What is the Difference Between Surgical Steel and Stainless Steel?

  • By: Charles Brown
  • Date: March 8, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Surgical steel is an alloy of surgical-grade stainless steel and up to 10% chromium. On the other hand, stainless steel contains between 13% and 18% chromium. So what does this mean? It means surgical steel has more durability than stainless steel because it contains chromium which helps protect against corrosion.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is an alloy of stainless-grade steel and up to 18% chromium. It contains more chromium than surgical steel, making it more durable against corrosion. The reason for this type of metal being called “stainless” has nothing to do with whether or not the surface will stain, but rather its resistance to staining by oxygen in the air or other oxidizing agents.

The term “stainless” derives from an English word meaning “incapable of being stained.” Stainless steels are either ferritic (having a low carbon content) or austenitic (high carbon content). Austenitic grades can be subdivided into four subgroups: martensitic, nonferrous, precipitation-hardening, and duplex. Duplex stainless steels contain a mixture of ferritic and austenitic alloys, enhancing corrosion resistance.

The two main types of stainless steel are 304 (18%Cr-type) and 316L (16%Cr-type). The latter is more resistant to pitting caused by chloride ions. Some other common variants include:

  • 321 (which can be used in an autoclave up to 260°C)
  • 347H, 347HT, and 348 are similar but have higher resistance to pitting caused by nitrate ions.
  • 430 is a non-heat treatable austenitic stainless steel with good mechanical properties at subzero temperatures. It has excellent weldability through all welding techniques because it contains manganese which helps reduce the risk of cracking during thermal cycling.
  • 440A also has excellent corrosion-resistant properties and high tensile strength that improves its ability to maintain structural integrity even after being subjected to extreme forces that result from stress or pressure changes over time. However, 440A does not contain nickel, so it will cost less than other grades like 316L.

What is Surgical Steel?

Surgical steel is a type of steel often used in the medical field. Surgical steel is created by adding a small percentage of nickel to iron, making it resistant to corrosion and rusting.

Surgical steel can be easily sterilized and has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than stainless steel or titanium. The durability of surgical steel makes it an ideal material for surgical instruments such as scalpels, clamps, scissors, forceps, etc. In fact, many surgeons will only use these types of tools because they are sure their patients will not contract any blood-borne diseases from them due to the high level of sanitation they have been put through before being used on patients.

Surgical Steel vs. Stainless Steel

Both surgical steel and stainless steel are two different metal alloys, but they have many differences in their applications. Surgical steel is typically used for medical instruments, while stainless steel can be used for various purposes. The most notable difference between the two is that surgical steel must be sterilized before usage to prevent contamination with bacteria or other microorganisms. In contrast, stainless metals do not need to undergo this process beforehand.

Another distinction between the two materials is that surgical steels are usually made from carbon steels, which contain up to 2% manganese content by weight; this addition makes the material more resistant to corrosion than typical iron-carbon alloys like mild or low-carbon steels. On the other hand, stainless steels are primarily iron alloys that contain at least 11% chromium. This addition increases its resistance to corrosion and staining compared to carbon steel. However, stainless steel cannot be used in specific applications because it is non-magnetic, while surgical steels typically have magnetic properties due to their nickel content.

Key Differences

There are many differences between surgical steel and stainless steel. Surgical steel is used for medical instruments, but it can also be found in cutlery. Stainless steel is much more common than surgical steel because it does not rust or corrode like other types of metal. Both metals are durable and resistant to corrosion, but surgical steel could be the answer if you need something more substantial.

For example, the blade on a pocket knife would need to be made out of surgical grade material to stay sharp longer than regular stainless steel blades. The price tag may vary depending on the type of metal you purchase and where you buy them; however, they both have pros and cons that should factor into your decision when purchasing either product.


The difference between surgical and stainless steel is that the former has a higher carbon content than the latter. The type of alloy used in making stainless steel blades determines how strong they are, so while some may be stronger than others, all will rust over time.

Surgical Steel: Surgical steel is not as corrosion resistant as Stainless Steel because it contains more Carbon (3% – 1%) and manganese (2%), making for a softer metal with less rust resistance. It was initially designed to resist corrosion from stomach acids when used during surgery. Still, it can also be found in other tools such as knives or scissors that contact food products like raw meat or vegetables. This material must be regularly sharpened to maintain its cutting edge.

Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is made up of chromium (12%), Nickel (18%), and Manganese (0.75%). This combination creates a more rigid blade with better rust resistance than surgical steel, so it’s the preferred material for knives and scissors that come into contact with food products. It doesn’t need to be sharpened as often as surgical steel, but it will rust over time.

Choosing the Best Steel for Your Application

Steel is a metal alloy that has been used in construction and manufacturing for centuries. It is most commonly used to make the steel beams, rods, and bars that form the framework of buildings.

While many different types of steel are available on today’s market, some styles work better for specific applications than others. To choose the right kind of steel for your needs, it is essential to understand what each type can do – and how they differ from one another.


How would I know if what I am eating is made from surgical or regular steel?

This can be determined by looking at the specific type of metal you are eating. If the food is made from regular steel, it will have a magnet stick. If the food is made from surgical steel, the magnet will not stick.

Is one more dangerous than the other?

There is no evidence that either type of metal is more dangerous than the other. In fact, they are both widely used in various industries without any reported issues. It is important to remember that proper maintenance and cleaning should always be done with any type of metal to avoid bacteria build-up.

What are some everyday items that are made from stainless or surgical steel?

Some everyday items made from stainless steel include appliances, cookware, cutlery, and hardware fixtures. Surgical steel is most commonly found in medical devices and implants. However, it is also found in paintings and sculptures because of its ability to resist corrosion.

Can surgical steel rust?

Yes, however, it will take a very long time for the metal to start showing any signs of rusting unless it has been left out without proper maintenance. The level of chromium and nickel in stainless steel makes it less likely that you should see any signs of rust or discoloration at all. However, if either type starts seeing visible signs, a regular cleaning with soap and water can help maintain them. If rusting does not stop after three months, contact your local recycling center about removing the material from service by grinding it up, so no one gets injured again.

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