304 stainless steel vs. 316 stainless steel; it's the timeless comparison in stainless steel. Let's take a look at the grade anatomy of these stainless steel grades and determine once and for all the difference between 304 stainless steel and 316 stainless steel.

As part of the five families of stainless steel, 304 stainless steel and 316 stainless steel are austenitic grades that contain high levels of chromium and nickel. This has the following impact:

 300 series stainless steel

Chromium – Increases tensile strength, hardness, hardenability, toughness resistance to wear and abrasion, resistance to corrosion and scaling at elevated temperatures. 
Nickel - Increases strength and hardness without sacrificing ductility and toughness. 

But the addition of alloy elements like molybdenum can make subtle, but important, differences:

Molybdenum - Increases strength, hardness, hardenability, and toughness as well as creep resistance, and strength at elevated temperatures.

What is 304 Stainless Steel and Where Is It Used?

As the most widely used of all stainless steel, 304 stainless steel is most notably present in industrial applications and kitchen equipment. It is a highly heat-resistant grade, and offers good corrosion resistance to many chemical corrodents, as well as industrial atmospheres. With good formability, 304 stainless steel can be readily welded by all common methods. 

304L stainless steel is an extra low carbon variation that avoids harmful carbide precipitation due to welding. This variation offers the same corrosion resistance as 304 stainless steel, but with slightly lower mechanical properties.

What is 316 Stainless Steel and Where Is It Used?

When it comes to 316 stainless steel, you can expect better corrosion and pitting resistance to chlorides than 304 stainless steel and higher levels of strength at elevated temperatures. This is due in part to the addition of molybdenum. This is what makes it an ideal grade for such applications as pumps, valves, textile and chemical equipment, pulp & paper and marine applications. 
316L stainless steel is the extra low carbon version of 316 stainless steel that helps avoid carbide precipitation due to welding.

So, What's the Difference Between 304 Stainless Steel and 316 Stainless Steel?

When it comes to 304 stainless steel vs. 316 stainless steel, while both are good for corrosion resistance, strength, welding, and heat resistance, 316 stainless steel gets the slight edge in all these categories due to variation in alloying elements. 

Let's look at the metal characteristics tale of the tape:

 304 vs 316 stainless steel

 

How Are 304 Stainless Steel and 316 Stainless Priced?

The price of 304 and 316 grades can fluctuate based on the ebb and flow of the raw material cost. To help offset these fluctuations, surcharges are added to the base price, typically per pound and varied by the mill. Check out the May Monthly Market Report from Ryerson for more information on the cost of these surcharges and some strategies for how to protect against potential volatility. iIf you are not a registered user, click here for a free preview of our Monthly Market Report.