Aluminum VS Stainless Steel: What’s the Right Material for the Job?

You’ll have noticed that two of the most popular products on our site are Aluminum diamond plate and Stainless Steel sheeting. Whilst there are many different applications where a form of either might work equally well, sometimes there will be a good reason to pick one over the other. In this blog, we take a closer look at the materials and their properties with that in mind.

Looks and cost

One of the first things you’ll want to take into account is cost. Though you’d be wrong to make a choice based on cost alone, it’s always an important consideration – any project will have a budget and you won’t want to overspend if you don’t have to. The reality here is that Aluminum is almost always cheaper than Stainless Steel. That’s because it’s a more plentiful material, it has a lower melting point (so less energy is required) and it’s easier to shape – especially when it comes to rolling it out into thin sheets. That also makes it easier for you to work with, and you won’t need any specialist tools.

Then there are looks. Hot-dipped Aluminum has a great shine to it – almost like a mirror. Stainless Steel can be mirror finish, too, though it’s more likely to have a slightly duller sheen to it. (You can check out our inventory to see the grades available.)

Of course, it doesn’t matter how great the finish looks if it’s not going to keep it, so if you have in mind a heavy-wearing application you might need to think again.

Material properties

Choosing the right material is always a trade off – between price, appearance, properties and more. The truth is that Stainless Steel costs more, but all things being equal it’s much harder wearing. It’s also very easy to clean and highly resistant to corrosion. That makes it ideal for conditions where sanitation is critical, and applications where it will often need to be cleaned. Aluminum is similarly easy to clean and won’t rust, but it’s not as tough as Stainless. It’s a softer metal and will dent and scratch more easily. In extreme conditions, such as marine environments, you’re also better off with Stainless Steel.

A final factor is how you finish the metal. In many instances you’ll want to keep the plate or sheet metal as it is. At other times there will be a good reason to paint or lacquer it. Whilst Aluminum will take finishes well, Stainless Steel simply won’t. Its surface will not accept a finish reliably, meaning that it can flake off over time. This doesn’t just look unsightly – it can pose a hazard if sanitation is important. The good news is that Stainless Steel looks good as it is, and you can choose a grade that suits your application.

The bottom line: Aluminum is cheaper, easier to cut and shape, and takes a finish better. Stainless Steel is more expensive and harder to shape, but has great resistance to corrosion and is extremely hard wearing. It also looks good as it is and will need a minimum of maintenance to stay that way.