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301 vs. 304 Stainless Steel: What’s the Best?

When purchasing for stainless steel materials, you will likely come across a large selection of 301 stainless steel and 304 stainless steel.

These are two of the most popular stainless steels types available to us today. But what’s the difference? Below, we breakdown the history, grade, product type and application of these two very different materials so you can determine which is the best stainless steel for your project.

Let’s keep reading.

The history of 301 stainless steel dates back to the early 1900s when it was first used as a stainless steel alloy. It has been refined over time and is still being used today in many industries.

The history of 301 stainless steel begins with its discovery during the late 1800s. Stainless steel was first discovered by scientists in France who were trying to create an alloy that could resist corrosion.

The scientists were able to create this new type of metal by mixing chromium and nickel together with carbon, iron and other elements. This new material was called chrome-nickel steel and would later be named stainless steel because it resisted corrosion so well.

What is Grade 301 Stainless Steel?

301 is an austenitic chromium-nickel stainless steel with a minimum nickel content of 6%. It is used in applications where high strength and resistance to corrosion are required, such as springs, electric components, stamping parts, connectors and belts.

The most common grade is AISI 301 (EN 1.4310).

It has excellent forming properties, good weldability and high strength. It also has good toughness for a stainless steel and has the highest yield strength of all the austenitic grades. This means that it can withstand high compressive loads without cracking or deforming excessively.

Types of 301 Stainless Steel

Below we break down the different products types of 301 stainless steel you might come across.

  • 301 Stainless Steel Coils: 301 stainless steel coil is a type of hardenable austenitic stainless steel with high strength, moderate corrosion resistance and good formability. It is the most widely used of all the austenitic stainless steel coils and is widely used in many industries as its properties make it an excellent choice for various applications. The 301 grade coil has been known by many names over the years including SUS301, ASTM 301 or EN 1.4310.
  • 301 Stainless Steel Strips: Grade 301 stainless steel strip is an austenitic stainless steel with a nominal composition of at least 16 percent chromium and 6 percent nickel, which provides good strength and ductility when cold worked. It also has excellent corrosion resistance properties. 301stainless steel strip is well suited to welding, forming and drawing. This high strength grade of steel is available in several conditions or tempers.
  • 301 Stainless Steel Plates: 301 stainless steel plates and sheets are types of stainless steel that contains chromium and nickel. The presence of these elements in the alloy make it highly resistant to corrosion and oxidation. 301 stainless steel plates are used in applications where they need to be resistant to corrosion, such as in the marine industry, chemical reactors and food processing equipment.
  • 301 Stainless Steel Bars
  • 301 Stainless Steel Wires
  • 301 Stainless Steel Pipes

History of 304 Stainless Steel

Grade 304 stainless steel is a steel that has a minimum of 18% chromium. The chromium content is the primary factor for making this material corrosion resistant. A second factor is the high carbon content, which makes the metal hard and tough.

It was first produced in 1913 by Henri Moissan, who was looking for an alloy that would be resistant to corrosion from molten iron. He found that by adding chromium to iron, he could make an alloy that would not corrode when exposed to molten iron (i.e., it resists oxidation).

Today, 304 stainless steel is used in many applications, including marine applications because it resists corrosion caused by seawater and brackish water. It also resists corrosion caused by chemicals such as chlorine and salt water solutions (salt spray).

What is Grade 304 Stainless Steel?

Grade 304 stainless steel, also called 18-8 stainless steel, is a non-magnetic alloy that contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. It is the most widely used of all the stainless steels because of its combination of high strength and corrosion resistance.

The high chromium content makes it resistant to corrosion by many chemicals, but not immune. For this reason, grade 304 is used in equipment that comes into contact with foods and beverages, as well as many industrial applications where corrosion resistance is needed.

Grade 304 has excellent uniformity which makes it easy to fabricate. It has good weldability and can be joined by most common welding techniques.

Grade 304 has good machinability and can be machine turned or ground without difficulty. However, it should not be used for deep drawing operations because the amount of strain hardening at the surface causes brittleness in the material.

Because of its ability to resist corrosion, grade 304 can be fabricated into many different shapes that are used in many industries such as marine, chemical processing, petrochemical refineries and pulp & paper mills etc.

