What Is 304 Stainless Steel? Breaking Down the Most Popular Stainless Variety

The most common variety of stainless steel, 304 (also called 18-8 stainless steel) is a highly versatile metal that is widely used across numerous industries throughout the world. As leading metal finishing experts, work with many polished stainless steel varieties here at Polished Metals, including multiple types of 304 stainless steel. 

But what exactly is this metal, and why is it so versatile and popular? The answer largely comes down to its composition and unique properties, and today we’re taking a closer look at this incredible metal to provide some answers for those researching metals for their project.

What Is 304 Stainless Steel?

Grade 304 stainless steel is an austenitic steel alloy containing high amounts of nickel and chromium. This metal is often called 18-8 stainless steel due to its typical composition, which contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. However, not all 304 stainless steel uses this proportion, and it may contain anywhere from 18–21% chromium, 8–11% nickel, and trace amounts of other metals such as carbon, silicon, and manganese.

Properties of 304 Stainless Steel

It should come as no surprise that 304 stainless steel boasts a number of desirable properties that have combined to make it one of the most frequently used polished metals in the world. Between its corrosion resistance, strength, and formability, it makes for a highly versatile metal. Here are a few of its key properties.

Corrosion Resistance

Stainless steel is known for its excellent corrosion resistance, and 304 stainless steel is no exception. This metal resists rust across many different environments and stands up well against other forms of corrosion, though it may be affected by prolonged exposure to acids, chlorides, and brine solutions.

Forming Characteristics

Most finished 304 stainless steel is generally quite amenable to forming, and products made from this metal are typically engineered to allow for even easier machining. 


Stainless steel boasts superior tensile strength, and 18-8 stainless steel in particular stands up well as a structural metal. Its excellent strength makes it ideal for engineering and architectural projects.

Versatile Appearance

Almost any metal finish may be applied to 304 stainless steel. This means it is an ideal metal for functional and ornamental applications alike, with both satin finishes and highly reflective mirror finishes that are readily compatible with this metal.

Is 304 Stainless Steel Magnetic?

As an austenitic stainless steel, 304 is not magnetic. While it can be made partially magnetic through specialized treatments, this is not often applied to this variety.

Industries Served

The properties of 304 stainless steel, combined with its relative affordability and availability, make it an ideal material across countless industries and use cases. At Polished Metals, we produce a variety of high-quality finished stainless steel for use in industries including:

Architecture and Design

The architecture and design industry frequently uses 304 stainless steel throughout many types of projects. Stainless steel varieties may be used for artwork and decorations; features such as railings and trim; and as an architectural sheet metal.

outside of a building featuring finished 304 stainless steel architectural sheets

Elevators and Escalators

Within the interior design space, 304 is a common choice for elevator and escalator projects. This variety may be used for visible features of elevator interiors, including ceiling panels, wall panels, and handrails, or for protecting key mechanical components of elevators and escalators.

Industrial Metals

Stainless steel is corrosion resistant, heat resistant, and is readily available as a food-grade metal. This makes it ideal for food service use cases, including countertops and cabinets; as well as for storage vats and containers in breweries, wineries, and pharmaceutical companies. 

Trucking, Transportation, and Automobiles

Stainless steel is a common choice throughout the automotive industry, including for trucks, cars, and much more. 

Reach Out to Polished Metals Today!

At Polished Metals, our team has worked tirelessly to be the industry’s best in metal polishing and finishing. Our 50,000 square foot metal finishing facility and expansive inventory of metal products equips us to handle even the largest metal finishing projects. 

As experts in stainless steel finishing, we maintain a large inventory of 304 (18-8) stainless steel at all times. From large projects to small, we pride ourselves on our superior attention to detail and adherence to rigorous specifications and standards. Whether you’re ready to order, or if you have questions about custom metal finishing, reach out to our team today.