Stainless steel[1][2][3]:276 is a group of iron-based alloys that contain a minimum of approximately 11% chromium,[4]:3[5][6] a composition that prevents the iron from rusting,[7] as well as providing heat-resistant properties.[4]:3[5][8][9][10][11] Different types of stainless steel include the elements carbon (from 0.03% to greater than 1.00%), nitrogen, aluminium, silicon, sulfur, titanium, nickel, copper, selenium, niobium, and molybdenum.[4]:3 Specific types of stainless steel are often designated by a three-digit number, e.g., 304 stainless.

Stainless steel's resistance to ferric oxide formation results from the presence of chromium in the alloy, which forms a passive film that protects the underlying material from corrosion attack, and can self-heal in the presence of oxygen.[4]:3 Corrosion resistance can be increased further, by:

  • increasing the chromium content to levels above 11%;[5]
  • addition of 8% or higher amounts of nickel;[5] and
  • addition of molybdenum (which also improves resistance to "pitting corrosion").[5]

The addition of nitrogen also improves resistance to pitting corrosion and increases mechanical strength.[5] Thus, there are numerous grades of stainless steel with varying chromium and molybdenum contents to suit the environment the alloy must endure.[12]

Resistance to corrosion and staining, low maintenance, and familiar luster make stainless steel an ideal material for many applications where both the strength of steel and corrosion resistance are required. Moreover, stainless steel can be rolled into sheets, plates, bars, wire, and tubing. These can be used in cookware, cutlery, surgical instruments, major appliances, construction material in large buildings, industrial equipment (e.g., in paper mills, chemical plants, water treatment), and storage tanks and tankers for chemicals and food products. The material's corrosion resistance, the ease with which it can be steam-cleaned and sterilized, and the absence of the need for surface coatings have prompted the use of stainless steel in kitchens and food processing plants.[citation needed]

Use in art and monuments