Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

by Daniel Bernzweig

The basic answer to this question is that ferrous metals contain iron, while non-ferrous metals do not contain iron. The answer can be delved into more deeply, however. Ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals are each made up of distinct properties. The properties that make up ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals ultimately determine the uses each metal is best suited for.

People have used non-ferrous metals since the beginning of mankind. Copper was discovered in 5,000 BC. The discovery of Copper brought an end to the Stone Age. It also led to the dawn of the Copper Age. As time progressed, the inventions of bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin, were made. This led to the beginning of the Bronze Age.

Non-ferrous metals' high malleability makes them ideal for jewelry and different manufacturing purposes. These metals are non-magnetic, which makes them perfect for wiring and electronic purposes.

People began using ferrous metals around 1,200 BC. It was at this time that iron production began to become more common. The use of iron on a more regular basis brought about the Iron Age.

Ferrous metals are important due to their strength and durability. Ferrous is derived from the Latin word ferrum, meaning iron-containing. Thanks to their strength and durability, ferrous metals are staples of the construction industry. Ferrous metals are found in industrial piping, railroad tracks, and shipping containers. You will also find ferrous metals used in commercial and domestic tools. In addition, carbon steel is used to construct the world's tallest skyscrapers.

Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals Chart

Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals Chart

The infographic chart above illustrates that ferrous metals contain iron, are durable, and contain a high amount of carbon. Non-ferrous metals don't contain iron, are lightweight and malleable, and are used for products that need strength.

What Are Ferrous Metals?

Iron is contained in ferrous metals. The iron component of the metals provides durability. The construction industry uses ferrous metals for a variety of jobs as previously outlined. Therefore, it is a staple building material.

Most ferrous alloys have a high amount of carbon contained within them. Unfortunately, the high amount of carbon in the alloys makes them vulnerable to rust if they are exposed to moisture. Two ferrous metals are resistant to rust. Wrought iron resists rust thanks to possessing low levels of carbon. Stainless steel, which is found in many industrial kitchens, is protected from rust thanks to it containing chromium.


Steel is well-known for its toughness and machinability. It is commonly used in the construction and manufacturing industries.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel has lower chromium levels and is known as a carbon-iron alloy. Stainless steel and carbon steel feature low levels of chromium. However, carbon steel is defined by its carbon makeup. Carbon steel may rust, unlike stainless steel but is typically cheaper to purchase. Due to its higher carbon content, carbon steel, a common ferrous metal, is a harder metal. If you are a fan of Western Cowboy Movies, carbon steel is found in barbed wire.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel has the addition of chromium along with some additional alloying elements like nickel. Stainless steel does not rust, thanks to chromium. It is the alloying element chromium that allows stainless steel to resist corrosion and rust.

Other Alloy Steels

Alloy steels combine elements such as chromium, nickel, and titanium. The combination of these elements provides greater strength and durability. However, the added strength and durability do not come with an increase in weight. You will likely find alloy steels in construction, machine tools, and electrical components.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is hard, and it resists wear and tear. Cast iron is ideal for use in various items, including cookware, water pipes, and machine tools. Manhole covers are typically located by industrial metal detectors that are designed for this purpose, like the Fisher FML-3 Magnetic locator.

What Are Non-Ferrous Metals?

Non-ferrous metals do not contain iron. They are lighter and more malleable compared to ferrous metals. This makes them best suited to use if strength is needed, but weight needs to be observed. The aircraft industry is one area that uses non-ferrous metals.

Aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, and tin are examples of non-ferrous metals. In addition, gold, silver, and other precious metals are non-ferrous. Malleability is the main advantage of non-ferrous metals when compared to ferrous metals.

They possess higher rust and corrosion resistance. This makes non-ferrous metals perfect for rain gutters, liquid pipes, roofing, and outdoor signage. They are also non-magnetic, allowing them to be used in wiring and electronics.


Aluminum is lightweight, soft, and low strength. It is easily forged, machined, cast, or welded. It is an ideal choice for aircraft manufacturing and food cans. Aluminum is used in pistons, railways, automobiles, and kitchen utensils.


Copper is malleable, highly ductile, and has high conductivity for electricity and heat. It is mostly used in the electrical industry to electrical wiring and other conductors. Copper may also be used in sheet roofing, statutes, cartridge cases, and bearings. The metal is used to create brass, which is an alloy of zinc and copper.


Lead is a heavy, soft, and malleable metal. It possesses a low melting point along with low tensile strength. Lead withstands corrosion from most acids and moisture. It is commonly used in electrical power cables, batteries, and building construction.


Tin is malleable and soft. It has a low tensile strength. Tin is typically used to coat steel which prevents corrosion.


Zinc is a low to medium-strength metal. It has a very low melting point. Zinc is often used in galvanizing, which is the process of applying a protective coating to iron or steel. This prevents rust from occurring.

