Grade 304 vs 316

Grade 304 vs 316: The Differences between Stainless Steels

304 Stainless Steel versus 316 Stainless Steel: to the average layperson, these will appear to be very similar materials. They both fall into the 300 Series class, made up of austenitic chromium-nickel alloys. They’re the same grayish-silver color, with a bright and lustrous shine. Neither type can be hardened through heat treatments, but can be work-hardened.
But as those with more knowledge of these steels realize, it’s the small details between the two grades that make for crucial differences. Knowing more about these difference can provide consumers with better insight into the right type of steel for their use.

300 Series Steel
The steels within the austenitic class are generally alloyed with three main elements: chromium, nickel, and molybdenum. They’re known as low-carbon steels, with less than 0.8% carbon making up their chemical composition. Alloying with chromium increases the strength, hardness, and corrosion resistance of iron. Nickel also boosts the metal’s strength and hardness, while helping to prevent against loss of ductility and toughness.
However, it’s the addition of molybdenum that is one of the most significant differences between the 304 and 316 grades. Grade 304 stainless steel contains 18% nickel and 8% chromium, while 316 has 16% chromium, 10% nickel, and 2% molybdenum. Like the other alloying elements nickel and chromium, molybdenum is used to strengthen and toughen steel. But its biggest asset in 316 stainless steel is in the prevention against chloride corrosion.

Molybdenum: The Difference Maker
The boosted percentage of nickel, along with the inclusion of molybdenum, means that 316 has better chemical resistance when compared to 304 steel. The most significant corrosion protection it offers is against chlorides. In applications where the steel will be exposed to salts or seawater, 316 steel outperforms other Series 300 steels in resisting the development of pits and crevices. This is also why 316 is known as “marine grade” steel.
That’s not to say that Grade 304 isn’t strong and resistant to general corrosion on its own merits. In fact, its overall attributes and reliable performance is why 304 steel is the most widely used of all stainless steels. One other great advantage is its cost: by containing less nickel, along with no molybdenum, Grade 304 is a more affordable choice of material. So as long as the steel will be used with milder acids only, and have little to no contact to salt, it will save a bit of money to construct items out of 304. For applications that include exposure to chlorides and powerful corrosives, 316 with its added molybdenum would be the better choice.
When it comes to formability and welding, molybdenum comes into play again. Formability refers to a metal’s ability to be formed into a particular shape without incurring damage. While 316 is regularly used to form metal parts and structures, the hardness coming from molybdenum means forming requires more effort than compared to 304. The same goes for welding; both grades are commonly welded austenitic steels, but 304 is generally more easily weldable.

Advantages and Applications of Grade 304 Stainless Steel
With its good formability, resistance against heat and corrosion, and affordability, it’s understandable that 304 is the most popular of all stainless steels. It’s a reliable and versatile alloy, and readily welded by all common methods.

Some of the most common applications of Grade 304 steel include:
• Kitchen equipment and cookware

• Cutlery and flatware

• Appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers

• Piping and fasteners

• Equipment used in dairy, brewing, and pharmaceutical production

Advantages and Applications of Grade 316 Stainless Steel
While it does come at a higher cost, when an application requires protection against severe corrosion, 316 will be the recommended choice. Its strength and durability are a necessity for usage in harsh environments, including underwater. In some cases, 316 may last many times longer than a part made of 304 – giving extended usage life to your parts and structures.

Some of the most common applications of Grade 316 include:
• Marine vessels and structures in marine environments

• Chemical processing and storage equipment

• Medical devices

• Textile, pulp, and paper manufacturing

• Jet engine parts