Types of 304 Stainless Steel

  • 304 Stainless Steel Coils: 304 stainless steel coil is a low carbon, molybdenum bearing, austenitic stainless steel coil. Its chemistry features a minimum of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. These grade stainless steel coils are used for its corrosion resistance to many chemical corrodents, in addition to having good mechanical properties. The corrosion resistance of grade 304 stainless steel makes it ideal for food processing equipment and surgical instruments. It has superior formability and weld ability when compared to other grades of stainless steel.
  • 304 Stainless Steel Strips: 304 stainless steel strip is the most widely used chromium-nickel stainless steel strip. It has good corrosion resistance, heat resistance, low temperature strength and mechanical properties. This strip has good hot workability such as stamping and bending without heat treatment. It is resistant to corrosion in the atmosphere.
  • 304 Stainless Steel Plates: 304 stainless steel plates are often used in the food and beverage industry, as well as in other industries where the material needs to be sanitary. The material is also commonly used in the construction of power plants.
  • 304 Stainless Steel Bars
  • 304 Stainless Steel Wires
  • 304 Stainless Steel Pipes

What are the Differences?

As you can see from their grades and standards, 301 stainless steel and 304 stainless steel is very different. Depending on what you are looking for in your projects, they each have benefits and drawbacks. For a side by side comparison, you breakdown the differences even further.

Chemical Composition

The chemical constituents of 301 and 304 stainless steel are shown in Table 1 and Table 2.

Table 1:

GradeCSiMnPSCrNiMo
301≤0.15≤1.00≤2.00≤0.045≤0.03016.00-18.006.00-8.00

Table 2:

GradeStandardCSiMnPSCrNiMo
304ASTM A240≤0.07≤0.75≤2.00≤0.045≤0.03018.00-20.008.00-11.00

Features

301 Stainless Steel Strip Features:

  • Anti-corrosion
  • High Strength
  • Durable
  • Low Maintenance
  • Good Ductility
  • Excellent Surface Quality
  • Excellent for deep drawing with good ductility without intermediate annealing

304 Stainless Steel Features:

  • Weldability: 304 stainless steel has good weldability. These products can be used for vessel parts, stainless steel welding pipes, stainless steel flexible hose and corrugated pipe, etc.
  • Heat Resistance: Heat resistance means that 304 stainless steel can still maintain its excellent physical and mechanical properties at high temperatures conditions.
  • Corrosion Resistance: When the amount of chromium atoms in the steel is not less than 12.5%, the electrode potential of the steel can be abruptly changed from a negative potential to a positive electrode potential. Prevent electrochemical corrosion.

Cost

301 stainless steels are relatively cheaper than 304 stainless steels. However, many China suppliers are offering a range of stainless steels at competitive prices.

Durability

304 is a more durable grade of stainless steel than 301. This is because 304 has a higher chromium content, which makes it more resistant to corrosion. The chromium content in 304 is 18%, while the chromium content in 301 is only 16%.

Applications

Due to the high strength and excellent corrosion resistance, quality grade 301 stainless steel is widely used for following applications:

  1. Industrial springs
  2. Conveyor belt
  3. Connectors
  4. Switch components
  5. Aircraft components
  6. Electric components
  7. Precision stamping parts
  8. Hardware


304 stainless steel can be used in a wide range of applications, including:

1.Food and beverage processing
The food industry uses 304 stainless steel to manufacture equipment like water heaters, boilers and tanks.

2.Healthcare equipment
Hospitals use 304 stainless steel to make a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tables, bedpans and incubators for newborns.

3.Industrial machinery
Manufacturers of industrial machinery rely on 304 stainless steel for parts such as valves and pumps in their products.

4.Construction equipment
Building contractors use 304 stainless steel to make weatherproofing materials that protect buildings from rain and snow while they are under construction or renovation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is 304 stainless steel rust?

304 stainless steel does rust, but only if it is allowed to get wet. The only time that 304 stainless steel will rust is when water or other liquids are spilled on the surface and then left unattended for several hours or days.

Is 304 stainless steel suitable for outdoor use?

In general, 304 stainless steel is suitable for use outdoors but only when it has been properly finished and coated. Some manufacturers offer coatings such as powder coating or epoxy powder paint to protect the finish from environmental exposure.

How to get 301 and 304 stainless steel price from China suppliers?

If you are looking for a reliable supplier of stainless steel, but you do not know how to find it and get the best price, then we can help you.

We have long-term experience in this field, and we can provide you with professional advice on how to find good suppliers of stainless steel.

There are several ways to get stainless steel price from China suppliers:

1.Find your own supplier on Alibaba, Made in China or seek other resources (Google);

2.Contact China suppliers through the contact form or directly via email to discuss the details of cooperation.

Conclusion

Your different project needs and priorities significantly influence which type of stainless steel you end up buying.

If you have a spring manufacturing project and need quality stainless steel, consider 301 stainless steel. If your equipment and components exposed to high temperatures or aggressive corrosive environments, 304 stainless steel is the best material for you.

Keep in mind, 301 stainless steel has higher hardness compared to 304 stainless steel. If you’re starting new project, you may have to purchase quality stainless steel materials than you want.

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