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All You Need to Know About Non-Ferrous vs Ferrous Metals, its Features and Examples

Metals are normally categorized as either ferrous or non-ferrous based on their makeup. All metals consist of metallic components that hold metallic bonds and produce positive ions. Their structure, however, differs based on the type. Keep reading to learn more about ferrous metals and how they are different from their non-ferrous counterparts.

The base metal is iron for all ferrous metals, and they make up a sizeable part of the total metals being used today. This is due to their features that match with the different industries and use-cases. Non-ferrous metals, in contrast, do not consist of iron. This discrepancy is made because it leads to a certain attribute shift that non-ferrous metals do not offer.

Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-ferrous metals do not comprise a substantial amount of iron and are desired more for their non-magnetic, low weight, and conductive properties. The greater demand for non-ferrous metals means they are often costlier than ferrous metals.

Non-ferrous metals are also characterized by their malleability which means they can be redesigned and reclaimed, often without losing their prized properties, making them perfect for a broad range of industries in the commercial sector.

Examples of non-ferrous metals use:

Non-ferrous metals have historical significance and have been in use throughout the past with bronze and copper being used to develop a civilization from the stone age to 1700 BCE when people discovered how to mine tin and copper to make weapons. Today non-ferrous metals are key components in making tools, vehicle engines, electrical cables, containers, pipelines, cutlery, and in the construction sector.

Ferrous Metals

The term ferrous is drawn from the Latin phrase ‘ferrum’ and implies that the metal comprises iron. Metals having minutes quantities of iron in their aggregate are not categorized as ferrous. The existence of iron in ferrous metals makes them extremely strong, magnetic, and hard. However, their attributes can vary significantly based on the wide range of alloying elements. Ferrous metals are susceptible to corrosion when exposed to humidity as they have a high carbon content.

Examples of ferrous metals use:

Since ferrous metals are durable and strong, they are used in numerous industries including engineering and construction. Ferrous metals are extensively used in large edifices such as bridges and skyscrapers. Moreover, ferrous metals are widely used in industrial piping, shipping containers, railroad tracks, cars, and domestic tools. Some of the commonly used ferrous metals are cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel, wrought iron and engineering steel.

Properties of Ferrous & Non-Ferrous Metals:

Let us take a detailed look at the various properties of ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Magnetic Properties

Most ferrous metals are magnetic, making them extremely useful in the production of electrical and motor appliances.

Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are not magnetic, making them appropriate for use in wiring and electronic applications.

Resistance to Rust & Corrosion

Ferrous metals have a high carbon content, making them susceptible to corrosion when subjected to moisture. However, wrought iron has a tendency to resist corrosion as it has a high iron content.

Non-ferrous metals do not have any iron content, as a result, they have a greater resistance to corrosion, making them perfect for use in things like roofing and sewage drains.


Non-ferrous metals are lighter than their ferrous counterparts.


Both ferrous and non-ferrous metals can be recycled. Non-ferrous metals such as Aluminium can be reused time and time again as they do not disintegrate or lose any natural properties during recycling. Ferrous metals have to be melted, cleansed, and then compressed into solid blocks.

As non-ferrous metals are comparatively scarce, it is essential that they are reused. However, all abandoned metals must be recycled as it reduces the volume of waste dispatched to landfill, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, shields the ecosystem, and saves energy on natural resource mining.


Non-ferrous metals are typically costlier than ferrous metals because they are in greater demand and are not available in a good supply as ferrous metals.

Examples of Ferrous Metals

Ferrous metals are classified as non-alloy steels or carbon steels and alloy steels. Carbon is the alloying element in non-alloy steels even though small traces of other elements such as silicon, sulphur, manganese, and phosphorus are also present.

Cast Iron

An alloy of carbon and iron, cast iron has a carbon content that lies somewhere between 1.5% and 4%. Other elements present in cast iron include silicon, sulphur, phosphorus, and manganese. Despite being brittle, its toughness makes it resilient to wear. The definitive form of cast iron is accomplished through casting. This process only requires slight after treatment, thus making it conceivable to form any shape.

Wrought Iron

Somewhat different to other ferrous metals, wrought iron can withstand oxidation and corrosion. It is often used to make railings and fencing.

Non-alloy steels

Non-alloy steels are categorized by their carbon content as high, medium, and low carbon steel.

● High carbon steel: The carbon content numbers for high carbon steels start with 0.6% and end around 1%. High carbon steel is the toughest of all steels, making it appropriate for applications where resistance against mechanical wear is essential.

● Medium carbon steel: Medium carbon steel contains 0.25% to 0.6% of carbon. The higher carbon content enhances its hardness and strength in comparison to low carbon steels while the ductility declines. Medium carbon steels are primarily used to make automotive industry components such as gears, shafts, and axles.

● Low carbon steel: Mild or low carbon steels contain 0.05% to 0.25% of carbon. They are low-cost and well suited for bending operations. The surface hardness of low carbon steel can be enhanced through carburising.

Alloy Steels

Alloy steels constitute another sub-category of ferrous metals. Steel’s alloying components are nickel, chrome, silicon, titanium, copper, and many others. Each element has its own impact on material features.

Manganese: It enhances wear resistance, hardenability, and ductility. Hardenability is achieved through quenching where manganese has a substantial influence. It reduces the risk of the formation of defects during the process by stabilizing it. Manganese also reduces the development of toxic iron sulfides, thereby boosting its strength at elevated temperatures.

Chromium: The key element in the production of stainless steel is chromium. The existence of chromium at over 11% levels make metals resistant to corrosion. The oxidized chromium layer that develops on top of the metal acts as a shield and protects the steel from corrosion. The base metal does not come in contact with oxygen and the risk of corrosion is significantly reduced. Chromium also improves the hardness, tensile strength, resistance to wear, and toughness of steel.

Vanadium: Vanadium carbides constrains the grain size and thereby enhances a material’s ductility. It also boosts hardness, strength, shock impact resistance, and wear. Because of its efficacy, the quantities must be kept low. Otherwise, it can have a damaging impact on the properties of the material.

Non-Ferrous Metal Examples & Uses

Here are some of the most commonly used types of non-ferrous metals:

● Copper: Highly malleable, ductile and a good conductor of electricity and heat, copper is a preferred choice for electrical wiring.

● Aluminium: Aluminium is lightweight and can be easily welded and machined. It is used in the production of aircraft, cars, kitchen utensils and food cans.

● Lead: Lead has low tensile strength and low melting point and is normally used in batteries, electrical power cables, and soldering.

● Zinc: Zinc on its own is not of much use, but as an alloying element, it has wide-ranging purposes. It is primarily used to galvanize steel. Galvanizing makes the material more resilient to corrosion.

Find out more about the differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals by getting in touch with Metalsplanet.

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