Quality of Stainless Steel Cutlery and Cookware

Are we always getting what we think we should be getting?

Is the lack of a national consumer standard (identification of product specifications and minimum food grade standards) a consumer concern? IE lesser grade products being sold at premium prices to unsuspecting consumers?

Not all stainless steel (SS) is the same!

Surprised?

Not if you have a PhD in metallurgy.

I don’t! However we noticed a tendency for a recently purchased new set of cutlery for light rust stains when put through the dish washer!

Were we being ripped off?
Basic metallurgy says the grades of SS typically used in food grade applications are equivalent to US types 304 or 316. Typically the second is what I’ve needed to use professionally in food processing applications.

At home some SS products may be labelled 18/8. This indicates 18% chromium and 8% nickel alloy content (by weight). Which is at least 304 grade SS. An interesting property of SS in these grades is they are not strongly magnetic.

Our know good quality and older SS is non magnetic, and some is even stamped 18/8. (For the nerds it is due to the grain structure and types of crystals that develop in the metallic matrix for those types of SS, described more broadly as austenitic steels.)

For Cutlery?
https://www.bssa.org.uk/topics.php?article=91

It’s only one view but points out the common differences.

Reality is that the type (quality) of Stainless Steel used in consumer products varies. Some SS is not strongly magnetic, while other grades, generally those that are lower alloy and thus cost may be ferritic or martensitic. This results in typical steel like magnetic attraction. Think fridge skins ( handy for all those fridge magnets), or plastic handled knife blades (handy to have a harder grade of SS and to help keep an edge).

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There are many Australian Standards for stainless steel. Perhaps what you seek is there.

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From memory, 304 is more resistant to chloride corrosion. It’s often marketed as marine grade. 316 is less corrosion resistant, but harder. It makes better knife blades. 304 isn’t magnetic; 316 is. Rarely is the grade revealed on the packaging or stamped on the product.

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316 is marine grade, 304 isn’t.

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Choice looked into this last year…

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Well 2015 anyway. It does not really address what is acceptable quality, and how do you really know for sure.

My observation is that not just the blades of our latest cutlery acquisition are magnetic. It is the whole set which is magnetic, indicative of a lower chromium content and very little nickel. None of the other SS we put through the DW has the same problem.

That many products appear to have no clear identification of the grade of stainless steel is a worry. That they come out of China which is notorious for offering up high grade samples and then selling lesser spec mass produced product adds to the concern.

A suggestion per the Choice guide that we should accept dishwasher safe as not dishwasher safe for stainless cutlery adds to the confusion.

We are aware that some stainless steel blades have high carbon, and possibly high molybdenum content to increase hardness for cutting. They do not go in the dishwasher. The same should not apply to forks, spoons, butter knives, etc. these are also staining suggesting lower grade product.

These simply replicate the ANSI or BS grades in our own way. Although OS product does not need to follow any of these.

Technically (simplified) any steel alloy which is at least 11% chromium by weight qualifies as a stainless steel. Much less than the nominal 18% Cr, 10%Ni, 2% Mo of 316 grade Stainless steels.

For Australia particular grades of SS are recommended for different applications. AFAIK there is no one legally binding requirement for eating and cooking products to be made from any one grade of product, Consumer beware?

Engineered food processing plant however does require minimum standards and appropriate design certification for support.

It’s worth taking a magnet to a few common household items. Our better than average but oldish Oliveri kitchen sink and new German made mixer tap are both non magnetic SS. This is indicative of an austenitic grade of SS which has both a high chromium and high nickel alloy component.

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You can buy cutlery made from all manner of things that may last well or hardly at all. Do all implements require to be durable or is it left to the buyer to decide what they should spend money on? It would be different if cheap forks are labelled as dishwasher safe when they are not.

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I also strongly suspect there are metal substitution rackets going with some chinese manufacturers.

Some 6 months ago I purchased a dish-rack clearly labelled as being 100% Stainless Steel it has clearly begun to rust in various places.

Unfortunately I did not retain my purchase receipt.

I am aware that if you can prove to the store that the item was purchased from them via it being an exclusive store brand etc. you still may have an opportunity to get a refund or replacement.

However I wasn’t able to prove the item was purchased from that stores and with no purchase receipt I had no legal recourse.

I am now skeptical about anything labelled as Stainless Steel especially when it’s labelled made in china.

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As outlined above, there is not one form/composition of stainless steel, but a number (of grades).

