You’ve probably wondered about the term ‘stainless’ in stainless steel. After all, we are told that it doesn’t stain or rust, but we’ve all seen those rust-like spots on the surface of ‘stainless’ spoons, handrails, and balustrades. So then, is stainless steel stainless after all?
First, let’s look at the materials used to make stainless steel. Steel itself is an alloy, and it’s prepared by mixing iron and carbon to get a stronger, lighter, more long-lasting metal. It’s cheaper and easier to mould than iron, and it can hold larger loads than carbon, so it’s common in the construction industry. It’s also popular as a decorative metal.
Rust is the ‘street name’ for iron oxide. It’s a completely separate chemical compound that forms when iron particles react with oxygen particles. When you look at rust, it appears like a growth that has developed on top of the raw iron. It’s firmly attached to the metal, and you can’t scrub or scrape it off.
The reason it won’t come off is that it’s a part of the iron. And with time, the rust will corrode or ‘make holes’ in the metal. This is because the rust is made by using up pieces of the iron, so eventually, tiny ‘holes’ form on the surface of the used up iron.
This is the real danger of rust – those gaps that can cause leaks and damage. If the iron develops enough ‘rust holes, then its entire structure can weaken and break down. Imagine how much damage this can cause if the iron was in machinery, or support of a building. It could collapse the whole thing.
Stainless steel is made using steel, which means it has bits of iron in it. But it also has nickel, chromium, molybdenum, silicon, manganese, and carbon. These materials make stainless steel beautiful and shiny, but they also form a thin protective film that coats it.
The bits of iron inside the steel can still form iron oxide, but because of the film, the amount of rust is minimised. Oxygen particles don’t have access to much iron, so it only oxidises tiny amounts. Secondly, the film prevents the corrosion from ‘eating’ through the steel bars.
As a result, the rust stains remain on the surface where they do minimal damage and are easy to get rid of. If you look at a neglected piece of stainless steel, you will notice small rust spots, but they are minute flecks and are nothing like the effect of rust on iron or ordinary steel. In this sense, stainless steel indeed is stainless.
The alloy film also prevents other stains from making permanent marks on your balustrades. Any dirt or grime that sticks to the metal is restricted to the surface, so it can easily be removed. And because rust and other harmful elements can’t erode stainless steel, your balustrades can last indefinitely, unless the flooring beneath them is destroyed.
That said, the rust marks and surface stains can become quite unattractive if you don’t take good care of your balustrades. And it’s quite easy to avoid them. Don’t wait for your balustrade to resemble speckled copper. A few minutes of TLC every day will keep them shiny and pristine. And it doesn’t take much effort.
Every day, wipe your balustrades using warm water and a soft cloth. You can use microfibre, though an old towel will do. This gets rid of dust and takes care of any surface oxidation. Sometimes, dirt, oil, or grease will spill on your railings. Remove the stains as soon as you notice them, or get rid of them during your daily wipe down.
If you live in a seaside area, keep a closer eye on your balusters. They are more susceptible to oxidation because of all the salt and sand in the air, so if you don’t clean them every day, they will be speckled within a few weeks. In other places, the main worries are watermarks and fingerprints. These are inevitable on handrails and balconies.
While you can probably learn to live with them, it’s easy to remove fingerprints using glass cleaner. You might get obsessive about it though, because there will always be hands touching your steel railing, so it’s best to stop looking and be content with wiping the railings once a day. If the railings are extra dirty, use a mild detergent like dishwashing liquid.
You can also use stainless steel cleaner to wash the balustrades. Don’t use steel wool though, since it will scratch the railings. You can use warm water and brush with soft bristles. Rinse the railings and dry them with a towel, to prevent water stains. With these simple steps, and assuming no-one rams into the railing, your balustrade could last forever.
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- The Importance of Your Choice of Balustrades to Your Home Renovation