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What is "food grade" steel anyway?

Contrary to what people may write, "food grade" is not an official designation. It's not a badge that a product wears with honor. It's an idea. 


The simplest definition of steel is iron with a dash of carbon. When it comes to carbon, a little dab will do ya (less than 0.5%). Today's steels are much more as several elements may be added to the alloy to enhance performance. Nickel and chromium are now used to make higher grade, safer steel for food products.

What is 18/8? - 201 vs 304

The two most popular steels used in kitchen and drinkware are 201 and 304. They are basically unidentifiable to the eye, but perform quite different over time.


Stainless steel is made possible by chromium. Both 201 and 304 have chromium. For steel to be considered "stainless" it needs to have at least 11.5% chromium.

What does chromium do? It allows you to roll hard in your drop top ... But that's not all.




Chromium is absolutely necessary for corrosion resistant stainless steel. The chromium combines with the oxygen in the atmosphere to create a thin layer of chromium oxide (only a few atoms in thickness). More on that all important layer in the care tips below.


But what about nickel?


The addition of nickel is huuuuuge if you want to make the healthiest choice for your drinking vessels. Nickel is slowly oxidized, so is essential in food (or drinkware) products. 201 contains less nickel and often none at all.

Check out this experiment put forth by Elkar when bleach is
added to the two metals. Don't worry, it's very short.

Why doesn't everyone use 304? You guessed it ... Cost.


There is fluctuation based on nickel prices, but generally you can expect to pay double for 304 steel over 201. For certain applications, 201 is just fine, but not for your drinkware products (as you can see above, yuck!)


My drinkware is stamped 18/8, I'm good then, right? No - Even if it's on the box, it doesn't mean squat.




There are no requirements on stamping 304 - 18/8 on metals. Most factories would stamp 100% recycled paper on a stainless steel product if you asked them to.

Many companies that sell in the United States will in fact stamp 18/8 even though it's not. At first, the two are generally indistinguishable by eye.


How do I know if it's 304 then?


At Real Deal Steel, we have great trust with our factory and still have, ALL of our product runs tested by an independent third party. We use QIMA; they are highly regarded in the industry. The key is to trust the company you are buying from, so that you are confident they took the necessary precautions. You must know they didn't just take their factory's word for it.

Will 304 - 18/8 ever rust?


There is a saying that goes: "It's called stainless not stain-never."


Even with nickel present, several factors determine if and when your products will be compromised. If the chromium oxide barrier is marred by scratches or cuts, the surface can be subject to oxidation. The good news is, it is self correcting as long as oxygen is present in the air. Wet and/or poorly circulated environments will lead to rusting.

What can I do to prevent corrosion? We could write another report on this, but we will keep it short.


Care Tips:


First thing is buy high quality (you got the hint on that one).

Proper cleaning: There is no such thing as over-cleaning your steel products. They thrive with frequent cleaning and you cannot wear them out. Dish soap works well and they do fine in the dishwasher.


Never clean them with a metal brush as it leaves particles in the surface and will cause rusting. Vinegar can be added as a cleaner if you need something stronger. Always rinse clean with warm water.


Common things that can cause corrosion over time consist of dirt, oils from your hands, grit from hard water. If you want your products to last a lifetime, warm water and a clean soft drying cloth is the best choice.
If you have any questions or just want to spit some knowledge, comment below or send us a message.