Different grades of stainless steel have different susceptability to rust. Stainless steel can rust and this article provides a good explanation…

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Don’t suppose you paid by credit card? If so, the charge against the store on your credit card statement would be enough evidence to make a warranty claim.

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But if it was Stainless Steel by any definition of Stainless Steel they might not have recourse. If the product description had perhaps made a statement that the product would not rust then the ACL would be able to be used. The statement that it was 100% SS is a vague claim, perhaps even a use of puffery, which is allowed.

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I guess Stainless just means that, after all they don’t call it Stainfree Steel. I asked a manufacturer once when all the cutlery I bought from a commercial cutlery supplier appeared with rust spots from first time in Dishwasher. I was told They never claimed to be stainfree!

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An interesting observation and response from the supplier. Thank you for sharing.

I still wonder?
Some stainless steel products sold into the home or trade markets may be made from lower grade materials. There are many grades of stainless steel.

Did the supplier indicate the grade or class of stainless steel alloy the cutlery had been manufactured from?

P.S.
It would seem appropriate that when we purchase stainless steel products, they should come with some clear identification of the stainless steel used, and hence the quality. Lower quality steel should not be passed off with a premium price.

Our splayds which we use every week and are now pushing towards 40 years young have never stained in the dishwasher and hold a perfect finish. They are stamped 18/8 which aligns with the original product quality and grade. As mentioned previously a relatively recent purchase from one of the twined kitchen appliance chains has readily stained in the same dishwasher cycle. There is a product difference. Stainless can mean “stain free”. It is all down to the quality of the product. Fast talking sales staff excepted.

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An article advising that cutlery stainless steel is inferior to medical/marine grade stainless steel.

True, although when poking around inside you only the best will do.

I referenced the British Stainless Steel Association previously.

The best quality table knives are made in two pieces using a martensitic blade and an austenitic (18/8 or 18/10) handle, bonded together.

Less expensive cutlery is often made as single piece martensitic knives, forks and spoons. This steel is not as costly, as it does not contain the nickel of the 18/8 - 18/10 types, but consequently has lower corrosion resistance. The corrosion resistance of cutlery made in this way should however be adequate for normal tableware use.
Cutlery manufacturers may choose to limit ‘life’ statements or guarantees on these lower cost pieces.

Which is why I wonder how well consumers in general understand there is a difference in the quality of stainless steel products?

And the differences may not be apparent to all!

P.S.
I do appreciate this is a bit like discussing which motor engine oil is best. Premium synthetic vs a high quality mineral only based lubricant. At least with oils they are all tested and graded to internationally recognised standards. That detail is added to the product labelling and specification.

For stainless steel products it appears there is no obligation on retailers and suppliers to offer any assurance as to the class or grade of SS they are offering for sale. “Buy beware!”

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That’s right. stainless means that the metal won’t stain from normal use. I doesn’t mean rust free.

BTW, in reality most metals are stainless, unless the metal reacts with the acidity or alkalinity of the thing being cut.

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Welcome to the rabbit hole, science content warning?

Stainless steel originally had no concise metallurgical meaning. It was a marketing team used to promote cutlery made from the new corrosion resistant alloys originally described as Inox alloy steels.

https://www.bssa.org.uk/about_stainless_steel.php

Stainless’ is a term coined early in the development of these steels for cutlery applications. It was adopted as a generic name for these steels and now covers a wide range of steel types and grades

As an aside, Inox is short for inoxidisable. Since rust is specifically oxidisation of steel, literally the Inox or stainless steels cannot rust. So stainless does mean rust free steel.

Simple:
It does not need a complex discussion. Rust staining on cutlery in everyday use and sold as being made from stainless steel is indicative of cheap low grade alloy and poor quality product. Perfectly ok for some if it came with a bargain basement price and limited warranty.

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A bit OT and not applicable to cutlery, but we bought some ‘cheap stainless clad rubbish’ rubbish bins maybe 15 years ago. Surface rust/discolouration was pervasive within a year and just spread, now about 50% coverage. They have become quite trendy decorator pieces. We did not have to pay any extra for their ‘premature failure’, such as is required with premium priced pre-ripped denims.

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I was looking for cutlery to take to work when I was working and when I looked at description ie. how many pieces, where made etc different grading came up.

I purchased 18/10 flatware…

When back at work again will purchase 18/10 lunch container.

Was given 304 pegs (have a dozen) when it comes to purchasing them will get Marine grade.

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People try to call that patina, which typically relates to brass/copper/bronze but not steel/iron so much … of course the meaning of stuff is as anchored as real news these days …

you wear pre-ripped denims? :wink:

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