12 Difference Between Ferrous And Nonferrous Metals With Examples

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What Are Ferrous Metals?

A metal with the descriptor ‘’ferrous’’ means that it has iron in its composition. When the term ferrous metal is used, it also usually implies that iron is a large percentage of the elemental composition. While it is difficult to place the properties of all ferrous metals under one umbrella, there are some generalizations that can be made with some accuracy. Ferrous metals often have relatively high strength and durability, especially when compared with copper, tin and lead alloys. This characteristic makes them to find application within the construction industry.

 Generally, ferrous metals have a high carbon content, which as a result makes them highly susceptible to rust when exposed to elements and moisture. The only two ferrous metals resistant to rust are wrought iron, which resist rust due to its low levels of carbon and stainless steel which is protected from rust due to the presence of chromium. Also, most ferrous materials with exception of austenitic stainless steel have magnetic properties, which make them very useful for a variety of purposes. For example, common practical applications of magnets are motors, electrical parts and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

Examples of ferrous metals are:

  • Steel: Steel is made up of iron and carbon. It used in construction and industrial metal fabrication.
  • Carbon Steel: Carbon steel has higher carbon content in comparison to other types of steel making it exceptionally hard.
  • Alloy Steel: Alloy steel is made by adding elements such as chromium, nickel and titanium to impart greater strength and durability without increasing weight.
  • Cast Iron: Cast iron is an alloy made from iron, carbon and silicon. Cast iron is brittle and hard and resistant to wear.
  • Wrought Iron: Wrought iron is an alloy with small content of carbon. It is almost pure iron. It is resistant to corrosion and oxidation.  

Characteristics Of Ferrous Metals

  • Ferrous metals contain iron in a bivalent state.
  • Ferrous metals generally have high carbon content, which as a result, make them vulnerable to rust when exposed to elements.
  • Most ferrous metals have magnetic properties which make them very useful in the manufacturing of motor and electrical appliances.
  • Ferrous metals are heavier than their non-ferrous counterparts.
  • Ferrous metals are less expensive than non-ferrous metals.
  • Ferrous metals can be recycled. They need to be melted, purified and then compacted into solid blocks.
  • Ferrous metals have a high tensile strength. Tensile strength is the ability to undergo a great deal of force without breaking or deforming.
  • Ferrous metals are also used in shipping containers, bridges, skyscrapers, industrial piping, automobiles, railroad tracks and many commercial and domestic tools.

What Are Nonferrous Metals?

When a metal is described as nonferrous, it means that the metal does not have significant amount of iron (ferrite) in its chemical composition. Non-ferrous allows generally have iron compositions of less than one percent as measured by weight. If iron constitutes a large percentage of a metal, such that if it is the first or second most abundant element in the metal’s chemical composition, then the metal is considered ferrous.

Ferrous metals generally have high carbon content, which as a result, make them vulnerable to rust when exposed to elements. This makes them ideal for gutters, liquid pipes, roofing and outdoor signs. Some non-ferrous metals are hard and brittle, some soft and ductile. Some non-ferrous metals are made for cryogenic applications; others are made to withstand extremely high temperatures. Another characteristic of non-ferrous metals is that they are not magnetic.

Examples of Nonferrous Metals Are:

  • Aluminium: Aluminium is lightweight, soft and low strength. Aluminium is easily casted, forged, machined and welded. It is used in manufacturing of aircrafts, food cans, utensils etc.
  • Copper: Copper is red, highly ductile, malleable and has high conductivity for electricity and heat. It is used for wiring as well as roofing, statutes, bearings and to make brass.
  • Lead: Lead is a soft, heavy, malleable metal with a low melting point and low tensile strength. It can withstand corrosion from moisture and many acids. It is widely used in electrical power cables, batteries, building construction and soldering.
  • Zinc: Zinc is a medium to low strength metal with a very low melting point. Zinc is widely used in galvanizing, the process of applying a protective zinc coating to iron or steel to prevent rust.
  • Tin: Tin is very soft and malleable, ductile with low tensile strength. It often used to coat steel to prevent corrosion.
  • Gold: Gold is utilized for medical purposes. It is also used in computers, electronics and jewelry.
  • Brass: Brass is used in screws, light fixtures, door knobs, as well as bath and sink fixtures.
  • Silver: Used for jewelry, cutlery, electrical contacts and making of mirrors.

Characteristics Of Nonferrous Metals

  • Non-ferrous metals do not contain any iron.
  • Non-ferrous metals have no iron content; they naturally have a higher resistance to rust and corrosion.
  • Non-ferrous metals have no magnetic properties. They are suitable for use in electronic application and wiring.
  • Nonferrous metals are lighter than ferrous metals.
  • Non-ferrous metals are generally more expensive than ferrous metals.
  • Non-ferrous metals can be recycled time and time again because they don’t degrade or lose any chemical properties during the recycling process.
  • These metals are highly malleable. Malleability is the ability of a metal to be hammered, pressed or rolled into thin sheets without breaking.
  • Non-ferrous metals are typically used in liquid pipes, gutters, outdoor signs and roofing.  

Difference Between Ferrous And Nonferrous Metals In Tabular Form

BASIS OF COMPARISON FERROUS METALS NONFERROUS METALS
Description Ferrous metals contain iron in a bivalent state.   Non-ferrous metals do not contain any iron.  
Carbon Content They have high carbon content.   Have less or no carbon content.
Susceptibility To Rusting Susceptible to rusting.   They are resistant to rusting.
Durability Highly durable.   Less durable.
Magnetic Properties They have magnetic properties.   They have no magnetic properties.
Suitability They are very useful in the manufacturing of motor and electrical appliances. They are suitable for use in electronic application and wiring.  
Weight Ferrous metals are heavier than their non-ferrous counterparts.   Nonferrous metals are lighter than ferrous metals.  
Cost They are less expensive than non-ferrous metals.   They are generally more expensive than ferrous metals.  
Recycling Ferrous metals can be recycled. They need to be melted, purified and then compacted into solid blocks.   Non-ferrous metals can be recycled time and time again because they don’t degrade or lose any chemical properties during the recycling process.  
Strength Ferrous metals have a high tensile strength. Tensile strength is the ability to undergo a great deal of force without breaking or deforming.   These metals are highly malleable. Malleability is the ability of a metal to be hammered, pressed or rolled into thin sheets without breaking.  
Uses Ferrous metals are also used in shipping containers, bridges, skyscrapers, industrial piping, automobiles, railroad tracks and many commercial and domestic tools.   Ferrous metals are also used in shipping containers, bridges, skyscrapers, industrial piping, automobiles, railroad tracks and many commercial and domestic tools.  
Examples Mild steel, Carbon steel, Stainless steel, Alloy steel, cast iron, wrought iron. Zinc, Tin, Lead, copper, silver, Aluminium, Brass, Gold.