Stainless steels are selected for applications where their inherent corrosion resistance, strength and aesthetic appeal are required. However, dependent on the service conditions, stainless steels will stain and discolour due to surface deposits and so cannot be assumed to be completely maintenance-free. In order to achieve maximum corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal, the surface of the stainless steel must be kept clean. Provided the grade of stainless steel and the surface finish are correctly selected, and cleaning schedules carried out on a regular basis, good performance and long service life will result.
Why Maintenance is Necessary
Surface contamination and the formation of deposits are critical factors which may lead to drastically reduced life. These contaminants may be minute particles of iron or rust from other non-stainless steels used in nearby construction and not subsequently removed. Industrial, commercial and even domestic and naturally occurring atmospheric conditions can result in deposits which can be quite corrosive. An example is salt deposits from marine conditions.
Working environments can also create more aggressive conditions, such as the warm, high humidity atmosphere above indoor swimming pools. These environments can increase the speed of corrosion and therefore require more frequent maintenance. Modern processes use many cleaners, sterilisers and bleaches for hygienic purposes. All these proprietary solutions, when used in accordance with their makers’ instructions are safe, but if used incorrectly (e.g. warm or concentrated) can cause discolouration and corrosion on the surface of stainless steels. Strong acid solutions (e.g. hydrochloric acid or “spirits of salts”) are sometimes used to clean masonry and tiling of buildings but they should never be permitted to come into contact with metals, including stainless steel. If this should happen the acid solution must be removed immediately by copious water flushing.
Maintenance During Installation
Cleaning of new fabrications should present no special problems, although more attention may be required if the installation period has been prolonged. Where surface contamination is suspected, immediate attention to cleaning will promote a trouble-free service life. Food handling, pharmaceutical and aerospace applications may require extremely high levels of cleanliness.
On Going Maintenance
Advice is often sought concerning the frequency of cleaning of products made of stainless steel, and the answer is quite simply “clean the metal when it is dirty in order to restore its original appearance”. This may vary from once to four times a year for external applications or it may be once a day for an item in hygienic or aggressive situations. In many applications the cleaning frequency is after each use.
Good Housekeeping During Manufacturing
Stainless steel can be contaminated by pick-up of carbon steel (“free iron”) and this is likely to lead to rapid localised corrosion. The ideal is to have workshops and machinery dedicated to only stainless steel work, but in a workshop also processing other steels avoid pick-up from:
• Tooling used with other metals
• Grinding wheels, wire brushes, linishing belts
• Steel storage racks
• Contamination by grinding or welding sparks
• Handling Equipment
• Adjacent carbon steel fabrication
Stainless steel is easy to clean. Washing with soap or a mild detergent and warm water followed by a clean water rinse is usually quite adequate for domestic and architectural equipment. An enhanced appearance will be achieved if the cleaned surface is finally wiped dry. Specific methods of cleaning are as in Table 1.
Sections below give passivation treatments for removal of free iron and other contamination resulting from handling, fabrication, or exposure to contaminated atmospheres, and picklingtreatments for removal of high temperature scale from heat treatment or welding operations.
• Grades with at least 16% chromium (except free machining grade such as 303), 20-50% nitric acid, at room temperature to 40oC for 30-60 minutes.
• Grades with less than 16% chromium (except free machining grades such as 416), 20-50% nitric acid, at room temperature to 40oC for 60 minutes.
• Free machining grades such as 303, 416 and 430F, 20-50% nitric acid + 2-6% sodium dichromate, at room temperature to 50oC for 25-40 minutes.
• All stainless steels (except free machining grades), 8-11% sulphuric acid, at 65 to 80oC for 5-45 minutes.
• Grades with at least 16% chromium (except free machining grades), 15-25% nitric acid + 1-8% hydrofluoric acid, at 20 to 60oC for 5-30 minutes.
• Free machining grades and grades with less than 16% chromium such as 303, 410 and 416, 10-15% nitric acid + 0.5-1.5% hydrofluoric acid, at 20 to 60oC for 5-30 minutes.
“Pickling Paste” is a commercial product of hydrofluoric and nitric acids in a thickener – this is useful for pickling welds and spot contamination, even on vertical and overhanging surfaces.
Acids should only be handled using gloves and safety glasses. Care must be taken that acids are not spilt over adjacent areas. All residues must be flushed to a treated waste stream. Always dilute by adding acid to water, not water to acid. Use acid-resistant containers, such as glass or plastics. If no dulling of the surface can be tolerated a trial treatment should be carried out; especially for pickling operations. All treatments must be followed by thorough rinsing.
Solvents should not be used in confined spaces. Smoking must be avoided when using solvents.
Chlorides are present in many cleaning agents. If a cleaner containing chlorides, bleaches or hypochlorites is used it must be afterwards promptly and thoroughly cleaned off.
Source: Zhejiang Yaang Pipe Industry Co., Limited (www.yaang.com)