Whether you’re planning a home renovation, doing car repairs, or simply decorating, you may find yourself having to choose between steel and brass.
To the average homeowner’s eye, nothing may seem different about the two except the color.
After all, they’re both metals.
However, there are significant differences between steel and brass that can determine the quality of your project.
Here are some key differences between steel and brass.
Steel Or Brass (What’s The Difference?)
1. Metal Composition
One of the basic differences between steel and brass is the various metals that make up each alloy.
Understanding their physical composition can make it easier to understand their other differences.
Steel uses 99% iron in its composition and 1% carbon.
In some cases, chromium will be added to make stainless steel.
Stainless steel is a better version of steel because it makes it less prone to rusting.
It’s also stronger.
Brass, on the other hand, doesn’t contain iron at all.
It’s made up of 70% copper and 30% zinc.
In some cases, nickel is also used to make the brass stronger.
Both steel and brass also have different colors.
Steel tends to come in various shades of grey or silver.
It can become quite dark or may even come out as a bright silver color.
Regardless, steel is always naturally some shade of grey or silver.
Brass has a larger selection of colors.
Because brass is a healthy mix of two different metals, there are some cases in which one metal might overtake the colorization of the other.
If zinc overtakes copper, then the resulting brass tends to be more silver or grey.
If copper overtakes zinc, then the resulting brass tends to be more brown, gold, or orange.
The color range of brass is what makes it a popular choice among architects and jewelry makers.
When they use nickel with brass, they often like to make it appear as fake gold in earrings, rings, and other types of jewelry.
Architects also like to use its golden or red or even orange coloring to create unique designs in a home.
Whether they’re going for an industrial aesthetic or just using the brass to highlight a certain feature of the house, the color gives them more flexibility in their work and design.
Steel and brass are different because steel only has one shade whereas brass can come in a variety of different colors.
There’s another major difference between steel and brass as far as how susceptible each is to corrosion.
When on its own, steel is extremely subject to corrosion.
In fact, iron is the fastest metal that rusts compared to others.
Stainless steel, thanks to its chromium coating, corrodes a lot more slowly.
However, it’s still vulnerable to corrosion.
Brass is less subject to corrosion.
Because it doesn’t contain iron, its metals don’t rust as fast.
While brass will eventually succumb to rust, it will take a very long time compared to steel.
Because of that, many plumbers and other professionals prefer to use brass when installing plumbing.
Brass can handle the quantities of water that run through a house.
It will last longer than steel pipes which means the homeowner will have to replace their pipes far fewer times.
That saves them money and saves on production costs which means it’s more environmentally friendly.
There is one instance, however, in which stainless steel is better with corrosion than brass.
When placed in a body of water that has a fast current, steel does better than brass.
That’s because the concern is with physical corrosion rather than rusting.
It’s the wear and tear of the rushing water that is worrisome and not the water’s effect on the metal.
Brass is softer than steel and thus doesn’t do well against rushing water.
Stainless steel will actually last longer in rushing water than brass.
In other cases, however, brass can resist corrosion longer than steel.
Ductility refers to a material’s ability to change its shape.
Something that has a lot of ductility can change its shape quite easily.
If something does not have a lot of ductility can’t change its shape as easily.
With regard to steel and brass, steel doesn’t have a lot of ductility but brass does.
Steel is a rigid material.
It holds its shape well which makes it ideal for certain applications.
However, it isn’t useful for smaller machines or applications because it can’t change its shape as readily.
That isn’t the case with brass.
Brass has high ductility.
When in the right environment, such as heat, brass can loosen its shape.
This means that brass isn’t as brittle as steel.
An example is automotive parts.
Brass is often used for fasteners and valves because it can flex when the engine becomes hot.
With all that vibration, it’s important for metal to be able to remain loose.
Otherwise, it can break.
That’s something a steel fastener or valve might do.
Since it isn’t flexible, it holds its shape, no matter what.
In response to heat and vibration, the steel will break before it bends.
It’s also why brass is used in jewelry more often than steel.
During manufacture, it’s easier for machines to shape the brass into the desired jewelry piece.
If they were to use steel, then a lot of time and effort would have to go into shaping the steel.
It could end up making the jewelry piece more expensive than it’s actually worth.
Because of its ductility, brass can remain flexible and sees a lot of use in small machines, in parts that become hot, and in jewelry.
5. Cost Of Manufacture
Another area in which steel and brass differ is the cost it takes to create them.
Steel is cheap to make.
That’s because iron is one of the most abundant metals in the world.
Humankind has also been mining and using iron for centuries.
The manufacturing process is as efficient as it can be.
Because of that, creating steel is cheap and doesn’t take a lot of time.
When you buy products made out of steel, they tend to come at a cheaper price compared to other materials.
That isn’t the case with brass.
Brass is more expensive because it involves the mining of two different metals.
Zinc and copper are still plentiful but not quite as plentiful as iron.
Since it relies on two different metals, rather than a more readily available substance like iron, the manufacturing process is longer and a bit more difficult.
Since it requires more effort and time, brass is more expensive than steel.
When comparing a steel product with a brass product, depending on the application of the product, brass is going to be more expensive than steel.
One area in which steel wins out against brass is durability.
There’s no question that when comparing the two, steel has higher durability than brass.
It can withstand a lot more damage before falling apart.
When treated with chromium, stainless steel has even more durability than brass.
That said, brass does have greater durability in some applications.
When used in water, for example, brass is going to have higher durability than steel.
That’s because brass won’t corrode as fast as steel.
It’ll be able to maintain its shape and conformity longer.
Brass’s ability to flex also helps it in certain situations.
Steel can become brittle in certain situations because it can’t flex.
