2 Dec 2020

What’s the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metal

If you’ve been investigating scrap metal and getting confused at all the terminology, don’t worry,
you’re not alone! There are so many different types of metals, each with its own uses, value and process for manufacturing and recycling.

Unless you are in an industry that regularly uses metals in its manufacturing or building, it’s unlikely that you would need to know the distinct properties of different metals. However, these properties can have a significant impact on the value, use and durability of metals.

For individuals and businesses looking to make a profit from scrap metal, it’s important to understand some of the basic principles of metal, most importantly the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

What are ferrous and non-ferrous metals?

Simply put the metals that can be used in recycling are generally classified into two categories; ferrous metal and non-ferrous metal. Both categories have distinct features that make the metals more suitable to some uses than others. The word ferrous comes from the Latin word ferrum which means ‘iron’.

Ferrous Metals

Ferrous metals are those that contain iron which makes the metal durable and gives it a magnetic property. Ferrous metals also contain a high carbon content which means they are prone to rust when exposed to moisture. Ferrous metals were introduced in 1,200 BC when iron production became popular and accessible, which in turn started the Iron Age.

While the majority of ferrous metals are susceptible to rust, there are a few examples. Stainless steel contains chromium which protects it from rusting, while the purity of wrought iron makes it rust-resistant.

Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-ferrous metals have been used since the beginning of human civilisation, with early non-ferrous metals including copper and bronze. Non-ferrous metals are recognised as being malleable, light-weight, non-magnetic and resistant to corrosion.

These properties are prized for use in industrial settings such as gutters, roofing, electrical products, pipes and aircraft.

Non-ferrous metals include:

  • Brass
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Tin
  • Lead
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Aluminium

What’s the difference in worth when recycling ferrous and non-ferrous metals?

While ferrous metals are available in far greater quantity and tend to be recycled at an increased rate, non-ferrous metals tend to be more valuable. There are multiple reasons for this. Primarily it’s due to the durability of non-ferrous metals. As ferrous metals are prone to rust, often it’s not salvageable.


Copper, tin and precious metals are also more valuable as both scrap metals and in its virgin state. Both metals are priced by their weight and value and can be traded as scrap metal through reputable metal traders. It’s essential you use a licensed trader when selling your scrap metal to ensure they are bound by law to identify and value each metal correctly, so you get the correct payment.


At Afresh Metals our experienced metal traders can help you identify your metals so you can get an accurate estimate for its scrap metal trade-in value. We are fully licensed and trusted as Melbournes’ best scrap metal dealer, so you know you’ll get the fairest price and best service for your metal trades.