Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel, Aluminum: Which is Best

Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel, Aluminum: Which is Best?

When trying to decide on the right material for your project, you will likely have a few metal options in front of you. Minimizing the project’s cost while maximizing quality and ease of use requires a familiarity with fundamental sheet metal materials like carbon steel, aluminum, and stainless steel. Just because two items are made of metal it dies not necessarily mean they feature the same type of steel. There are many different types of steel, the two most common being stainless steel and carbon steel. While both types may look the same, there are some key nuances distinguishing one from the other.


Preparation Will Save Money

Every business owner wants to cut costs wherever they can, and it is commonly believed that everything will work itself out if you cut corners in the beginning of a project. Carbon steel, aluminum and stainless steel all have properties that act differently during fabrication, under stress, and over the course of time. It is also worth thinking about if your part needs to fit into a larger project with other materials.

Carbon steel

Carbon steel is one of the most used steels. It is quite malleable and can be purchased in a range of carbon content levels. Hot rolled steel is more cost effective than cold rolled and can be used for forming steel. Cold rolled steel causes concern when forming operations and is more brittle than hot rolled. Carbon steel is typically brittle and should not be used for welding as it will lose flexibility in very cold temperatures, causing cracks and stability risks.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is made from the carbon steel described above with an added layer of chromium oxide. This added layer protects the material while preventing rusting and corrosion. Chromium is prevalent throughout the steel, keeping the material constantly protected and will not wear down over time. A bit more expensive, stainless steel is used for sinks, refrigerators, cable trays, surgical instruments, water tubing, wire, and more.


Often referred to as “modern life’s metal” aluminum is extremely lightweight yet durable. Its multipurpose, non-toxic, and erosion resistant exterior makes aluminum the perfect material for cars, electronics, and buildings. It is highly recyclable, which explains why a major percentage of all aluminum made is still in use today.

Quality and Price: Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel, and Aluminum

All sheet metal comes with a mixture of identified benefits realized from the material used in forming and fabrication. It is important to choose the right sheet metal material because it will directly impact both quality and price. No metal is especially superior to another, but the best metal for one project can be the worst for another. Strength is generally one of the first and most important considerations when choosing a material, especially in high-stress functions. In general, steel is stronger than aluminum. However, once the lighter weight of aluminum is considered, aluminum provides a better strength-to-weight ratio. Finding which metal will work for your application will depend on your project’s flexibility. For example, a bigger aluminum segment may provide more strength at a lower weight than the steel alternative.

Contact us to learn more about our material offerings.

Which material is best? Each has its strengths and weaknesses and will wholly depend on the type of project and what potentially negative factors such as corrosion, extreme heat and cold, and the need for flexibility your project will likely witness. Luckily CCI can assist you. Our team is committed to serving customers with high-quality metal products. We partner with the largest U.S. metal suppliers and can offer a dedicated Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Carbon Steel, Hot Rolled, Cold Finished Steel of various types and shapes. Give us a call and we can either help you out or point you in the right direction.