What is Surgical Stainless Steel?

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  • Written By: Elle Jay
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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The term surgical stainless steel describes a particular grade of stainless steel that contains a special mix of compounds. This common metal is typically used for medical instruments and jewelry. Specific characteristics found in surgical steel make it compatible with the human body, so it is ideal for surgical equipment, implants, and body piercing.

Manufacturers create surgical stainless steel products using a stainless steel blend that contains higher amounts of chromium, nickel, and molybdenum. These substances provide specific characteristics such as hardness, durability, and a polished finish that resists scratching. Two types of stainless steel are employed when making medical tools. Martensitic steel provides hardness to maintain firm edges and strength for long-lasting stability. Austenitic steel is softer and non-magnetic, so it works best in items that are implanted, such as pins or screws used in orthopedic procedures.

Examples of surgical stainless steel medical equipment include the scalpel and forceps. Surgery instruments are regularly exposed to blood, which is highly corrosive. The extra chromium in surgical steel protects against corrosion caused by exposure to blood and other damaging substances. Chromium also provides a scratch-resistant surface, which eliminates nicks or marks on medical tools that can harbor bacteria.


Hard edges are a vital characteristic of surgical tools, because they must stay sharp and precise despite repeated use. Molybdenum keeps stainless steel surgical instruments keen and rigid. Razor-sharp edges are imperative during surgery, because a perfect incision is an absolute necessity. Durability is also important for medical instruments, since they are continuously exposed to harsh cleaning chemicals and high heat for sterilization. Surgical stainless steel is highly durable, does not stain, and is antibacterial, making it especially suited for use within the body.

One of the most common uses of surgical stainless steel is in jewelry. Anyone with a pierced belly button or tongue should be familiar with this type of metal, because it is usually used when piercing these sensitive areas. People with sensitive skin require surgical steel earrings to avoid infection or reactions, especially in newly pierced ears.

Surgical stainless steel products are designed and created to work within the particular environment in which they will be used. Manufacturers frequently make a specific item according to a special order, based on very particular needs. Recipes for this type of steel contain varying degrees of chromium, nickel, and other compounds that work together to deliver the desired properties.


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