What Is the Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Scrap Metals?

Not all metals are alike, and two of the major categories for scrap metals are ferrous vs. non-ferrous materials. This article walks you through the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metals, as well as how to tell what kind of scrap metal you have. Read here for a complete list of metals that Scrap It takes.

What Are Ferrous Metals?

Ferrous metals are any metals that contain iron. The name comes from the Latin word for iron, “ferrum,” which is also where we get the atomic symbol for iron, Fe.

Some of the most common examples of ferrous metals include:

  • Cast iron
  • Wrought iron
  • Steel, including high-carbon steel
  • Rotors & Drums
  • #1 HMS Steel

In addition, ferroalloys are also considered to be ferrous metals. These include metals that start with “ferro-,” such as ferroaluminum, ferromanganese, ferrochromium, and ferrotungsten.

What are Non-Ferrous Metals?

Non-ferrous metals are simply all other metals that don’t contain iron. Popular examples include:

  • Copper
  • Aluminum
  • Lead
  • Brass
  • Stainless Steel

Compared to ferrous materials, non-ferrous metals tend to be lighter and less commonly available.

Where Are Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals Used?

Ferrous and non-ferrous metals have their own pros and cons, making each the better choice for different applications. You’re more likely to encounter one type or the other, depending on your industry.

Construction: Ferrous Metals

Some of the strongest metals in the world are ferrous metals, and they’re used extensively in buildings, bridges, and skyscrapers. So, if you’re in the construction industry, you likely encounter ferrous metals every day.

Of course, there are some notable non-ferrous exceptions, like titanium and aluminum, which are stronger than steel by weight, but these materials are much more expensive than steel, making ferrous metals the preferred materials for construction projects.

Electronics Applications: Non-Ferrous Metals

Most non-ferrous metals are non-magnetic—the big exceptions are nickel and cobalt. This makes non-ferrous metals ideal materials for wiring and electronics because magnetic fields can interfere with electric currents and signals. Non-ferrous metals are also more resistant to corrosion and rusting, which helps non-ferrous materials maintain their conductivity over time.

If you work with electronics, chances are that your scrap metal will include copper and other non-ferrous metals.

Power Generation and Transmission: Both Metal Types

Magnetic interference might be bad for computers and hard drives, but it’s not always a bad thing. All modern motors and generators take advantage of magnetic fields to convert electrical current to mechanical power (or vice-versa) either with a permanent magnet or a set of non-ferrous wires that can induce a magnetic field. Additionally, both types of motors typically employ steel, a ferrous metal, as a casing material.

Consequently, if you work with electric motors and generators, most of your scrap components will contain both ferrous- and non-ferrous metals.

How Can You Tell Whether Your Scrap Metal is Ferrous or Non-Ferrous?

The easiest way to test your scrap metal for ferrous material is to use a simple magnet. If the magnet sticks to your scrap metal, then the material is most likely ferrous metal.

However, a few major exceptions to this rule are nickel and cobalt, which are both magnetic non-ferrous metals. Another example is stainless steel, a ferrous metal that may or may not be magnetic, depending on how it was produced. In any case, scrap metal recyclers consider stainless steel to be its own category.

If you have any questions about whether your scrap metal is ferrous or non-ferrous, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a local scrap metal buyer or yard to learn more about the makeup and value of your scrap metal.

How Much Are Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Scrap Metals Worth?

The price of scrap metals depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • Supply and demand
  • Ease of recycling
  • Ease of processing
  • Ease of recovery

By weight, iron is the most abundant metal on Earth, so it should come as no surprise that ferrous metals are worth less than their non-ferrous counterparts. In fact, while non-ferrous scrap metal is priced by the pound, ferrous scrap metal is priced by the ton.

The exact price of scrap metal changes daily, but the price of ferrous scrap metal is typically a few cents per pound. This is much lower than the price of scrap aluminum, which might be tens of cents per pound, and copper, which could be as high as a few dollars per pound.

Do Scrap Metal Recyclers Prefer Ferrous or Non-Ferrous Metals?

The best scrap metal recyclers have no preference for ferrous or non-ferrous metals—they’re willing to buy whatever scrap metal you have! If you’re looking to turn your metal into money, the easiest way to get started is to get in touch with us today for a quote to pick up and recycle your scrap metal.