You’ve seen it before:

You’ve gone out to eat at your favorite restaurant. At some point, you wander past the kitchen, and there, amidst the clatter of pots and pans and the hiss of steam, you see the shine of stainless steel. Stainless steel covers the walls, if forms the countertops, and gleams in the enormous hoods over the stoves. The pots and utensils are all stainless steel.


Harry Brearly was a metallurgist working for Brown Bayley’s Steel Works in Sheffield, England. He had gained a reputation for discovering how the addition of certain alloys changed the properties of different metals. At the time, the world was a fraught place, and England was facing the possibility of armed conflict with some of its European neighbors. Brown Bayley’s was like many metal companies, and involved in the manufacture of arms. At the time, every army in the world had a hard time stockpiling weapons, as disuse would allow the gun barrels to rust and corrode. He knew that cutlery made in Sheffield seemed resistant to high temperatures and rust, and so began incorporating different alloys into the steel used for gun barrels. He found that adding healthy percentage of chromium to his steel rendered it impervious to rust. He called his 1912 invention “rustless steel”.

A local knife-maker, finding that Brearly’s steel also resisted the stains of things like vinegar and lemon juice, coined it “stainless steel”.

Soon, stainless steel was adopted by the chemical industry for storing things like nitric acid. The medical profession jumped on board, ordering up millions of scalpels and surgical tools. In 1931, the Budd Company of Philadelphia was making railroad cars. Eager to show the promise of stainless steel, the commissioned a 3-seat flying boat, the BB-1, constructed entirely of stainless steel. In 2010, China made 11 million washing machines with stainless steel drums.

Chrysler BuildingStainless steel is relatively hardy, and is indeed resistant to rust and staining. It’s still a primary material for medical equipment, a favorite of commercial kitchens, and used in aircraft manufacturing. It’s a major metal in the automotive industry. The Chrysler Building in New York City is clad in stainless steel, and you see it every morning when you stand over your kitchen sink…

Unless you have one of those fancy porcelain sinks.

There are five major groups of stainless steel, determined by the amount of chromium and the addition of other alloys. There are over 150 grades of stainless steel, which rank it by manufacturing process, the amounts and types of alloys used, heat resistance, finish, and more. Stainless steel is 100% recyclable, and the stainless steel pot that you buy on Amazon today likely contains about 60% recycled material.

And for all intents and purposes, your pot will remain free of stains.