The Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

On the surface, the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is blindingly simple. Ferrous metals contain iron, and non-ferrous metals do not. However, there’s much more to that distinction than a simple black and white definition. The different compositions and uses of ferrous and non-ferrous metals are vast.

Ferrous Metals Promise Durability

Iron and many types of steel are all common examples of ferrous metals. As you can imagine, thanks to the durability of these composites, ferrous metals are often used in construction, pipelines, and even the creation of tools.

But, just because they’re sturdy doesn’t mean ferrous metals aren’t also extremely malleable. Steel, for example, is just blended iron and carbon. However, by changing the amount of either ingredient or adding in a few other materials, steel can be transformed to become anything from the thick steel beams used in skyscrapers to shiny stainless steel.

Examples of ferrous metals include:

  • Mild steel – Used for general engineering and building purposes
  • Carbon steel – Used for the creation of tools
  • Stainless steel – A ferrous metal that resists rust due to the presence of chromium
  • Cast iron – Used for vehicle engines, utility hole covers and cooking applications
  • Wrought iron – Typically used in gates and fences

Non-Ferrous Metals Guarantee Flexibility

Non-ferrous metals have a limitless variety of uses. Copper and aluminum are used for their ability to conduct heat and electricity. Several non-ferrous metals make up the core components of most smartphones. Of course, metals like gold and silver have been used decoratively for thousands of years. Non-ferrous metals are fundamentally resistant to both corrosion and magnetism making them obvious choices for many applications across many different industries.  

Examples of non-ferrous metals include:

  • Lead – Used in pipes, fuels, paints and batteries
  • Copper – Used for wiring, appliances, and vehicles
  • Silver – Used for jewelry, cutlery, electrical contacts, and the creation of mirrors
  • Aluminum – Used in vehicles, appliances, power lines and food packaging
  • Brass – Used in screws, light fixtures, door knobs, as well as bath and sink fixtures
  • Gold – Has medical uses and is used in computers, electronics, and jewelry

The Major Distinction

When it comes right down to it, the major difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is cost and availability. The basic ingredients of ferrous metals — minerals like carbon and iron — are plentiful, easily obtainable and often cheap.

Meanwhile, non-ferrous metals like gold and silver are exceptionally rare. That, combined with their relatively wide range of uses, tend to make non-ferrous metals more expensive. Hence, the term “precious metals.”

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