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How to verify that "stainless steel" cookware is really not aluminum, or another harmful metal?

November 19, 2011

Is there a test prior to purchase that the layperson can perform (preferably in the store) to assure that the metal is really iron based? Apparently the magnetic property does not assure this. Whereas the relative weight of comparable serving spoons, for example would suggest one to be aluminum while the heavier to be steel and probably temperature to the touch would suggest that the colder would be iron based rather than aluminum. But comparable items are not usually readily available for examination. I have carried a small magnet with me for assurance that the pots, pans, serving spoons, etc are what they claim to be. But now I see that passivation alters the magnetic properties and FCC and BCC get into the act. So what is the shopper to do?

Thanks so much for any suggestions.

Carolyn Parsons
wary shopper - Mission Viejo, California, USA

November 21, 2011

A. Hi, Carolyn.

You are certainly welcome to be guided by your own lights and consider stainless steel safe and aluminum dangerous -- but it's a matter for opinion and debate, rather than established fact.

Short of a handheld x-ray fluorescence "scrap sorter" ($40,000) , you can't be 100% positive of exact composition. Still, stainless steel is conductive and an aluminum surface is not; I just checked and had good results with a very cheap ohm meter. No aluminum is magnetic, some stainless is magnetic, and most of it is at least faintly magnetic. Also, the weight difference isn't subtle: stainless steel weighs 3 times as much as aluminum; so even when not side by side, you should be able to tell. Good luck.


Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

August 21, 2012

Q. When I purchased a set of stainless steel cookware, the pots were magnetic on the inside. I recently discovered that the pots I use frequently have lost all of their magnetism (it remains on the seldom used pots). Would this be because they had such a thin layer of stainless that it wore off with use, or is there possibly something else that would demagnetize them? The cookware is about 5 years old. I am concerned that I may now be cooking in aluminum. Thanks.

Anne Pohler
- Hamilton, New Jersey, USA

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