One of the most beneficial characteristics of this smooth, corrosion-resistant steel is its hygienic quality. Stainless steel is easy to clean and can withstand sterilization techniques as good as any material ever invented. As a result, it has been the standard bearer for some of the more aseptically delicate tools such as eating utensils and Surgical and Dental instruments.
There are various classes of steel, each refined to meet the requirements of its specific purpose. Various levels of chromium, carbon, iron and nickel alloys are the main ingredients contributing to the makeup of stainless. The percentages of these materials vary according to the quality required of a given instrument. For instance, a surgical scalpel would require a different type of finish as well as the ability to withstand greater temperatures for longer periods of time than a kitchen knife.
Stainless Steel Classes and Grades
There are three major classes of stainless steel:
Austenitic – Made up of chromium, nickel and iron alloys with a somewhat low carbon content. Strong and tough, this class of stainless steel resists scaling and can withstand high temperatures. The highest percentage of steel products fall into this category, including cutlery and kitchen utensils. Type 304 steel is one of the most common grades, known for its toughness and corrosion-resistant qualities.
Martensitic – Made up of chromium, iron and a carefully regulated carbon content. This is a strong grade of stainless steel with some magnetic properties. Good for straight utensils such as knives, but doesn’t work well where shaping and forming is required. Type 410 steel is a common martensitic grade, best used where a hard and sharp surface is required.
Ferritic – Made up of chromium, iron and low carbon content. This type of steel doesn’t have the corrosion-resistant qualities some of the higher grades do, but it is the second most widely-used class. Built to withstand high temperatures rather than strength, lower-quality cutlery and some automotive parts are made of this material.
The Surgical Standard
It is incalculable how beneficial steel has been to the healthcare industry. Out of the multitude of uses for stainless steel, this may be its greatest purpose. For almost 100 years, this special alloy has played a vital role in providing the means to perform surgeries and other sensitive medical and dental procedures. With its corrosion-resistant qualities and ability to maintain a sharp edge, surgical-grade steel is ideal for medical procedures. It can also stand up to high temperatures, which makes it easily adaptable to sterilization techniques.
High-grade stainless steel instruments must be kept free of debris and stored in a dry environment. If properly cared for, these tools should maintain their effectiveness for years.