Difference Between Non-Ferrous & Ferrous Metals


If you have never heard of scrap metal recycling before or you think of Sanford & Son’s when you hear “scrap yard”, we have some good information to help you learn more about scrap metals. One of the first and most important things to know about scrap metals is if they are ferrous or non-ferrous metals. 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 worth less money 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 are referred to as ferrous metals. When metals have a significant amount of iron they will be classified as ferrous metal both in scientific terms and also at your local scrap yards.

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

  • Steel – Found in every aspect and industry, the structure of buildings, our cars, 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 – While there are other metals inside cars, they will be scrapped as a whole unit under the ferrous category.

Ferrous metals will often rust quickly due to the compound of iron. Oftentimes, 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.Galvanized Steel Beam


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

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

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


How Do You Determine The Difference?

ferrous and non-ferrous magnet testWhen you are trying to separate your scrap metals 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.

All you have to do is 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.

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

If you bring your scrap metal load to your scrap yard and you do not separate your ferrous from non-ferrous, you could be losing out on a lot of money. An example of this can be cutting the steel ends off your aluminum-copper radiators, which are commonly found in air conditioners or cars. If you do not cut the steel ends off, you could be losing $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: