When it comes to protecting and maintaining metal, the most constant battle encountered will be against rust. Rust compromises a metal’s chemical characteristics, eventually leading to its disintegration. And even if it doesn’t progress to a destructive point, it’s just not very appealing on an aesthetic level. The distinctive orange-brown of rust forming on metal can make it look old and shabby long before its time. So one of the best solutions to this problem is to eliminate it from the start: choosing a metal that won’t rust.
Common rust-free metals include:
- Stainless steel
- Red metals (copper, brass, and bronze)
- Galvanized steel
Aluminum and aluminum alloys cannot rust because they contain no to very little iron, and ‘true’ rust is made up of iron oxide. That doesn’t make aluminum indestructible, since it can still oxidize when exposed to water. But unlike iron oxide which will wear away at the underlying metal, the forming of aluminum oxide actually becomes a protective barrier. Once it develops on the aluminum’s surface, the oxide layer will be quite resistant to any additional corrosion.
Most grades of stainless steel include at least some amount of iron, the element which leads to rust. However, the other alloying elements – particularly chromium – lends it protection to the material. Chromium tends to oxidize very quickly and like aluminum, the resulting oxide then forms a barrier against rust. With this chromium oxide layer in place, oxygen is no longer able to reach and react to the metal underneath. Other alloying elements in stainless steel such as nickel and molybdenum provide resistant to rust development.
Copper, brass, and bronze
Collectively known to as “red metals”, these metals can oxidize without rusting since they contain virtually no iron. Copper is very slow to react to oxygen and other environmental factors, but once corrosion does occur it will gradually turn the bright reddish metal to a verdigris green patina. Brass and bronze are copper alloys, with the dual benefits of copper’s own corrosion resistance and the rust-free properties of alloying elements. Both brass and bronze are even more resistant to corrosion than pure copper.
Unlike the other three types mentioned, galvanized steel relies upon the application of a physical barrier to prevent rust. Carbon steel is galvanized after being coated with a thin layer of zinc. After bonding with the surface, any oxidation which does occur becomes zinc oxide. A zinc layer exposed to water will become zinc carbonate, which is water-insoluble and puts a stop to any further chemical reactions. More importantly, whatever oxidation that takes place will affect the wear of the zinc before reaching the steel underneath.