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304 rolled steel. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Maxx-Studio

304 Stainless Steel: Uses, Composition, Properties

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
July 13, 2023
 9 min read
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304 stainless steel is an American standard stainless steel grade that has a minimum of 66% iron, 17% chromium, and 8% nickel. To produce 304 stainless steel, all of the alloying metals that make up the steel are melted in an electric furnace and then cooled into billets. 304 stainless steel is known for its chemical resistance which is why it finds applications in kitchenware, food processing equipment, chemical processing equipment, and marine environments. In contrast to its outstanding corrosion resistance, the drawbacks of 304 stainless steel are it is difficult to machine and weld.

What Is 304 Stainless Steel?

304 stainless steel is an austenitic grade steel, and because of this 304 steel is generally nonmagnetic. It is also sometimes referred to as 18/8 steel due to its 18% chromium and 8% nickel content. Because 304 stainless steel is austenitic, it has a high-temperature phase with a face-centered cubic (FCC) structure. For more information, see our guide on CS Material.

What Is 304 Stainless Steel Used For?

304 stainless steel is used in many kitchen applications including sinks, splashbacks, saucepans, cutlery, and flatware. 304 can also find use in architectural paneling, sanitaryware, tubing, breweries, dairies, food and pharmaceutical production equipment, and springs, nuts, bolts, and washers. 

How Is 304 Stainless Steel Made?

304 stainless steel is made by measuring the required amounts of each element such as: iron, chromium, and nickel. These metals and coke are added to a furnace (usually electric), which heats them to their melting point in a process that can take 12 hours. Once melted, the carbon must be removed using either a vacuum or oxygen decarburization (VOD). The amount of carbon removed will affect the hardness and tensile strength of the material. Before cooling, the steel will be stirred to ensure that the elements are uniformly mixed. As the metal is cooled into billets, it may be hot rolled while still above its crystallization temperature to form the steel into shape. If precise dimensions are required, the steel may be cooled and rolled below its crystallization temperature. Once cooled, the steel may be heat treated to relieve its internal stresses. Finally, the stainless steel will be cut to its final shape and surface-finished which will depend on the application of the steel but may include grinding. 

What Is the Chemical Composition of 304 Stainless Steel?

The main element of steel is iron. It is present in 304 stainless steel at a level between 66% and 75%. The iron content of 304 stainless steel is much lower than other steels due to its high content of alloying elements. 304 stainless steel also has a chromium content of 17–20% and a nickel content of 8–11%. The full composition of 304 stainless steel is shown in Table 1 below:

Table 1: The Chemical Composition of 304 Stainless Steel
ElementPercentage
Element
Iron
Percentage
Balance (66.76%–75%)
Element
Chromium
Percentage
17%–20%
Element
Nickel
Percentage
8%–11%
Element
Manganese
Percentage
0%–2%
Element
Silicon
Percentage
0%–1%
Element
Nitrogen
Percentage
0%–0.1%
Element
Carbon
Percentage
0.04%–0.08%
Element
Phosphorus
Percentage
0%–0.04%
Element
Sulfur
Percentage
0%–0.02%

What Is the Carbon Content of 304 Stainless Steel?

The maximum carbon content of 304 stainless steel is 0.08%. An increase in carbon content would increase the hardness, strength, and weldability of the steel. However, it would also decrease ductility and responsiveness to heat treatments. 

What Are the Properties of 304 Stainless Steel?

Table 2 below lists the properties of 304 stainless steel:

Table 2: Properties of 304 Stainless Steel
PropertyValue
Property
Density
Value
0.286 lb/in3
Property
Yield Strength
Value
31,200 psi
Property
Hardness (Rockwell)
Value
70
Property
Magnetism
Value
Nonmagnetic (Austenitic)

Is 304 Stainless Steel Magnetic?

No. 304 stainless steel is austenitic which means that it is generally nonmagnetic. 304 can, however, display limited magnetic properties after it has been cold rolled. 

Is 304 Stainless Steel a Food-Grade Steel?

Yes, 304 stainless steel is food-grade steel along with 316 stainless steel. 304 stainless steel has many applications as saucepans, cutlery, and food processing equipment. 304 stainless steel is food grade as it is resistant to wear and tear as well as corrosion. 

Machinability Rating of 304 Stainless Steel

304 stainless steel has a machinability rating of 48%. This is because stainless steel work hardens rapidly, making it hard to machine. If machinability is required, 303 stainless steel should be used which is the same as 304 with the addition of sulfur, giving it a machinability rating of 75%. If machining 304 stainless steel, shape tooling, and a rigid setup are required. It is also advisable to use chip breakers. 

What Are the Thermal Properties of 304 Stainless Steel?

The melting point of 304 stainless steel is between 2,550ºF and 2,650ºF depending on the exact composition. 304 steel also has a thermal conductivity of 112 Btu-in/hr-ft2-ºF, a specific heat capacity of 0.12 Btu/lb-ºF, and a rate of linear thermal expansion of 9.61 µin/inºF.

What Are the Common Forms of 304 Stainless Steel Material?

