Steel and iron are important materials in our modern society. Some people may actually interchange the two, but steel and iron are very different. Iron is an element, while steel is an alloy made up of both iron and carbon. An alloy is just a mixture of two or more elements, generally two or more metallic, or one metallic and one nonmetallic. Other elements can be added to steel to create products with different characteristics. Stainless steel is comprised of steel and chromium; this product doesn’t rust and is very durable. Other elements that can be added to steel are silicon and manganese. By adding these other elements, one can control the strength, ductility, and hardness of steel.
Steel is the main product used in construction, as it is much stronger than iron and has better compression and tension characteristics. Iron that contains more than 2% carbon is called pig iron. But iron that contains less than 2% carbon is steel. Pure iron is very soft and susceptible to rust when in contact with moist air, making it unsuitable to be used in construction or in making utensils, cookware, or many other products. Steel, in comparison, can be up to 1000 times harder than pure iron, hence its widespread use in manufacturing many products we use today.
Although steel is much stronger than iron, it is still very malleable and thus able to be manipulated to create certain shapes. Because of it’s properties, it is the most common alloy used today. It is used for manufacturing weapons, vehicles, tools, buildings, and more. One famous building, the Eiffel Tower, was constructed from puddle iron, which is an iron alloy with very low carbon levels. If it was built today though, it would likely be made of steel.
An important form of iron is that found in our bodies. It is used to carry oxygen to the body in the form of hemoglobin. Many foods we eat are rich in iron such as red meat, tofu, beans, and fish. People who are iron deficient can take iron pills, to ensure that they don’t suffer from fatigue and weakness which is common in those with low iron levels. Vegetarians are among those most at risk for iron deficiency.
As you can see, there are many differences between iron and steel. Steel is comprised of iron and carbon, it is malleable, and has a greater strength than pure iron. Iron was very common before steel production became cheap. Today steel is used in manufacturing many products and for constructing bridges, railroads, buildings, and more. So next time someone confuses steel and iron, you can explain just how different they are.