How to Tell the Difference in Metal for Recycling
How to Tell the Difference in Metal for Recycling

Metal recycling in the United States has grown in the past decade as green-conscious information sweeps the nation. Metal can be recycled for money and some are worth more than others. A few simple tests, such as weight, appearance and magnetism, determine how to tell the difference between iron, steel, stainless steel and aluminum.

Aluminum cans
Aluminum cans

Determine how the metal is used. Copper is brownish-red and is usually found in wire or plumbing. Steel is often found in appliances, furnaces, water heaters and lawn mowers. Aluminum is used for rain gutters, storm doors, tuna and beverage cans, and heavy electrical wire. Car trim, exterior-facing car parts, range covers, hub caps, beer kegs and hand rails are usually stainless steel. Brass is used in small quantities in such household items as door knobs, sink drains, fixtures and with copper fittings. Bronze, a tempered brass that looks like copper, is used when strength is an issue in such things as high-pressure water fittings and fire-hose couplings.

Examine the metal to determine what type it is
Examine the metal to determine what type it is

Examine the metal to determine what type it is. Lead is dull, gray and heavy. Stainless steel is heavy, light gray, and has a dull shine. Steel may be finished with an enamel and will be quite heavy. Aluminum is light and is light gray. Low-carbon iron is very heavy and rusts easily.

Check the weight
Check the weight

Check the weight, which is the biggest difference between aluminum and stainless steel. Aluminum is very lightweight, while stainless steel is heavy. In addition to weight, you can test the two with a strong magnet. Stainless steel is slightly magnetized, aluminum is not.

Use a magnet
Use a magnet

Use a magnet. The most common metals found in homes are steel and aluminum. To tell the difference, touch them with a magnet. It will stick to the steel but not to the aluminum. Steel and iron are very similar and will both react to a magnet; the difference in the two is the carbon content. Most metal found in houses will be steel, which is more expansive, durable and common than iron.