Pressure and Melting Points

Under a given pressure, the melting point of a pure substance is its temperature. Lead has a low melting point, while iron has a high melting point. Electrolysis, magnet systems, and other technologies can be used to complete the purification process. Recycling scrap metal reduces the amount of material dumped in landfills and reduces energy use. For instance, recycled aluminum uses 95 percent less energy than newly sourced aluminum. Copper uses 90 percent less energy, and steel uses 56 percent less. Among the elements included in alloy steel are chromium, nickel, and titanium. Nonferrous metals contain no iron, while ferrous materials contain a high percentage of carbon. Therefore, precious metal has the highest return regarding recycling processes. Having a plan is important when designing an efficient operation for nonferrous metal and ferrous scrap metal operations.

Non-ferrous metals are sold at a higher price than scrap yard metals, so separating ferrous and nonferrous scrap metals is essential. Aluminum, for example, is a non-ferrous metal. Therefore, it can be sold for a higher price than any other scrap metals you have mixed in. Please remember that metals have different classifications under which they can be sorted for the best possible price. Copper is a non-ferrous metal graded on a scale from "Bare Bright Copper," the highest grade, to "#2 Insulated Wire," which is the lowest grade. If you mix high-grade copper with scrap copper, the entire load will be priced lower. Below we include a detailed ferrous vs. nonferrous metals chart and additional data.

Properties of Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

Resistance to Rust and Corrosion

Ferrous metals typically contain a high carbon content. This makes ferrous metals vulnerable to rust if exposed to moisture. One difference is wrought iron. It resists rust as it does not contain as much iron. There are a wide variety of industrial metal detectors used for the location of these items.

Since non-ferrous metals do not possess iron, they have a high resistance to rust and corrosion. Therefore, non-ferrous metals are great for gutters and roofing.

Magnetic Properties

A majority of ferrous metals contain magnetic properties. This makes them useful for manufacturing motor and electrical items. Schonstedt brand Industrial metal detectors can be used to find ferrous metals.

Non-ferrous metals are not magnetic, making them best suited to use in electronics and wiring.


Non-ferrous metals are lightweight, making them ideal for specific industries such as aircraft building. Ferrous metals are far heavier. Leica Geosystems produces detectors that can be used in these applications.


Non-ferrous metals are in high demand than ferrous metals. Due to the high demand for non-ferrous metals, they are oftentimes more expensive. In addition, there is oftentimes not a very reliable supply of non-ferrous metals available. Goldak produces a range of models for locating ferrous metals.

Uses of Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

Ferrous metals can be used in pipes, machinery, construction, and engineering. Remember, Ferrous metals contain iron and are heavier than non-ferrous metals. Pipe and cable locators are designed for finding deeply buried pipes and utility cables.

In contrast, non-ferrous metals are lighter, which makes them ideal for specific industries such as aircraft building. They have a higher rust resistance. You may find non-ferrous metals in fencing.

Recycling of both metals allows them to be used to make other items. Ferrous metals can be scrapped. Those pieces of scrap metal can be melted down and made into other things. Aluminum and non-ferrous metals can be recycled at a recycling center. A skyscraper, for example, is made from non-ferrous metal.

Recycling Scrap Metals

Recycling of both metals allows them to be used to make other items. Ferrous metals can be scrapped. Those pieces of scrap metal can be melted down and made into other things. Aluminum and non-ferrous metals can be recycled at a recycling center. A skyscraper, for example, is made from non-ferrous metal.

Scrap metal recycling is recovering and processing scrap metal from end-of-life products, industrial containers, industrial piping, automobiles, railroads, and structures to be introduced as raw material for new goods. Scrap metal can be recycled repeatedly for metal fabrication with no degradation of its properties, which helps lower the carbon footprint in the manufacturing industry. In addition to the environmental benefits, scrap metal recycling is a prosperous industry. The metal recycling market was estimated to be valued at over 900 billion in 2022.

When discussing scrap metal recycling, it's essential to understand the difference between ferrous metal alloys and non-ferrous metal. The ferrous alloy consists of ferrous material primarily of iron. Nonferrous materials have no iron content, and they innately have a higher resistance to rust and alloy corrosion. Non-ferrous metal is more expensive than ferrous scrap metals. Ferrous metals may start as iron ore or nearly pure iron; they are primarily used for their high tensile strength and durability. They include stainless steel, mild steel, carbon steel, alloy steels, cast iron, wrought iron, sheet iron, nickel, titanium, and chromium. Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, copper, zinc, tin, bronze, lead, etc. Non-ferrous metals are lighter than their ferrous counterparts and have no magnetic properties, while ferrous metals have a magnetic property, making them useful in manufacturing motors and electrical appliances.

Metals other than those with ferrous metal characteristics have been used for a very long time and date way before the Iron Age, Bronze Age, and Copper AgeSeveral steps and machine tools are involved in the scrap metal recycling process. The first step is the recovery or collection of the metal, which takes place on a micro and macro level. Scrap metal collectors sell small amounts to scrap yards on a micro-level. On a macro-level, this is done through curbside recycling. Cars are popular at scrap yards and contain about 60 percent steel and iron content while also containing precious metals like Platinum, Palladium, and Rhodium. Metals are then sorted, shipped, shredded, melted, and purified.

Copyright 2021 Detector Electronics Corp.