Difference Between Metal and Steel

Main Difference – Metal vs Steel

Metals are substances that have unique properties such as excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, reflectivity of light, malleability and ductility.  Sometimes, the term metal is used to name chemical elements in group 1, group 2 and d block in the periodic table. It is also a general term used to name metal or metal alloys. Steel is a metal alloy composed of iron, carbon and some other chemical components. There are different types of steel made to obtain desired properties. The main difference between metal and steel is that the term metal can be used to name a chemical element or a substance with characteristic metallic properties whereas the term steel is used to name a metal alloy composed of iron, carbon and some other elements.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Metal
      – Definition, Metal Properties
2. What is Steel
      – Definition, Different Types
3. What is the Difference Between Metal and Steel
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Corrosion, Ductility, Electrical Conductivity, Malleability, Metal, Metal Alloy, Reflectivity of Light, Steel

Difference Between Metal and Steel - Comparison Summary

What is Metal

The term metal can be used to name a chemical element or a substance with characteristic metallic properties. In common, we call substances with a high strength, high electrical and thermal conductivity and high malleability, a metal.

Group 1 and group 2 elements in the periodic table of elements are known as metals. Group 1 elements are called alkali metals and group 2 elements are known alkali earth metals. These elements can form cations by removing valence electrons. Apart from that, d block elements are also considered as metals.

The substances made out of these elements are known as metals in common. These metals have unique properties known as metallic properties. Some basic properties of metals are listed below.

  • Metallic appearance (shine due to high reflectivity of light)
  • Very high melting and boiling points
  • High density
  • Excellent thermal and electrical conductance
  • Malleability
  • Ductility
Main Difference - Metal vs Steel

Figure 1: Gold is a Metal

Metals and their Applications

Some common useful metals are given in the following table with some of their applications.

Metal

Applications

Iron (Fe)

Construction purpose

Gold (Au)

Jewelry

Copper (Cu)

 Wires for electrical conductance, statues, coins

Magnesium (Mg)

Car seats, laptops, cameras, etc.

What is Steel

Steel is a metal alloy composed of iron, carbon and few other elements such as manganese, tungsten, phosphorous and sulfur. The percentage of carbon present in steel may vary. Steel can be categorized depending on its chemical composition. There are four main categories as:

  1. Carbon steel
  2. Alloy steel
  3. Stainless steel
  4. Tool steel
Difference Between Metal and Steel

Figure 2: Steel is used for Construction Purposes

According to the amount of carbon present, carbon steel can be divided into few groups such as,

  • Mild steel – carbon up to 0.3%
  • high carbon steel – 0.3-0.6% carbon content
  • low carbon steel – more than 0.6% carbon

Alloy steel contains alloy elements such as nickel, titanium, aluminum, chromium, etc. in different percentages. Stainless steel is a special type of steel which is resistant corrosion due to the presence of chromium for about 10-20%. Tool steels are made to withstand high temperatures and pressure conditions.

Steel is hard, very strong and ductile. But it is not resistant to corrosion (Except for stainless steel, which is made by mixing chromium with iron, which gives the property of corrosion resistance). Steel easily corrodes when exposed to a moist environment. Therefore, rusting occurs.

Difference Between Metal and Steel

Definition

Metal: Metal refers to a chemical element or a substance with characteristic metallic properties.

Steel: Steel is a metal alloy composed of iron, carbon and few other elements such as manganese, tungsten, phosphorous and sulfur.

Nature

Metal: A metal is either a chemical substance or a chemical element.

Steel: Steel is a metal alloy.

Corrosion

Metal: All metals can undergo corrosion.

Steel: Steel can corrode (except stainless steel).

Weight

Metal: Some metals are light-weight (ex: magnesium) but some are high weight (ex: iron).

Steel: Steel is a high weight metal.

Melting Point

Metal: Some metals have lower melting points than steel.

Steel: Steel has a considerably high melting point.

Conclusion

Metals and metal alloys are very useful substances in construction applications. Steel is a metal alloy. The main difference between metal and steel is that the term metal can be used to name a chemical element or a substance with characteristic metallic properties whereas the term steel is used to name a metal alloy composed of iron, carbon and some other elements.

References:

1. Helmenstine, Anne Marie. “What Properties Make Metals Unique?” ThoughtCo, Available here.
2.“Metal.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 20 Aug. 2014, Available here.
3. Bell, Terence. “What Are the Different Types of Steel?” The Balance, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Gold bullion ap 001″ By Slav4|Ariel Palmon – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Sinbeambuilding” By Zemangroup – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Madhusha

Madhusha is a BSc (Hons) graduate in the field of Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing for her Masters in Industrial and Environmental Chemistry. Her interest areas for writing and research include Biochemistry and Environmental Chemistry.

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