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Understanding the Basics: Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

Ferrous vs. non-ferrous metals might have been covered in a high school science class, but you’re not the only one if it’s been a while or you don’t recall the differences. This is a common question scrap metal recyclers get, and we’re eager to offer you all the information you need on the subject today.

While we discuss ferrous vs. non-ferrous metals, we’ll also cover environmental considerations, key differences, and a number of other helpful topics.

Whether you’re in the commercial and industrial sectors or just a curious individual, Scrap Gators’ mission is to educate our clients and ensure they receive top value for their scrap while treating them with the utmost respect.

4 Big Reasons To Sell Scrap Metal

Ferrous Metals 101

Ferrous metals contain iron. Their magnetic properties and tendency to rust when exposed to moisture are distinguishing characteristics. 

Common examples include steel, cast iron, and wrought iron – materials celebrated for their strength and durability. This makes them popular choices for constructing buildings, bridges, and machinery. They also serve a number of purposes in the automotive and manufacturing industries.

However, despite their utility, ferrous metals have a serious Achilles heel: their susceptibility to corrosion. This factor significantly limits their utility in specific environments. 

Non-Ferrous Metals Explained

Venturing into the world of non-ferrous metals takes us to materials that don’t rely on iron as a primary component. 

This family of metals is known for its resistance to corrosion, lack of magnetic properties, and generally lighter weight. Aluminum, copper, brass, bronze, and lead are common examples. These materials are utilized in aerospace, electrical engineering, and even creative endeavors like jewelry making.

Their malleability and conductivity are remarkable. This means they can fulfill roles that ferrous metals cannot due to their heavier and more rigid nature.

Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals: Which Is Worth More?

profits with scrap

There’s a good chance this question brought you here. As scrap metal recyclers, we are often asked which type of metal holds more value. The answer? Non-ferrous metals.

Why? Because they contain no iron, these materials do not rust and retain their structural integrity for longer periods of time. Non-ferrous metals are generally more scarce than ferrous ones, driving demand for them, and therefore, scrap metal recyclers are earning more when they bring these items in for recycling.

Distinguishing Qualities: Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

Next time you find yourself in need of a reminder, refer to this list of attributes that distinguish ferrous from non-ferrous metals.

  • Iron Content: The presence of iron in ferrous metals versus its absence in non-ferrous metals.
  • Magnetic Properties: Ferrous metals attract magnets; non-ferrous metals do not.
  • Corrosion Resistance: Non-ferrous metals boast superior resistance compared to their ferrous counterparts.
  • Density and Weight: Ferrous metals are generally heavier and denser.
  • Conductivity: Non-ferrous metals excel in conducting heat and electricity. 
  • Malleability and Ductility: Non-ferrous metals are more malleable and ductile. This means they’re easier to shape and mold.

How to Identify Non-Ferrous Metals

If you’re hunting for non-ferrous metals to recycle, you can take advantage of their earning potential; you’ll want to keep reading. 

Now, if you ever need to identify non-ferrous metals, there are some tried-and-true methods for doing so.


scrap copper

To start, closely examine the metal’s color, texture, and appearance. Non-ferrous metals tend to have a distinct color or hue (e.g., copper’s reddish-brown tint), whereas ferrous metals may have a more silver or gray appearance.

In terms of luster, non-ferrous metals can range from highly reflective to dull and matte. This differs from ferrous metals—they tend to have a consistent level of shine because of their iron content.

Corrosion (or a lack thereof) can serve as another visual cue – non-ferrous metals often have a layer of oxide on their surface, whereas ferrous metals may show signs of rust.


As mentioned earlier, non-ferrous metals are not magnetic. So, if you use a magnet that does not attract the metal, there’s a good chance it’s not ferrous.


Another way to identify non-ferrous metals is by their density. As mentioned earlier, they tend to weigh less and be less dense than ferrous metals. You can use a scale or simply compare the metal’s weight to known samples of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals to gauge this factor.


Non-ferrous metals are great conductors of heat and electricity. You can test this using a simple circuit or by heating the metal and observing how quickly it conducts heat.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability

The act of recycling both ferrous and non-ferrous metals plays an incredible role in environmental sustainability. 

We could write a book on each of the different ways recycling scrap metal is good for the environment. For now, we’ll touch on a few key points. 

  1. Conservation of Natural Resources: Recycling metals reduces the need for virgin material extraction, protecting our planet’s resources.
  2. Energy Savings: It requires less energy to recycle metal than to mine and process new materials. In turn, recycling scrap metal can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. Waste Reduction: By recycling metals, we divert copious amounts of waste from landfills. In turn, this significantly reduces some of the environmental hazards of waste accumulation. Metals in landfills can also impact our health. Learn more here: How Metals In Landfills Affect Our Environment And Health
  4. Preservation of Ecosystems: Less mining means less disruption to ecosystems and biodiversity—a win for all!
  5. Circular Economy: Metal recycling epitomizes the circular economy model, advocating for reusing and refurbishing materials to extend their life cycle. For more on this subject, read this article next: How Scrap Metal Dealers Are Supporting The Transition To A Circular Economy.

Why This Matters for Your Business

A grasp of the nuances between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is more than academic—it’s an advantage for businesses aiming to optimize their operations sustainably or anyone who wants to recycle scrap metal, whether for environmental or economic reasons. 

At Scrap Gators, we specialize in helping businesses across an impressive variety of sectors, including HVAC, aerospace, and industrial, to manage their waste effectively and responsibly.

We provide a comprehensive suite of services to cater to your recycling needs. From electronic recycling to on-site processing and commercial scrap recycling, our offerings adhere to industry standards and promote environmentally responsible practices.

Choose The Right Scrap Solutions For Your Business

When you choose an experienced and trusted scrap metal business like Scrap Gators to work with, you can ensure your business not only contributes to a sustainable future but also unlocks potential revenue streams from your waste materials.

For more information on how we can assist with your scrap metal recycling needs, visit us at our headquarters in Fort Pierce, FL, or check out our website for all kinds of information and insights into the industries we serve and the diverse range of services we offer.

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