Stainless isn't all the same, even when it comes to galley gear. What do the different designations mean?

Stainless Differences in the Galley

Stainless isn’t all created equal, even in the galley . . .

As I began looking for new flatware (see my broken spoon story), I started seeing a variety of designations for stainless.  Now, for buying screws and bolts, I’m used to seeing designations such as 316.  But flatware uses “old style” designations such as 18/10, 18/8 and 18/0.

Hmmm . . . what do these represent and does it matter for galley items?

In researching, I’ve discovered that yes, it does matter for the galley — just like everywhere else on a boat.  And even if you’re in freshwater — or using ashore — it still matters.

The numbers aren’t important for strength in the galley — the thickness of the item in question will really determine the strength.  Whether it’s fork tines, spoon handles, or pans denting (or having hot spots), the thicker, the better.  Yes, there are strength differences in the alloys that can be important in items of the same size (such as bolts) but for galley purposes, the design of the item plays a far greater role.

The numerical designation is important for rust resistance.  What, you say??  Stainless isn’t supposed to rust!

In the two number designations, the first number refers to the percentage of chromium and the second number the percentage of nickel in the alloy.

  • Anything called “stainless” must have a minimum of 10.5% chromium and this provides some basic rust resistance.
  • Nickel isn’t “required” in the alloy for something to be called stainless, but provides additional protection.

Stainless with nickel is considered to be in the “300 series” — 316, 304, 302, 301 — that we often see on marine parts, and it is not magnetic.  Stainless without nickel is in the “400 series” and rarely found on decent marine equipment  . . . and it’s the stuff that is magnetic.  And without the nickel, it has a much greater propensity to rust, particularly in a salt water environment.

Without going into all the details (I’ll leave that to the boat mechanics), basically:

  • 18/10 stainless is very similar to 316 and has the greatest rust and pitting resistance — important if you envision washing dishes in salt water.
  • 18/8 is similar to 304, 302 and 301 — they are all slightly different alloys.
  • 18/0 would be part of the “400 series” and may rust and pit, particular in a saltwater environment just from salt in the air even if you do dishes in freshwater.
Of course, the more nickel, the more expensive.  True 316 marine grade stainless also has about 2% molybdenum, which greatly resists pitting in seawater.  In all my research, I haven’t seen any references to this in any galley products.

So, bottom line is that if you can find it and afford it, 18/10 will do best on a boat, particularly one in saltwater.  18/8 is probably going to be acceptable.

In reading lots of reviews on flatware, many people just buying for “homes” complain about 18/0 rusting, so I’d at least try to avoid it on a boat, particularly in humid climates with no air conditioning.  It is, however, usually the cheapest “stainless.”

While I researched this in looking for flatware, it’s equally applicable to anything in the galley — pans, knives (although note that less nickel does seem to equate to a sharper blade), graters, strainers and more.  Just one more thing to look at as you’re buying!

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  • Debra Trottier
    Posted at 09 May 2012 Reply

    Hi Carolyn! Stainless on a boat really can be an issue. I’ve taken to carrying a magnet in my purse at all times so I can “test” any thing I’m considering buying for the boat. It works well as many household items aren’t marked as to stainless quality. If the magnet sticks, I move on. Just make sure it’s not in the same pocket as your credit cards!

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 06 May 2015 Reply

    That’s for clarifying this for us.

  • Sue Peck
    Posted at 06 May 2015 Reply

    We just bought a new set by Paderno so will let you know how they fare..

  • Julie Rolandini
    Posted at 14 August 2016 Reply

    David Rolandini

  • Mike Lancon
    Posted at 14 August 2016 Reply

    Try seasoned iron to cook with and we used bronze flatwear to eat with. Look online for it?

  • Arlene Uzdilla Prescott
    Posted at 24 August 2017 Reply

    Very helpful! Thank you!

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