Steel Iron: Difference between Steel and Iron

January 19, 2021

Steel Iron: 3 Factors that Set Iron and Steel Apart

Steel iron is two types of metallic materials that have a wide variety of applications. These two metals also often confuse people, as many people think they are the same when they think of them.

However, Steel and Iron are as different as the sun and the moon. Like the sun contributes to the moon's sheen, Iron contributes to the production of Steel. So, with regards to steel iron, it is safe to say that all Steel contains Iron, but all Iron do not contain Steel.

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In this article, we will clear the misconception that steel iron is the same. We will first explain Iron and Steel separately, and then we will highlight the key factors that set these two materials apart. So, without further ado, let's dive in.


Steel Iron: What is Iron?

Iron, or Ferrum as the Latins called it, is a naturally occurring metallic element that you can find in the periodic table of elements under the symbol Fe. It has an atomic number of 26. This element is the fourth most abundant element by mass present in the earth's core.

Iron has essential industrial applications. Commercial miners produce Iron by mining iron ores, but more on that later. The Royal Society of Chemistry claims that 90% of all metals refined today is Iron. This figure is enough to signify the importance of Iron in the contemporary world.

Apart from Iron's essential applications in the industry, it also has medicinal and biological applications. To put this into perspective, scientists at the University of California say that our blood is red because of Iron. It is an essential nutrient like vitamins and minerals that we source from foods like meats, seafood, and vegetables.

Moreover, Iron is also an essential nutrient in the plant kingdom as it plays a vital role in the production of chlorophyll in plants.

Therefore, we can say that Iron is the foundation of human life and our lifestyle's infrastructure.

Steel Iron: What is Steel?

When talking about steel iron, it is crucial to discuss Iron and Steels separately because of their unique properties.

Steel is an alloy of Iron. What is an alloy, you may ask? Alloy is a material that is a product of mixing metals or mixing metal with another element.

Steel mills worldwide mix Iron with carbon, manganese, phosphorus, chromium, and other elements to craft various Steel types. The composition of each element present in the Steel determines the grade of Steel. But all steels contain less than 2% of carbon.

Steel enjoys a leading position in the field of construction and civil engineering. To prove this claim, here's a fact: the construction of Burj Khalifa, the tallest human-made structure, utilized a massive 39,000 tons of Steel.

But Steel does not only find use in large infrastructures. It also helps make something as minute as a needle and as small as a bolt. So, to say that Steel is versatile would be acceptable.

Differences Between Steel Iron

We said in the beginning that Steel and Iron are as different as the sun and the moon. Now, it is time to justify our claim. Here are some of the differentiating factors that classify Steels from Iron:

Steel Iron: The Production

The manufacturing process of Steel and Iron is the fundamental process that sets the two materials apart.


Iron is a naturally occurring metallic element found in the deposits close to the earth's surface. These deposits are called iron ores, and miners mine these ores to extract impure Iron. On earth, Iron is never found in its pure state and is always extracted combined with other elements.

Therefore, after being extracted from its ore, Iron is refined mostly by the blast furnace process, which produces pig Iron or commercial Iron.


Steel mills worldwide produce Steel by melting Iron and coke and mixing other elements as required.

Commercially, manufacturers utilize two methods to produce Steel. These two methods include the blast furnace method and the Electrical Arc Furnace method.

In the blast furnace method, iron ore, coke, and limestone are fed to a furnace. The furnace heats the raw material until limestone reacts with iron ore impurities and coke to form slag.

At the bottom of the furnace, slag floats at the top of molten Steel from where the millers skim it off and retrieve the molten Steel from the bottom tap hole.

In the EAF method, scrap steel and minor quantities of other raw materials are fed to the furnace. The furnace electrically melts the scrap steel. This process also utilizes lime and fluorspar, which convert impurities into slag.

Types of Iron and Steel

Another classifying factor between Iron and Steel are their types. Iron has many different grades, but in this article, we discuss six of its primary classifications. In comparison, Steel has four classes that we will discuss below.


The six basic types of Iron are:

Pig iron:

Pig iron is the most basic Iron produced after iron ore is refined in the blast furnace. This Iron contains 90-95% iron and 3-4% carbon.

Wrought Iron:

Wrought Iron is a mixture of pure Iron and silicate slag with a carbon percentage of 0.02% to 0.03%. It is softer than Cast Iron. Thus, you can easily melt and reshape this type of Iron.

Cast Iron:

Cast Iron gets its name because of how it is made. It is molten at a high temperature and then cast into molds to make the required shape, much like plastic molding. Cast iron has a high carbon content (around 3 to 4%) and is very brittle. Its brittleness and higher susceptibility to rust make it unsuitable for many applications.


Steel has several different forms because material engineers and scientists create different types of Steel to fit their requirements. However, most of the types of Steel fall into four broad groups. These are:

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel is the most common group of the Steel family. They are further classified into two types: high-carbon steels and low-carbon steels. High-carbon steels contain around 1-2% carbon and are harder and more brittle. In contrast, low-carbon steels contain less than 1% of carbon and are softer and easier to shape.

Alloy Steel

Steel is already an alloy, then why Alloy steel? Usually, when we talk about Steel, we talk about the alloy of carbon and Iron. However, Alloy steel is an alloy of Iron, carbon, and other elements like Nickel, Copper, Silicon, or Vanadium, to name a few. These steels are highly resistant to corrosion.

Tool Steel

Tool steels are exceptionally tough and hard steels that find use in the manufacture of tools, machine parts, etc. These steels are alloys of Carbon and Iron with extra elements such as Tungsten or Molybdenum for improved hardness and wear resistance.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is the most common type of Steel that is found in every household. This type of Steel is an alloy of Carbon, Iron, and 10-20% chromium, which gives SS its trademark and renowned resistance against rust and corrosion.


Steel and Iron find similar applications in some areas, like construction, and wildly different applications in other areas like medicinal applications.

Applications of Iron

The most significant application of Iron, ironically, is the production of Steel. Apart from that, manufacturing industries still use Iron to make pipes, valves, and fittings. It also finds application in the various production process as a catalyst.

Iron finds application as an oral nutritional supplement in this medical field and is often prescribed to people with iron deficiencies.

Applications of Steel

Steel has taken a significant portion of applications of Iron. 52% of the Steel produced worldwide is used in building and infrastructure, 16% in mechanical equipment, and 12% in the automotive industry.

In the field of medicine, however, you can only find Steel in medicine trollies, surgical equipment, and machines—no oral intake of there.

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Steel Iron is different from one another but related. Steel is a product that uses Iron as the raw material. And, in chemistry, even minor changes in composition alter the properties of the materials significantly. The same is true for Steel and Iron.

Iron is a naturally occurring element that is a metal and is soft and susceptible to rust. While Steels were born as a result of efforts in strengthening Iron against rough operating conditions.

Therefore, Steel is an alloy of Iron and Carbon and is often harder than Iron. It is more resistant against rust, corrosion, and wear depending upon the composition of carbon and other elements in this alloy.

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