In that case, brass is going to be more durable because it can flex and soften a blow.
Steel’s ability to withstand strong winds, strong currents, and mild tremors makes it an ideal building material.
When architects want a building to last, then they usually turn to stainless steel.
7. Acidic Reactions
Another type of corrosion to consider is the metal’s response to nitric or citric solutions.
Nitric and citric acids can cause a lot of damage to certain types of metal.
It can eat away at the metal’s surface and weaken it.
That’s why many petroleum manufacturers will choose steel over brass when transporting petroleum.
Petroleum has several corrosive solutions within it.
These corrosive attributes don’t mix well with brass.
It starts to eat away at the copper and zinc composition because they’re softer metals.
Steel, on the other hand, does a better job of withstanding acidic conditions.
Stainless steel is primarily used in petroleum products because it has a high resistance to the acidic solutions within the fuel.
Steel and brass are different because steel has a higher resistance to nitric and citric acid solutions.
8. Electrical Conductivity
Another difference between steel and brass is its ability to conduct electricity.
Certain materials are better conductors than others.
This means that the material can move an electrical current faster and more efficiently than others.
When comparing steel and brass, brass is the better electrical conductor.
It’s because of the materials used to make brass that make it a better conductor than steel.
When comparing electrical conductivity, scientists discovered that copper is the second-most conductive metal in the world.
This means it allows the movement of electrons to occur with minimal resistance.
The first place goes to silver for the most conductive metal.
Since brass contains copper, it has great conductivity.
However, it also has zinc.
Zinc isn’t as great as a conductor of electricity.
It slows down the movement of the electrons.
Because of that, brass isn’t as good as copper, but it is better than steel.
Iron isn’t that good of a conductor either.
It’s even worse than zinc.
Because steel mixes iron with carbon, it’s basically the worst conductor of all the common metals.
That’s why many electricians advise switching out steel wires with brass ones.
Not only can it prevent electrical fires, but it makes it a lot easier for the home to receive electricity.
Since it requires less effort from the grid, it uses less power overall.
Steel and brass are different because brass conducts electricity better than steel.
9. Thermal Conductivity
Thermal conductivity is a material’s ability to conduct heat efficiently without losing its own integrity.
Comparing steel and brass, it’s brass that wins out.
Brass has great thermal conductivity because of its use of copper.
Copper can retain its shape and integrity without degrading in the presence or absence of heat.
As a result, it can withstand extremely hot temperatures.
Brass also has this ability thanks to its mixture of copper and zinc.
Manufacturers tend to use brass for various types of piping that become hot.
Plumbing that carries hot water is one of the most common applications.
Certain parts of a car also use brass because car engines can become seriously hot.
Steel doesn’t conduct heat as well.
In fact, it can break under freezing temperatures.
If you have steel pipes that deliver water to your home, then it’s always important to keep your home heated.
Otherwise, the cold temperature can make the steel pipe brittle.
When pressure builds in the brittle pipe, it can make it burst.
Brass and steel are different because brass is a better conductor of heat than steel.
A final difference between steel and brass is in their applications.
Because of the metals used in their composition, it makes each appropriate for different applications.
Because steel is durable and long-lasting, it’s best used in construction applications.
Architects like to use steel to form the structural body of bridges, homes, and other buildings.
Stainless steel is also found in cars.
It tends to make up the larger parts and body of the car.
Anything that requires a strong, durable, and long-lasting metal tends to be made of steel.
When a project is smaller and needs delicate manufacturing, then they use brass.
Brass is a material that can be easily formed and shaped to one’s needs.
It’s often used for plumbing, to make valves and fasteners in engines, and is even popular in jewelry and musical instruments.
Its ability to conduct heat and electricity also makes it ideal for electrical and plumbing work.
Steel projects tend to be large and focused on durability whereas brass projects tend to be smaller and require more finesse.
Is Steel Or Brass Better?
Understanding the differences between steel and brass can make it easier to determine which is better for your project.
Ultimately, you want to use steel when your project needs a lot of support and durability.
Steel sheets, especially ones treated with chromium, can last for decades.
Stainless steel sheets ensure that the metal doesn’t fall prey to corrosion as quickly.
It also tends to be the cheapest metal.
If you’re working on a budget, then steel is going to be more friendly towards that than other metal sheets.
You want to use brass if you’re doing any type of electrical, plumbing, or automotive work.
Its thermal and electrical conductivity are far superior to steel and do a better job of keeping your home safe.
It’s also better to use brass if you’re doing small projects like making jewelry or repairing a musical instrument.
You can heat the brass with a torch or heat gun, then safely bend it into the shape that you need.
As it cools, it will maintain the position.
Finally, you’ll want to use brass if you’re repairing your car.
Whether it’s a new valve, fastener, or even a pipe, brass is the material that you need to keep your car safe.
It’ll flex when your car engine is running to ensure it doesn’t break off by remaining rigid.
Which Is Better Quality: Brass Or Stainless Steel?
If you’re trying to figure out whether brass or steel has the better quality, then it’s important to determine what you’re going to use it for.
In general, stainless steel is going to last longer than brass.
It has greater durability and acidic resistance.
However, brass has better corrosive resistance and ductility.
Because of that, stainless steel is of better quality in construction applications.
Brass is of better quality in electrical and small machine applications.
In terms of comparing effectiveness with price, stainless steel wins out.
It tends to last longer and is cheaper than brass.
There are several differences between steel and brass because one is iron and carbon-based and the other is copper and zinc-based.
Those properties make steel more durable and rigid, and it makes brass more conductive and ductile.
Both are excellent materials as long as you use them for the applications that they’re suited for.