Some common forms of 304 stainless steel are listed below:

Sheet

304 stainless steel can be found in sheet metal form between the thicknesses of 0.018” and 0.250”. Sheet metal stainless steel is usually used to make bodywork and panels for various machinery. 304 stainless steel sheet metal can be used to create grills, sinks, pots, pans, and cookers. 

Bar

The bar form of 304 stainless steel can come in different geometries including circular and tubular. The bar form of 304 steel is used for structural applications in which corrosion resistance is of high importance. 

Plate

Any plate of 304 stainless steel will be of a thickness greater than 0.250”. Plates, like sheet steel, can find application in the food industry for food processing equipment. 304 steel can also be used for architectural cladding. 

Hot Rolled

The hot rolling of 304 stainless steel should be carried out at temperatures between 2,100 ºF and 2,300 ºF. By hot rolling 304 steel, a strain is created on the metal microstructure which causes dislocations. The increase in dislocation density strain hardens the steel creating a stronger and harder steel. 

Annealed 

The annealed form of 304 stainless steel has the lowest strength but also the highest ductility of the different forms of 304 steel. Annealing should be used after cold working to stop 304 stainless steel from cracking as the steel suffers from work hardening. The annealing of 304 steel should be carried out at temperatures between 1,850 ºF and 2,048 ºF. The crystal structure can grow in a way that reduces internal stresses by heating the steel to just below its melting point and then cooling it slowly. The annealing process will remove impurities and reduce the brittleness and hardness of the steel. 

Cold-Drawn

The cold drawing process has a very similar effect to the cold and hot rolling process which results in the increase of dislocation density, making the steel harder and stronger. However, the cold-drawn process hardens the steel faster making the steel much harder and stronger than hot rolling. However, since the steel work hardens, annealing is required to prevent it from cracking. Cold drawing the steel makes a more dimensionally accurate product as there is no thermal expansion and contraction as there is with hot rolling. 

What Are Equivalents of 304 Stainless Steel?

Table 3, showing the equivalent forms of 304 steel is given below. Note that some chemical compositions may not be an exact match but are the nearest equivalent:

Table 3: Equivalent-Grade Steels from Different Countries
CountryEquivalent Grade
Country
EU
Equivalent Grade
X5CrNi18-10
Country
USA
Equivalent Grade
304304N
Country
Germany
Equivalent Grade
X5CrNi18-9
Country
Japan
Equivalent Grade
SUS304
Country
France
Equivalent Grade
X5CrNi18-10
Country
England
Equivalent Grade
304S15; 304S31
Country
Russia
Equivalent Grade
08KH18N10
Country
China
Equivalent Grade
0H18N9
Country
Italy
Equivalent Grade
X5CrNi18-10

What Are the Advantages of Using 304 Stainless Steel?

The biggest advantage of using 304 stainless steel is its corrosion resistance. This makes it ideal for use in environments including chemical processing, food processing, and shipbuilding. Other advantages of using 304 stainless steel are listed below:

  1. It is nonmagnetic. 
  2. Easy to clean.
  3. It is durable. 
  4. Good impact resistance. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Using 304 Stainless Steel?

One of the drawbacks of using 304 stainless steel is that it is susceptible to stress corrosion cracking. This occurs when cracks form and grow in a corrosive environment. This can lead to sudden failure of a material. 304 should be properly monitored in a corrosive environment to overcome this. Some of the other disadvantages of using 304 stainless steel are listed below:

  1. Less strong than other steels.
  2. Less heat resistant than other steels. 
  3. Challenging to weld. 
  4. Expensive due to alloying elements. 

What Is the Difference Between 304 Stainless Steel and 316 Stainless Steel?

304 and 316 are two of the most common stainless steels and are both very hard to distinguish physically. However, they can be identified as they do have slightly different chemical compositions. For example, 316 has 2% molybdenum which makes it more corrosion-resistant than 304. This also makes 316 more expensive. For more information, see our guide on stainless steel grade 316.

What Is the Difference Between 304 Stainless Steel and 430 Stainless Steel?

One major difference between 304 and 430 steel is that 304 steel is more expensive. This is due to the 8% nickel content of 304 steel compared to the lack of any nickel in 430 steel. The presence of nickel in 304 also makes it more corrosion-resistant. The other difference between 304 and 430 steel is that 304 steel is austenitic which means it is nonmagnetic. On the other hand, 430 is ferritic-grade steel which makes it very magnetic. These properties must be considered to choose the right steel for an application. 

What Is the Difference Between 304 Stainless Steel and 18/10 Stainless Steel?

18/10 gets its name from having 18% chromium content and 10% nickel content. 18/10 steel is also known as type 304 steel. Type 304 steel should not be confused with 304-grade steel which is of a different composition. The main difference between 18/10 and 304 steel is that 304 steel forms a protective layer on its surface which prevents corrosion. 18/10 does not have such as layer and is more susceptible to corrosion. The difference in the surface composition of 18/10 and 304 steel means that 18/10 has a more shiny surface finish which means it is used for more decorative purposes than 304 steel. 

To learn more about 304 stainless steel and how it can be applied to your project, contact a Xometry representative or check out our quoting tool.

Summary

This article presented 304 stainless steel, explained what it is, and discussed its various applications. To learn more about 304 stainless steel, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.

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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.