Difference Between Aluminum & Stainless Steel


This question is usually a mystery especially when you first start scrapping, but it can get tricky when you come across odd items when scrapping. Aluminum and stainless steel while may seem like they are easy to tell apart, that isn’t always the case. When it comes to the value of aluminum and stainless steel scrap, they are usually close in range but different markets and grades of materials have a large influence on the prices.

Difference In Market Value

While there are plenty of types of stainless steel and not as many of aluminum the prices of the different materials are very different when it comes to their market value. Stainless steel is heavily influence on the Nickel market due to the composition of the material have nickel inside to prevent rust and corrosion. Stainless steel is primarily composed of iron and nickel, and when the nickel market increases the prices of stainless has known to double within a few weeks or months.

This traditionally does not happen with the aluminum marketing where the prices stay much more stable. Nickel prices have shot down about 35% in the last few months while aluminum prices have only gone down a few percentage points. The aluminum market is separate as a different commodity so the pricing for the two materials, while are very similar do not directly affect each other.

Difference In Uses

stainless steelStainless steel and aluminum, while they are very common materials they are often use in many different industries. it is much easier to find aluminum scrap while looking in common places because aluminum is so much easier to work with. What that means is that aluminum is a softer metal and because of that requires less heat and work to get molded for certain applications. Aluminum is often found from house siding, gutters, and doors and your car’s engine. It can be found in electronics as well serving as heat sinks and a less-expensive alternative to copper wire.

One reason that stainless steel is not used in many car applications like engines and car parts is due to the fluctuation of nickel prices as well the price to have these parts put together on the production line. Stainless steel on the other hand can often be found in the food industry and manufacturing equipment due to its strength and ease of cleaning.

Difference In Looks

Stainless steel and aluminum could look very similar if you take a quick look at them together but taking a closer look is worth your time and worth the extra few cents at the scale. Stainless steel often has a more silver and shiny complexion to it. Whereas aluminum will be grey and dull in texture. Now there are cases when the Sheet Aluminum can look very similar to stainless steel. If you aren’t sure what material you have try to figure out where it came from. Aluminum sheet often is pliable compared to stainless steel.

Do your homework before going to the scrap yard. When you have a large amount of aluminum or especially stainless steel it could be a good idea to contact the scrap yard in your through the iScrap App asking for their pricing on different grades of materials. When it comes to stainless steel there are several different grades that usually pay differently due to the amount of nickel inside. Ask your local scrap yard if they have an analyzer that they would be able to use to determine the grade of stainless steel you have.

Test the Difference

We have had a few iScrappers give us their own methods of identifying the difference between aluminum and stainless steel.

  • Dale A. – Use a Brass key to scratch the surface of each of them. It is easier to scratch the surface of the aluminum compared to the stainless steel.
  • Jeremy S.  – States to use a grinder on the two materials. If the grinder throws sparks it is stainless steel, if there are no sparks it is aluminum.

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