Stainless steel is the material of choice for discriminating architects looking for a distinctive railing system to make a big design impact. It’s easy to see why given stainless steel’s beautiful, clean look and resistance to corrosion. Plus it plays well with other materials to create a truly unique feel. With a stainless steel railing system, the design limits are virtually endless.
Whether you’re seriously considering putting stainless steel at the top of your list as material of choice for railing applications or researching on the best ways to care for and maintain it for a lifetime of use, Livers Bronze has you covered. With over a half-century’s experience in designing and manufacturing railings using stainless steel, we have some valuable insights that will help. Let’s start with the basics.
Is stainless steel really “stainless?”
Yes, if the stainless steel’s chromium is properly dissolved during production. In order to be considered stainless, there must be 11.5% or more chromium present. Chromium is what makes stainless steel resistant to corrosion because at the correct level, it creates an oxide layer. It’s this oxide layer that stops stainless steel from corroding beyond the initial exposure to oxidizing elements including water, air, caustics, acids, etc. Unlike on aluminum surfaces, the protective oxide layer on stainless steel doesn’t become deep enough to be seen with the naked eye, allowing it to keep its finish. Type 300 series stainless steel alloys, which are typically used for ornamental railing construction have a minimum of 18% chromium. Livers Bronze utilizes Type 304 stainless steel for most railing applications.
Should you be concerned with rust?
No. Not if your stainless steel railing comes from Livers Bronze. If the stainless steel used for your railing is using a questionable alloy or if it comes into contact with non-stainless steel it would fall into these categories:
- Without the correct percentage of chromium (again, at least 11.5%), stainless steel cannot develop the oxidized layer it needs to ward off rust. Rust forms when the protective oxide layer isn’t or can’t be formed on stainless steel’s surface.
- Assuming the stainless steel contains at least 11.5% chromium, the primary way surface rust can occur is through contact with ordinary steel. Unlike stainless, ordinary steel doesn’t have the chromium required to prevent corrosion. Regular steel’s iron transfers onto the stainless, which then reacts to moisture in the air to cause rust within just a few days. There are other environmental impacts to stainless steel that may cause rust: caustic cleaning compounds from surrounding work, de-icing products, dirt and grime not cleaned from the stainless steel and non-potable water are a few.
Once rust has formed, stainless steel’s oxidized surface layer kicks into protection mode if it’s allowed to dry out a bit and not continuously in high moisture conditions. The rust doesn’t penetrate beyond the surface to cause damage, but it does negatively impact the stainless steel’s appearance. It’s rust. It’s ugly. However, at this point, it’s also now playing a part in protecting the underlying stainless steel, just not a very pretty one.
Another potential of rust on stainless steel comes from the welding methods used. Welding that uses flux for shielding puts stainless steel at risk for rust because they leave an iron-rich substance on the steel if not cleaned away with an abrasive or chemical. The leftover welding material will rust, much like when the stainless steel is exposed to regular steel.
How do I know if steel is really stainless?
Choose a stainless steel railing manufacturer that not only understands the properties of stainless, but also adheres to meticulous manufacturing and packaging processes, shipping and especially during final handling and installation of the product. Stainless steel can be a magnet for dust kicked up during cutting, grinding and cleaning. Any dust that comes from non-stainless steel and settles on a stainless surface is a precursor for rust.
Once rust appears, is it too late for removal?
If rust appears on your stainless steel railing system surfaces, there are right and wrong ways to go about its removal. The following is what you should and should not do when it comes to cleaning stainless steel.
- DO use the mildest cleaning procedure that will do the job effectively.
- DO follow the polishing lines when using abrasive cleaners.
- DO rinse thoroughly after every cleaning operation.
- DO wipe dry to avoid watermarks.
- DON’T use ordinary steel scrapers or knives in removing heavy dirt deposits. This may cause rust spots. Use wood, plastic or stainless steel tools.
- DON’T allow chemical sterilizers, bleaching agents or any solution containing chlorides to remain in prolonged contact with stainless steel.
A regular cleaning and maintenance program should be part of any long term care for stainless steel railings. Exterior rust on stainless steel is harmless, but what architect wants rust ruining their railing design? We certainly haven’t met one. The only way to avoid it is to choose your stainless steel railing manufacturer wisely. Partner with one like Livers that ensures your stainless railing won’t come into contact with other steel. One that properly cleans the material post welding. One that knows how to package your railing system and transport it without compromise. And finally, once installed the railing system should be kept away from non-stainless steel materials.
The Livers Bronze difference.
At the Livers Bronze facility, we don’t use the same tools for grinding and cleaning stainless steel as we do on other materials to avoid any potential for rust. Our operations, fabrication, metal finishing, machining, rolling and bending, sheet metal work and state-of-the-art system testing happens under one roof by our skilled craftsmen who know stainless steel like the backs of their hands.
If you have any questions on preventing rust on stainless steel or its application in a specific railing design, we’d love to hear from you.