How To Tell The Difference Between Aluminum And 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. Aluminum and stainless steel, while it may seem like they are easy to tell apart, aren’t always the case. Regarding the value of aluminum and stainless steel scrap, they are usually close in range, but different markets and grades of materials greatly influence the prices.

Difference In Market Value

While there are plenty of types of stainless steel and not as many aluminum, the prices of the different materials are very different regarding their market value. The Nickel market heavily influences stainless steel due to the composition of the material, which has 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 steel are known to double within a few weeks or months.

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

Difference In Uses

stainless steel

Stainless steel and aluminum are very common materials that are often used in many 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 specific applications. Aluminum is often found in house siding, gutters, doors, and your car’s engine. It can also be found in electronics, as heat sinks and a cheaper copper wire alternative.

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 and 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 the extra few cents at the scale. Stainless steel often has a more silver and shiny complexion to it. Aluminum, on the other hand, 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. Sheet Aluminum is often pliable compared to stainless steel.

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03/13/2024 01:45 pm GMT

Do your homework before going to the scrap yard. When you have a large amount of aluminum, especially stainless steel, it could be a good idea to contact the scrap yard in your area through the iScrap App and ask for their pricing on different grades of materials. Regarding stainless steel, several grades 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 aluminum’s surface than 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.