Stainless Steel Flatware: The 6 food safe grades of stainless steel

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It can be confusing what type of flatware to get with all of the different terminologies thrown at us. What is 18/10? What is carbon steel? Should I go with stainless steel? What about silver? Do you want something durable? Do you want something light? Are you looking for something that doesn’t dull easily? Are you looking for something that doesn’t rust easily? Unfortunately, you can’t have everything, so you need to decide on what your priorities are. In this article, we’ll be reviewing the different types of stainless steel flatware.

History of Flatware

Forks, spoons, and knives have historically been made with silver due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Unlike other heavy metals, silver is not toxic. In addition, it has the ability to detect arsenic poisoning, thanks to its reaction to sulfur-based compounds, of which arsenic poison contains.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s when spoons and forks started to be made with stainless steel. Due to the steady development of antibiotics, we had a lesser need of the anti-microbial properties of silver in our silverware. Stainless steel flatware emerged as the more economical choice. There were other reasons that made stainless steel stand out such as its resistance to rust and its durability even under high temperatures.

Flatware Terms

This language was created by flatware manufacturers and marketers. The first number refers to the percentage of chromium and the second number is the percentage of nickel in the stainless steel alloy. Alloy is a metal that is made by combining two or more metallic elements for strength or corrosion resistance. Steel producers add chromium and nickel to steel to make it more resistant to rust, but too much chromium and nickel will make the metal softer. Adding carbon to the steel alloy will make it stronger, but less resistant to rust.

This is why knives are usually more prone to rusting. In order to be strong enough to keep a sharper edge longer, it needs to sacrifice some of the chromium and nickel that gives stainless steel its rust resistant abilities. Since it’s less important for spoons and forks to keep an edge, they are made a with a softer grade of stainless steel that is more corrosive resistant.

18/8 and 18/10

Now that that’s out of the way, there is no difference between 18/8 and 18/10. It was a marketing gimmick created by marketers to differentiate their product from competitors. It is the exact same stainless steel alloy. When purchasing stainless steel from a steel mill, they are purchasing grade 304 stainless steel which has a range of 18-20% chromium and 8-10% nickel. Grade 304 stainless steel only contains 0.08% carbon.

18/0

18/0 stainless steel is slightly less corrosive resistant than 18/8 or 18/10 stainless steel because of the lack of nickel. On top of being rust resistant, Nickel also prevents staining. But it is still just as strong as other grades of stainless steel which makes it a great option for restaurants that are on a budget. 18/0 is grade 420 stainless steel.

13/0

Most dinner and dessert knives are made with 13/0 stainless steel so that it is strong enough to have a cutting edge while maintaining some corrosive resistance. It’s also a cheaper grade since chromium and nickel are more expensive than iron. 13/0 is grade 410 stainless steel.

Other Types of Stainless Steel

Did you know that there are 150 different types of stainless steel? In this article, we’re only going to focus on the food grade ones. When purchasing stainless steel from steel mills, they are more familiar with grades. The following types of stainless steel aren’t as commonly used by flatware manufacturers so they never developed the 18/10 type of naming scheme.

Grade 316 stainless steel is another type of stainless steel alloy that contains 16% chromium, 10% nickel, 2% molybdenum, 2% manganese, 1% silicon, 0.3% sulfur, carbon, and iron. Iron is the primary ingredient in all stainless steel alloys. The carbon ensures that the metal is as strong as possible and the molybdenum makes the alloy more corrosive resistant and easier to weld. Because grade 316 stainless steel is so strong, it is difficult to machine. This makes it a more expensive material. It is the most rust resistant stainless steel alloy grade and is more meant for flatware that is exposed to harsh environments that have high salt content such as the beach or the sea.

Grade 430 stainless steel contains 17-18% chromium and 0.12% carbon. Because grade 430 stainless steel is ferromagnetic, it is magnetic, unlike grade 304 stainless steel which is not magnetic. It is a less expensive grade, but it is harder to form and weld which makes it more suitable for automotive trim, dishwashers, refrigerators, and the inside of clothes dryers. It is highly unlikely for flatware to contain grade 430 stainless steel.

Grade 440 stainless steel is the strongest type of stainless steel. Of all the different types of stainless steel, it maintains a sharp edge the longest. It does dull faster than carbon steel knives, but it is more corrosive resistant.

Austenitic vs Martensitic Chromium Alloys

The 300 series grade of stainless steel are austenitic and the 400 series grade of stainless steel are martensitic. Austenitic means it’s not magnetic and martensitic means it’s a type of hard and brittle alloy composed of carbon. An easy way to tell the difference between the two grades is to check if it’s magnetic. Austenitic stainless steel is not magnetic while martensitic stainless steel is.

Compositions

grade 30418-20% chromium and 8-10% nickel
grade 31616% chromium and 10% nickel
grade 41013% chromium
grade 42013% chromium and high carbon content
grade 43017-18% chromium and 0.12% carbon
grade 440extremely high carbon content

Summary

13/0grade 410 less rust resistant, but more durable ideal for dinner and dessert knives
18/0
grade 420rust resistant, but stains easilyideal for restaurants on a budget
18/8 or 18/10grade 304rust resistantideal for spoons and forks
grade 316super corrosive resistantideal for high salt environments
grade 430strong, but harder to weldideal for appliances
grade 440hardest stainless steelideal for high grade blades

A more in-depth guide can be found at MachineMfg.com.

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