Difference Between Non-Ferrous & Ferrous Metals

If you have never heard of scrap metal recycling before or think of Sanford & Son’s when you hear “scrap yard,” we have some excellent information to help you learn more about scrap metals. One of the first and most important things to know about scrap metals is whether they are ferrous or non-ferrous. The iScrap App has created a guide below to help you learn the difference between non-ferrous vs. ferrous metals and how to determine the difference.

Short Answer & Explanation – Difference Between Non-Ferrous vs. Ferrous Metals

Ferrous metals contain iron, whereas non-ferrous metals do not. You can use a magnet to test them. The magnet will stick to ferrous metals. The magnet will not stick to the non-ferrous metals. Generally, ferrous metals are more common and will be less expensive at the scrap yard.

What are “Ferrous” Metals?

The term “ferrous” pertains to the presence of the iron compound in a metal. The word for iron in Latin is ferrum. Thus, the name for metals with iron inside is called ferrous metals. When metals have a significant amount of iron, they will be classified scientifically as ferrous metals at your local scrap yards.

Ferrous metals are some of the most common types of metals used worldwide. The United States recycles the most steel yearly compared to the rest of the world. Some examples of ferrous metals that are classified at scrap yards are:

  • Steel – Found in every aspect and industry, the structure of buildings, our cars, and appliances.
  • Light Iron – Common iron sheets from water heaters and appliances.
  • Cast Iron – Molded in a cast for a particular design, like brake rotors on our cars.
  • Sheet Iron – Sheet of iron on “white goods” or appliances like dishwashers, dryers, etc.
  • Automobiles – Other metals inside cars will be scrapped as a unit under the ferrous category.
Galvanized Steel Beam

Ferrous metals will often rust quickly due to the compound of iron. Usually, when steel or iron is used outside in road structures like bridges (below), the steel is galvanized or coated with zinc to prevent or slow down the corroding process.

What Are “Non-Ferrous” Metals?

Now that you know what “ferrous” refers to, it’s pretty simple to guess that “non-ferrous” refers to metals without iron. Non-ferrous metals are usually worth more money at the scrap yards because they have fewer common metals.

While ferrous metals are prevalent in scrappers and scrap yards, non-ferrous metals are usually the more sought-after metals due to their higher value in recycling. Some common non-ferrous metals are:

  • Copper – Reddish and commonly used in plumbing and electrical work due to its conductivity.
  • Brass – Quite often used in plumbing, will be yellowish and is an alloy of zinc and copper.
  • Aluminum – Common lighter metal used on siding, gutters, and beach chairs.
  • Stainless Steel – Used often in the restaurant and medical industries for easy cleaning.
Statue of Liberty Copper Corrosion

Non-ferrous metals do not rust or corrode as quickly as ferrous metals. However, they will corrode after an extended period due to the chemical reactions with elements such as rain. A perfect example is the Statue of Liberty (below), made of copper. The corrosion of the years has caused it to turn into a greenish color.

How Do You Determine The Difference between Non-Ferrous & Ferrous Metals?

ferrous and non-ferrous magnet test

When trying to separate your scrap yards for the scrap yard, you will always want to separate your ferrous and non-ferrous metals. The easiest solution to determining the difference is the magnet test.

You must grab a magnet (it can even be one from your fridge!) and test the metals. Ferrous metals will stick to the magnet. Non-ferrous metals will not stick to the metal. That is a simple solution.

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When you want to identify the metals more precisely, use the metals guide on the iScrap App website to get more explanations, visual examples, and videos on the different metals. You can also get a good idea of where various metals come from so you can better identify the metals.

What Is The Difference in Recycling Value?

Once you have separated your ferrous and non-ferrous metals to visit the scrap yard, you will be happy you made those separations. Because they are very common and cost less to process in the recycling process, ferrous metals are worth about 7-15% less than the common non-ferrous metal of aluminum.

You could lose a lot of money if you bring your scrap metal load to your scrap yard and do not separate your ferrous from non-ferrous. An example is cutting the steel ends off your aluminum-copper radiators, commonly found in air conditioners or cars. If you do not cut the steel ends off, you could lose $0.10-0.20/lb.

Now What?

So you have learned the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals, but what do you do now to start scrapping and recycling metals for some extra money in your pocket? Below we have some helpful articles that can get you started: