Stainless steel is a popular material that can be used in a variety of diverse applications, from transport and medical equipment to cutlery and chemical storage facilities. With its market worth around $205.88 billion back in 2023, and predicted growth to $205.56 billion in 2030, stainless steel’s favorability lies in its capabilities. 

This category of steel can withstand deterioration and high temperatures, sometimes up to 1150°C. It is also extremely tough and will not affect the environment, having the ability to be recycled after use. The grades of stainless steel can change its properties. Two forms of austenitic metal that may be of interest are 204 and 304 stainless steel. 

With differing chromium and nickel concentrations and, as a result, material characteristics, the question is raised about whether 204 or 304 stainless steel is harder. Read on to learn about 204 and 304 stainless steel in more detail. 

Understanding Steel Grades

Stainless steel is an alloy predominantly composed of iron, carbon, and chromium. It is renowned for its excellent corrosion resistance, durability, and strength. The addition of other elements, such as nickel and manganese, can significantly alter the alloy’s properties. This includes its mechanical strength and resistance to corrosion. 

The classification of these steel grades is based on its chemical composition and mechanical properties, with 304 and 204 being two commonly compared types.

Grade 304 Stainless Steel: The Industry Standard

Grade 304 stainless steel is part of the austenitic family, a group known for their nickel and chromium content. With a standard chemical composition of approximately 18% chromium and 8% nickel, this alloy offers a balanced mix of: 

  • Strength
  • Workability
  • Corrosion resistance. 

Its higher nickel content not only contributes to its structural integrity but also enhances its corrosion resistance. This makes it an ideal choice for a wide range of applications, from kitchen utensils to chemical processing equipment. 304 stainless steel can also use cold working to increase its capabilities, such as its robustness.

Key Properties of 304 Stainless Steel

  • Outstanding Corrosion Resistance: Its high chromium and nickel content provides superior resistance to oxidation and corrosion, especially in marine and acidic environments.
  • High Temperature Resistance: 304 stainless steel maintains its strength and mechanical properties at elevated temperatures. Its heat resistance makes it suitable for applications involving high heat.
  • Mechanical Strength and Durability: Though not the hardest type of steel, 304 offers a balance of strength and ductility. This allows it to withstand significant stress and wear.
  • Weldability: This grade can be easily welded with most standard welding methods, ensuring versatility in fabrication.

Grade 204 Stainless Steel: The Cost-Effective Alternative

Grade 204 stainless steel is another austenitic type. It is distinguished primarily by its lower nickel content, which is typically around 0.5%. This reduction in nickel is compensated for by a higher manganese content, approximately 5-7.5%, which still allows the alloy to maintain an austenitic structure but at a lower cost.

Key Properties of 204 Stainless Steel

  • Moderate Corrosion Resistance: With less chromium and nickel compared to 304 stainless steel, grade 204 offers acceptable corrosion resistance. However, it is not suited for harsh environments, especially those with chloride exposure.
  • Magnetic Properties: Unlike most austenitic steels, the lower nickel content renders grade 204 slightly magnetic.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: The lower nickel content makes 204 a more budget-friendly option for applications where high corrosion resistance is not critical.

Comparative Analysis: Hardness and Applications

When comparing the hardness of 204 to 304, it is essential to understand that hardness can vary depending on the steel’s treatment and manufacturing process. 

Generally, grade 304, with its higher chromium and nickel content, exhibits greater hardness and tensile strength. As a result, it is more durable and resistant to wear and deformation. This property, combined with its superior corrosion resistance, renders 304 stainless steel more suitable for an extensive range of applications, especially in harsh environments like marine settings or high-temperature conditions.

In contrast, grade 204, while offering adequate strength for many applications, lacks the corrosion resistance and durability of 304. This makes it more suitable for environments where less aggressive conditions prevail.

Ready to try out 304 Stainless Steel? 

Although 304 stainless steel is harder than 204, both have their advantages when used in varying structures and projects. 

304 stainless steel is an excellent choice for applications that require a metal that is strong and durable and can withstand deterioration. It can be utilized in the creation of vehicles and applied to marine environments. 

However, the types of stainless steel that fall under 204 also have their uses. 204 stainless steel is less expensive than 304 stainless steel and is durable. Therefore it can be found within furniture and kitchenware.

When deciding between 204 and 304 stainless steel, it is important to consider the types of applications they are going to be used in. We, Masteel, have 304 stainless steel available, as well as other categories of steel, including carbon steel. Contact us for more information on 304 stainless steel. Our experts are ready to help answer your questions!