Which is better 304 or 420 stainless steel?



When it comes to stainless steel, there are numerous different grades available, each with its own unique properties and applications. Two popular options are 304 and 420 stainless steel. Both are widely used in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, and medical. However, the question remains: which is better? In this article, we will delve into the characteristics and properties of both 304 and 420 stainless steel to help you determine which one suits your specific needs.

304 Stainless Steel: A Versatile Choice

304 stainless steel, also known as A2 or "18/8" stainless steel, is one of the most commonly used grades of stainless steel. It is an austenitic stainless steel with excellent corrosion resistance, high strength, and good formability. The "18/8" refers to its composition, containing 18% chromium and 8% nickel.

One of the primary advantages of 304 stainless steel is its versatility. It can be easily fabricated, welded, and formed into various shapes, making it suitable for a wide range of applications. From kitchen equipment, such as sinks and countertops, to industrial machinery and architectural components, 304 stainless steel is a popular choice due to its corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal.

304 stainless steel is highly resistant to oxidation and corrosion in most environments, including atmospheric conditions and mildly acidic or alkaline solutions. It is often used in the food and beverage industry, as it does not react with acidic foods or beverages, ensuring the integrity and safety of the products. Its resistance to corrosion is attributed to the presence of chromium, which forms a thin, transparent oxide layer on the surface, known as the passive film. This passive film acts as a protective barrier, preventing further corrosion and ensuring the longevity of the material.

420 Stainless Steel: Enhanced Strength and Hardness

420 stainless steel, also known as "cutlery grade" stainless steel, is a martensitic stainless steel with a higher carbon content than 304 stainless steel. This increased carbon content improves its hardness and strength, making it ideal for applications that require enhanced wear resistance.

One of the primary advantages of 420 stainless steel is its hardness. Due to its martensitic structure, it can be hardened by heat treatment, reaching a hardness level of approximately 50 HRC. This makes it suitable for applications such as surgical instruments, cutlery, and industrial blades that require sharp edges and resistance to wear and corrosion.

However, it is important to note that 420 stainless steel is not as corrosion resistant as 304 stainless steel. It contains a lower percentage of chromium, usually around 12-14%, which limits its ability to form a protective passive film. As a result, 420 stainless steel is more prone to corrosion and pitting in certain environments, particularly in acidic or chloride-rich conditions. Therefore, proper care and maintenance are essential to prevent deterioration and ensure its longevity.

The Comparison: 304 vs. 420 Stainless Steel

Now that we have a basic understanding of the characteristics of both 304 and 420 stainless steel, let's compare them in various aspects to determine which one is better suited for different applications.

Corrosion Resistance

When it comes to corrosion resistance, 304 stainless steel outperforms 420 stainless steel. The higher chromium content in 304 stainless steel forms a protective oxide layer, providing excellent resistance to corrosion in most environments. It is suitable for outdoor applications, as well as exposure to mildly acidic or alkaline solutions.

On the other hand, 420 stainless steel is more susceptible to corrosion and pitting, particularly in acidic or chloride-rich conditions. It is not recommended for applications where corrosion resistance is a critical requirement. However, with proper care and maintenance, its corrosion resistance can be improved.

Strength and Hardness

In terms of strength and hardness, 420 stainless steel has an advantage over 304 stainless steel. The higher carbon content in 420 stainless steel increases its hardness and strength, making it suitable for applications that require enhanced wear resistance. It is commonly used in the manufacturing of cutlery, surgical instruments, and industrial blades. However, it is worth noting that the higher hardness of 420 stainless steel also makes it more brittle and less ductile than 304 stainless steel.

304 stainless steel, although not as hard as 420 stainless steel, still offers considerable strength and can withstand various mechanical stresses. Its excellent formability also makes it suitable for fabrication and shaping processes.

Magnetic Properties

Another difference between 304 and 420 stainless steel lies in their magnetic properties. 420 stainless steel is considered a magnetic grade due to its martensitic structure. This magnetic property can be advantageous in certain applications, such as magnetic separators or components that require magnetic responsiveness.

On the other hand, 304 stainless steel is generally non-magnetic in its annealed state. However, it can become slightly magnetic when cold worked or exposed to high temperatures during fabrication processes such as welding. The level of magnetism in 304 stainless steel is typically low and does not affect its corrosion resistance or overall performance.

Cost and Availability

In terms of cost, 304 stainless steel is generally more expensive than 420 stainless steel. The higher content of nickel and chromium in 304 stainless steel contributes to its higher price. However, the exact cost may vary depending on factors such as current market conditions, quantity ordered, and specific requirements.

Both 304 and 420 stainless steel are readily available in various forms, including sheets, plates, bars, and tubes. Due to their widespread use, they are typically stocked by suppliers, making them easily accessible for various applications.


In summary, both 304 and 420 stainless steel have their own distinct advantages and applications. While 304 stainless steel offers superior corrosion resistance and versatility, 420 stainless steel provides enhanced hardness and strength. The choice between the two largely depends on the specific requirements of your application.

If corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal are crucial, 304 stainless steel would be the better option. Its excellent resistance to oxidation and corrosion makes it suitable for various industries, including the food and beverage industry, architecture, and automotive.

On the other hand, if wear resistance and hardness are the primary concerns, 420 stainless steel may be the preferred choice. Its higher carbon content provides superior hardness and strength, making it suitable for applications such as cutlery, surgical instruments, and industrial blades.

In conclusion, understanding the properties and characteristics of different stainless steel grades is essential for selecting the most suitable material for your specific application. Consider factors such as corrosion resistance, strength, hardness, and cost to make an informed decision. Consult with stainless steel professionals or suppliers to ensure you choose the right grade that meets your requirements.


Just tell us your requirements, we can do more than you can imagine.
Send your inquiry
Chat with Us

Send your inquiry

Choose a different language
Current language:English