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Strange Secrets - 5 Unusual Facts About Stainless Steel

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Many of us use our stainless steel cookware on a daily basis, with no idea of the remarkable history that lies behind this deceptively simple invention. If you’re a curious soul who loves to understand why we follow certain practices or use certain tools, these facts about stainless steel will satisfy your craving for knowledge. 

1. There’s more than one type of stainless steel 

The stainless steel used in your kitchen appliances is just one of a number of different types. The main variants are:

* Austenitic

* Ferritic

* Martensitic

* Duplex

These names refer to the crystal structure of the alloy. Within these main categories, you can find hundreds of slightly different alloys. In your kitchen, you’ll generally find variations of austenitic stainless steel as it contains more chromium, making it more resistant to corrosion. 

2. Stainless steel can be magnetic

Of the main stainless steel categories listed above, ferritic and martensitic are naturally a little magnetic. Martensitic is the stronger of the two, particularly if it is magnetized during the hardening process.

Ferritic stainless steel is magnetic due to its crystalline structure and the abundance of ferrite (a compound of iron and other elements) in its composition. Martensitic stainless steels have a crystalline structure that creates ferromagnetism

3. It doesn’t always live up to its stainless name

Though stainless steel is an incredible invention that underpins everything from construction to space exploration, its name is a little inaccurate. Stainless steel can indeed be stained, and all it takes is water.

Stainless steel is generally fantastic at resisting rust and other blemishes. This is due to the oxide film it produces when exposed to water and oxygen. This film allows it to essentially protect and repair itself. However, this protective film can break down, particularly if the stainless steel is exposed to certain conditions. To avoid pitting and corrosion, it’s important to care for your stainless steel products by keeping them clean and dry when not in use. 

4. Stainless steel is over 100 years old

The first stainless steel alloy was invented in 1913 by a fellow named Harry Brearley. His invention was a blend of chromium and iron, and it was inspired by the need to eradicate gun barrel erosion in the British Army.

From its birth as a wartime invention, stainless steel was rapidly adopted by other industries. In the early 1900s, it was adapted for use in surgical tools, construction tools, and kitchenware. By 1926, we had surgical steel implants, and two years later, stainless steel fermenting barrels revolutionized the brewing industry. 

Nowadays, it is central to the food and beverage industry, appearing in everything from grape harvester parts and wine barrels serving trays and cutlery. 

5. Stainless steel stands the test of time

Though it can develop stains and rust under certain circumstances, stainless steel has stood the test of time in construction. Architects of the Art Deco period (spanning from the end of WWI to the start of WWII) adored stainless steel, and most of the buildings constructed in this time have retained the beauty of their original appearance.

The Chrysler Building stands as a towering testament to the beauty and durability of stainless steel. This Art Deco skyscraper can be seen on the east side of Manhattan in New York. Though it was completed in 1930, the building’s stainless steel elements are still going strong. 

It’s amazing to think that even the simplest items have rich and fascinating histories behind them. Now that you know a little more about stainless steel, which everyday item will you explore next?