The Difference Between Ferrous and Non Ferrous Metals

Most folks in industries that work with metal are well aware of the variety of commonly used metals like steel, aluminum, and bronze, all of which feature different properties that make them useful in certain situations. However, of all the metals out there, those that are most popular as finished metals are “non-ferrous” metals, as opposed to ferrous varieties. So what is the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and why are non-ferrous metals so often preferred?

At Polished Metals, we’re leaders in the non-ferrous metal polishing industry, and we have been for many years. So today, we’re taking a look at how ferrous and non-ferrous metals differ—as well as an interesting exception to the general rule.

What Is the Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals?

By definition, “ferrous” means “of iron,” and ferrous metals are those that contain iron in their composition. Non-ferrous metals, then, are those that do not contain iron in their composition.

The difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals comes down to more than just composition, however, as ferrous and non-ferrous metals also tend to differ in certain key properties. For example, because they contain iron, ferrous metals are vulnerable to rust, while non-ferrous metals generally are not. Ferrous metals are magnetic, while non-ferrous metals are not. These properties mean that ferrous and non-ferrous metals tend to be useful in very different situations, which has led to this categorization.

Examples of ferrous metals include varieties of iron (such as wrought iron or cast iron) and steel. Non-ferrous metals include most commonly finished metals such as aluminum, copper, bronze, and brass, as well as precious metals like gold and silver.

Is Stainless Steel Ferrous?

While the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is pretty easy to remember in general, there’s one metal that sticks out from the rest: stainless steel. Stainless steel is frequently grouped in with non ferrous metals by companies across many industries. Yet as its name implies, stainless steel is a steel alloy, which means it includes iron as part of its composition. 

So is stainless steel ferrous? The short answer is that yes, stainless steel is technically a ferrous metal—but the way stainless steel is used means it’s typically treated as a non-ferrous metal anyway. While stainless steel does include significant amounts of iron, it also contains various amounts of other metals (typically chromium and other elements) that mean it behaves more similarly to non ferrous metals.

For example, stainless steel is only sometimes magnetic (depending on the specific type), and while it can rust in specific circumstances, it typically does not. Therefore, most suppliers, distributors, and finishers of “non-ferrous” metals also work with stainless steel—like us!

How Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals Are Used

While ferrous metals are less commonly seen in their polished forms, they still find plenty of use in various applications. Ferrous metals are especially common in industrial use, such as for nuts and bolts, shipping containers, and beams. They are also used in the manufacture of railroad parts, such as tracks and various train components, and in the automotive industry. 

Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are more commonly seen where corrosion resistance is especially important. This includes industries such as architecture and design, elevators and escalators, aerospace manufacturing, electronics, and much more. 

Polished Metals: Your Leading Non-Ferrous Metal Finishing Company

For more than 40 years, Polished Metals has been a leading polisher of non-ferrous metals and the go-to metal finishing partner of business leaders across many industries. Between our industry experience and our 50,000 square foot in-house facility, we’re able to process high volumes of metal, including aluminum, bronze, brass, and—of course!—stainless steel.

If you’re planning a project that requires supreme attention to detail, skill, and adherence to strict timelines, Polished Metals is the metal finishing partner you can trust. Contact us today to tell us about your project!