While the two most popular grades of stainless steel might seem identical at a glance, they hold important differences that can lead to substantial savings over the life of your product depending on your intended uses.

All stainless steels contain a mix of iron and chromium at various levels. But the exact mix—and other additions — are what create the differences between grades.

The most popular 304 grade stainless contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel — though other alloys exist within the same grade.

Stainless steels of the 316 grade include less chromium — often around 16% — but increase nickel levels and add molybdenum to the mix.

In most common alloys, you’ll find 10% nickel and 2 to 3% molybdenum. However, specialty alloys might have as much as 9% molybdenum.

The Benefits of 316 Stainless Steel

Most stainless steel ordered around the world is Grade 304.

It offers the standard corrosion resistance, formability, strength, and easy maintenance for which stainless is known.

While 316 comes in second in terms of quantities sold, it offers vastly superior corrosion resistance to chlorides and acids.

This makes it popular for a wide range of environments—including:

  • Medical equipment and implants
  • Foodservice, processing, and preparation environments
  • Coastal environments
  • Areas with high salt levels (such as roadways)
  • Brewing facilities
  • Environments with increased exposure to alkalis and acids

These increased resistances also help to take the guesswork out of cleaning and allow you to clean your stainless more often using stronger cleansers and detergents with little worry of damage or altering the appearance of the stainless steel.

This makes 316 an ideal upgrade for environments with strict hygiene and cleanliness standards.

So Which is Better… 316 or 304 Stainless Steel?

With the benefits offered by 316 stainless steel, you might wonder why 304 remains the most popular…

If you’re not sure which to choose, consider these common uses for the two grades:

304 Stainless Steel

  • Storage tanks
  • Indoor electrical enclosures
  • Wheel covers
  • Automotive trim
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Appliances
  • Decorative trim

316 Stainless Steel

  • Pharmaceutical equipment
  • Medical equipment
  • Chemical equipment
  • Stainless steel floats
  • Structural steel and components in marine environments
  • Commercial kitchen surfaces, equipment, and appliances

In short, it’s mostly about cost and corrosion resistance requirements.

If you don’t need the added resistance of 316, standard 304 grades will offer similar performance and longevity at a lower price point.

However, in situations where the added resistance is needed, 316 often improves the functional lifespan of the steel products by years.

This can lead to drastic long-term savings despite the initial increase in investment.

Looking for more information on the various traits and performance considerations surrounding other stainless steel grades?

Our guide on stainless steel grades and families breaks down the different considerations between common grades and how to identify them to make choosing the perfect stainless steel alloy simple.

By matching the grade of stainless to your intended usage and environment, you can optimize both the financial and physical benefits of your stainless steel investment.

If you’re not sure where to start or are looking for a trusted partner with a wide selection of stainless options, the experts at Unified Alloys have more than 40 years of experience supplying industries across North America. Call today for a consultation!