Understanding the Difference Between Galvanized and Stainless Steel

Every fabrication project is unique and different steel will work better based on the applications where it will be used. When you ask which steel is better, galvanized or stainless, there is no one right answer without looking at the details of your fabrication project. When you are choosing the materials for your fabrication project, it’s important to understand the basics between galvanized and stainless steel so you can make the most informed choice, considering your budget, the elements your project will be exposed to, and the strength of steel you need.

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Stainless Steel


Stainless steel is made by adding chromium to molten steel. Stainless steel is strong and rust-resistant when in contact with water. Even salt water will not rust stainless steel. Welders who work with stainless steel need specialized skills, as they must exercise much more control when heating and cooling stainless steel, as well as ensure that all filler materials match with the steel being welded. There are several types of stainless steel including austenitic, ferritic, martensitic, duplex, and precipitation-hardening stainless steel. All of these different varieties are determined by the metal alloy that makes up the steel composition. The more complex the alloy, the greater the strength, but the higher the price.

Galvanized Steel

Galvanized steel is steel that has been coated with a thin layer of zinc. The zinc protects the steel from rust. Galvanized steel is used to make products resistant to degradation when exposed to the outdoor elements. Galvanized steel stands up to water, with the exception of salt water. Most welders who work with structural steel will have no issues working with galvanized steel. One of the disadvantages of galvanized steel is that the zinc coating will wear away after time and will need to be treated.

Determining Which Steel is Right for Your Project

While both types of steel are applicable to a wide range of products, one type will always be the better choice when looking at the other elements of your fabrication project. 

  • When to Choose Galvanized Steel

Stainless steel can handle salt water, but degrades quickly in chlorinated water, so galvanized steel is the better choice if the water is chlorinated. Two stainless steel components that generate friction against each other can weld themselves together, so galvanized steel is the better choice. Galvanized steel is the most economical choice for both labor and material cost. It is more ductile and easier to work with than stainless steel, and the price is comparable to untreated structural steel. Galvanized steel works well in smaller budget projects. It is often used in pipes and fittings in residential homes, as well as air-conditioning equipment, fencing, and hardware such as screws, bolts, and other small pieces.

  • When to Choose Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is stronger and more corrosion resistant than galvanized steel and is used in applications requiring greater strength, such as aerospace applications. Because of the strength of stainless steel and resistance to salt water, this material is often used in bridges, as well as other fabrications requiring superior strength like skyscrapers, sculptures, railways, and cars. A big budget, major fabrication project will often use stainless steel.

Speaking with your fabrication partner about the material options for your project is the best way to ensure you make the best choice for your project needs. Swanton Welding can help. We have decades of steel fabrication experience and a team of experts ready to help make your next project a success. Contact us for a quote today.

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