What is Surgical Steel?
Surgical steel is a variety of stainless steel that’s used in biomedical applications. Sometimes referred to as surgical stainless, surgical steel has no formal definition. Still, stainless steel varieties with the greatest levels of corrosion resistance are those designated for biomedical use. Some commonly accepted types of surgical steel include austenitic 316 stainless and martensitic 440 and 420 stainless. It might be helpful to think of surgical steel as the most corrosion-resistant form of stainless steel.
Surgical Steel vs. Stainless Steel
While surgical steel is a type of stainless steel, all stainless steels are not surgical steels. Surgical steels are those with the greatest amount of corrosion resistance and are designated for biomedical applications. When compared to other steel types, stainless steel is typically the most expensive. Then, among stainless steel, surgical steel is the most expensive.
Because of material expense, stainless steels are different from “general use” steels, like carbon steel and tool steel. Most often, stainless steels are used in culinary applications. Cutlery, cookware, appliances, and kitchen fixtures made of stainless steel are very popular and sought after. Stainless steel is also used for various components within the automotive and aerospace industries and in some construction applications.
Surgical steel’s uses are relegated to biomedical applications. Surgical instruments like forceps, retractors, and needle holders are made from surgical steel, but that’s not all. Surgical steel has a long history of use in orthopedic and dental implant devices.
Choosing the Best Steel for Your Application
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, understanding the differences between different metal types is a key component of selecting the best material for your upcoming project. I hope the information I’ve provided was helpful to you. If you’d like more information on stainless steel, get your copy of our Stainless Steel Specifications: