When you’ve gotten all the use you can out of your stainless steel items, you can sell them as scrap metal or recycle them.
Because the metal is so useful, it’s usually possible to make a small profit doing so.
Here’s what you need to know about the scrap price for stainless steel.
Types of Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is an iron alloy, meaning that it’s iron mixed with other metals.
All stainless steel has at least 10.5% chromium, a blue-tinged silver metal that gives stainless steel its resistance to corrosion.
Other than chromium, stainless steel may also be alloyed with nickel, molybdenum, titanium, copper, carbon, nitrogen. Generally, these metals make stainless steel stronger and more malleable.
While all stainless steel is notable for its resistance to corrosion, there are different types of stainless with their own useful properties.
Stainless steel is categorized by type and grade. Here are a few of the most common types, and their uses:
- 200 Series: Caustenitic iron-chromium-nickel-manganese alloys
- 300 Series: Austenitic (metallic, non-magnetic) iron-chromium-nickel alloys
- Type 301: Highly ductile; used for formed products; hardens rapidly
- Type 303: A free machining version of 304 with added sulfur
- Type 304: Created in 1924, this is the most common type, and is sometimes called 18/8 stainless steel because it contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Over 50% of stainless steel used today is type 304 (or a modification of it). It’s the most versatile steel, used in food equipment, tubing, architectural trim, cutlery, cookware, plates, and more.
- Type 316: Added molybdenum prevents specific forms of corrosion
- 400 Series: Ferritic and martensitic alloys with superior corrosion resistance
Unless your stainless steel is labeled for type, you’ll probably have to visit a scrap yard to find out what metals were alloyed to make it.
Scrap yards have access to sophisticated sorting methods that are sometimes required to identify special alloys of steel.
Once sorted by grade and type, the stainless steel recycling process is basically the same as that used for other metals:
- Baling compacts stainless steel products into large blocks, which helps in handling and transport.
- Hydraulic machinery is used to cut thick stainless steel into smaller, more manageable pieces.
- Shredders with rotating magnetic drums begin separating ferrous metals (items containing iron) from other materials.
- Electrical currents, high-pressure air flow, and liquid floating systems provide further separation.
- The recovered materials (depending upon the required level of purity for future applications) are melted, poured, and shaped into ingots or slabs.
- Slabs and ingots may later be rolled into flat sheets used to manufacture new products.
Recycling one metric ton of steel (about 2204 pounds) saves 1,100 kilograms of iron ore (2,425 pounds), 630 kilograms of coal (1,389 pounds), and 55 kilograms of limestone (121 pounds).
Where to Find Stainless Steel Scrap
You can find scrap stainless steel type 304 in a lot of regular household products. Kitchen equipment, bathroom fixtures, exhaust systems, machine shop materials, flatware, sinks, metal counter tops, and manufacturing waste is often type 304 stainless steel.
If you have any of these and don’t need or use them any more, if they look like stainless steel, try a couple of the tests explained in the next section.
Stainless steel of all types is widely used in many different industries:
- 10% to machinery and equipment manufacturing
- 10% to energy products
- 26% to automobile manufacturing
- 40% to construction
- 14% to other uses
How to Identify Stainless Steel Scrap
Why worry about so many different uses of steel? Knowing the types of steel and where it’s typically found can help you identify scrap to sell or recycle.
Stainless steel is often confused with other metals, especially aluminum. However, there are a few methods for scrap metal testing to determine if an item is stainless steel.
Most available tests revolve around differentiating stainless steel from aluminum.
- Magnet test: Sometimes, a magnet will stick to stainless steel, but a magnet will never stick to aluminum. If a magnet sticks, you probably have stainless steel. If if doesn’t stick, the test doesn’t tell you much — many types of stainless steel aren’t magnetic.
- Spark test: You’ll need a grinding wheel for this test. Grind a bit of the metal on the wheel; if it throws a “glow” of sparks, it is steelx.
- Rust test: Aluminum doesn’t rust, but stainless steel can rust with enough exposure. If your metal is rusty, it’s not aluminum.
- Weight test: Stainless steel is heavy — aluminum is usually at least three times lighter than stainless steel, so an item that feels light for its size is likely not stainless steel.
- Sound test: Iron alloys, including stainless steel, have a distinctive bell-like ring. Aluminum sounds dull.
- Scratch test: Scratch the metal with a key. If you have to apply a lot of pressure to scratch it, its probably stainless steel. If its relatively easy to scratch, its probably aluminum.
Other testing methods involve acids. However, these methods are probably best left to experienced scrappers who understand the safety concerns involved with hazardous materials.
Can these tests also help you determine what type of steel you have? Sometimes! Here’s what else these tests can tell you:
- Magnetic: Most likely 400 grade stainless steel. This steel is some of the least valuable.
- Non magnetic, gives off sparks: The item is most likely made of a 300-series grade of stainless steel.
Find out what you have isn’t stainless? Here’s the scrap price for each type of metal.
Stainless Steel Scrap Price per Pound, Ton
Prices for steel vary considerably over the course of years, months, and sometimes even days.
Prices are often measured per metric ton, which is 2,204 pounds. We’ve included both per metric ton and per pound prices.
As of June 2018, world stainless steel prices were:
- Hot Rolled Coil (304): $2554 /MT, $1.16/lb
- Hot Rolled Coil (316): $3686 /MT, $1.67/lb
- Hot Rolled Plate (304): $2915 /MT, $1.32/lb
- Hot Rolled Plate (316): $4093/MT, $1.85/lb
- Cold Rolled Coil (304): $2763 /MT, $1.25/lb
- Cold Rolled Coil (316): $3910/MT, $1.77/lb
- Drawn Bar (304): $3178 /MT, $1.44/lb
- Drawn Bar (316): $4412 /MT, $2/lb
North American prices for scrap stainless steel are lower. In June 2018, solid type 304 stainless steel was 52 cents per pound.
As with any commodity, prices vary according to location, local demand, worldwide prices, as well as a host of other factors.
The type of steel doesn’t always influence the price you’ll get a scrap yard because some don’t have the technology to identify different alloys. If the scrap yard can’t sort different alloys, it’ll probably offer a generic non-ferrous metal price for steel scrap.
If you have a more valuable type or grade of steel, try to go to a scrap yard with the capacity to pay you the proper premium for it.
And, note that when scrapping, most yards will not buy your stainless steel scrap if it sticks to a magnet. Magnetic stainless steel is the cheapest kind of stainless steel.
For the most current and local prices, your best bet is to contact local scrap yards. Call ahead of time, so you know which one is the most worthwhile.
When you’re ready to go to the scrap yard, be sure to bring an ID. For theft protection, some states have made laws requiring scrap yards to request IDs, and even if you’re not in one of those states, the scrap yard can enact that policy on its own.
Finally, some scrap yards have minimum weight requirements. Check the weight at home, so you don’t waste a trip for a too-light load.
Stainless Steel Recycling
Recycling stainless steel is profitable because the metal is full of useful properties, and that means better scrap prices.
Stainless steel is 100% recyclable. Each year, more steel is recycled than aluminum, copper, paper, glass, and plastic combined.
Even after being recycled multiple times, steel retains its quality. The overall recycling rate of steel has reached 88%.
For perspective, here’s the percent of certain stainless steel items that comes from recycled steel:
- 5% of automobiles
- 90% of appliances
- 72% of steel containers
- 98% of structural steel
- 70% of construction reinforcement steel
The average stainless steel object is composed of about 60% recycled material.
The metals alloyed with iron to make steel are also important to the recycling process.
An added benefit, recycling steel provides a chance to recover rarer metals that were alloyed to the iron. Nickel and chromium are common components of steel alloys. Some types of steel contain rare elements, like molybdenum, titanium, tungsten, and vanadium.
This recovery decreases the need to mine new metals and helps mitigate metal shortages. It’s good for the environment and the economy.