Ten Differences between Aluminum and Steel

At first glance, aluminum and stainless steel may appear similar: both a silvery gray, softly shiny, and used to make many of the same products. Many food service and kitchenware items, for instance, are made available from a manufacturer in both types of metals. What separates these two, other than price?

1. Thermal Conductivity
Aluminum is a metal with a high degree of thermal conductivity. What that means in real terms is that a water will boil more quickly in a stockpot than one made of stainless steel. However, aluminum also cools more quickly than stainless, so stainless will help keep a pot of soup warm longer.

2. Thermal Properties
Its lower degree of thermal conductivity means stainless steel is much more resilient to use in high temperatures. Aluminum will begin to soften around 400 degrees Fahrenheit; meanwhile, stainless steel can function well at temperatures up to 800 degrees. Some stainless steel grades can withstand temperatures nearly double that for short periods of work, up to 1500 degrees.

3. Strength
Both metals are quite strong and durable, but stainless steel more so than aluminum.

4. Strength to Weight Ratio
Stainless steel is very strong, but at the cost of a heavier weight. While aluminum is not as strong, manufacturing with this metal will result in an item nearly one third the weight of a steel part. This incredible strength to weight ratio makes aluminum very attractive to manufacturers, especially in the aerospace industry.

5. Welding
Most grades of stainless steel are relatively simple to weld, while aluminum’s high thermal conductivity makes it a more difficult task. However, both are among the most popular types of metals used in welding.

6. Electrical Conductivity
Aluminum has the distinct advantage over stainless steel here, with it being an excellent conductor of electricity. Stainless steel does not conduct electricity well in comparison to other metals.

7. Workability
Pure aluminum is a very soft and malleable metal, and even after alloying, it is easy to cut and form. Due to its strength and hardness, stainless steel takes effort to form into shape.

8. Corrosion Resistance
Both metals are known for excellent corrosion resistance. Chromium is one of the principal alloying agents in stainless steel, and boosts the corrosion resistance of the steel alloy. Aluminum is naturally resistant to corrosion on its own, although it is more vulnerable to damage from highly basic or acidic exposure.

9. Cost
In general, a part made of aluminum will be more affordable than the same item made of stainless steel.

10. Reaction to Foods
Consumers have the choice between aluminum and stainless steel cookware, and often make the decision to purchase aluminum based on price. However, aluminum is a more reactive compound than stainless steel. Acidic foods such as tomato sauces can leave aluminum damaged or with unsightly marks, while other foods like eggs can discolor if cooked or stored in aluminum. While both metals produce high-quality items, choosing stainless steel may be worth some additional money for non-reactive cookware.