304 vs 304L Stainless Steels – What’s the Difference Between the two?

The existence of these stainless steel variants can cause some confusion—especially when the names & formulations of two stainless steel alloys are almost the same. This is the case with grade 304 and 304L stainless steels.

304 and 304L stainless steels are among the most versatile and widely used of all the stainless steel grades. So, what’s the difference between the two stainless steel?

304 & 304L stinless steels bar for precision engineering and precision CNC turning

Benefits of 304 and 304L Stainless Steel

High strength
Excellent Formability and Weldability
Excellent Low-Temperature Properties
Great Response to Hardening by Cold Working
High Corrosion/Oxidation Resistance
Carefully Controlled Chemical Composition
Affordable Cost

304 and 304L can be press-baked or roll-formed into numerous shapes for various applications across industrial, architectural and transportation sectors.

What is the Difference Between 304 and 304L Stainless Steel?

The Mechanical Difference
Grade 304L has a slight, but noticeable, reduction in key mechanical performance characteristics compared to the “standard” grade 304 stainless steel alloy.

The Corrosion Difference
When it comes to variations between 304 and 304L stainless steel, an essential thing to note is the latter’s greater immunity to intergranular corrosion. Intergranular corrosion is the cracking that can occur along grain boundaries of steel in the presence of tensile stress.

304 stainless steel has good welding characteristics and does not typically require post-weld annealing.

304L stainless steel also doesn’t require post-weld annealing and is widely used in heavy-gauge components where its immunity to carbide precipitation is needed.

Why Would You Want to Use 304L, Then?

So, if 304L is weaker than standard 304 stainless steel, why would anyone want to use it?

The answer is that the 304L alloy’s lower carbon content helps minimize/eliminate carbide precipitation during the welding process. This allows 304L stainless steel to be used in the “as-welded” state, even in severe corrosive environments.

If you were to use standard 304 stainless in the same way, it would degrade much faster at the weld joints.

Basically, using 304L eliminates the need to anneal weld joints prior to using the completed metal form—saving time and effort.

In practice, both 304 and 304L can be used for many of the same applications. The differences are often minor enough that one isn’t considered massively more useful over the other. When stronger corrosion resistance is needed, other alloys, such as grade 316 stainless steel, are usually considered as an alternative.

Common Applications of 304 and 304L Stainless Steel

    Precision Engineering
    Precision Parts
    Precision Turning
    Custom Machined Parts
    Chemical Processing Equipment
    Textile Industry Equipment
    Paper Industry Processing Equipment
    Pharmaceutical Equipment
    Architectural Moldings 
    Kitchen Equipment

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