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Aluminum vs. Steel: What’s a Better Fit for your Facility?

Two of the most common materials found in hospitals are stainless steel and aluminum.

These metals share some characteristics but also have their differences. When it comes to medical equipment and furniture, there are benefits and downsides to both of the materials. Let’s take a closer look at these two metals to figure out what is the better option for your healthcare facility.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is one of the strongest metals used for everyday healthcare applications, but not all stainless is the same. In fact, there are hundreds of different grades of stainless steel that all have minor differences. The main reason for the different grades of stainless comes from the chemical composition of the metal. With all of the grades of stainless steel, the differences between them can be confusing, especially with similar names. For example, a very common grade of stainless steel is 304, but there is also a 304L grade. So what is the difference between them?

The difference between 304 and 304L comes from the chemical composition of the two, specifically the amount of carbon in the metal. Grade 304 stainless has a maximum of .08% carbon, while 304L has a maximum of .03%. The rest of the composition of the two grades is practically identical with iron making up the difference. While this difference seems miniscule, it does have an impact on the performance of the stainless steel.

304 is generally considered to be stronger than 304L. For example, if you had two identical stainless steel baskets, one made from 304 and one made from 304L, the 304 grade structurally stronger than the 304L. So why would anyone choose to use 304L?

304L excels in welding applications. The lower level of carbon helps minimize carbide precipitation during the welding process. This allows 304L to be used in the “as-welded” state, even in severe corrosive environments. Using grade 304L eliminates the need to anneal weld joints prior to the final use, meaning that it can save time and money during the manufacturing process.


Aluminum is the second most abundant metallic element in the earth’s crust, but it has been produced in commercial quantities for industrial applications for just over 100 years.

However, since it first started being produced in large quantities, the uses for aluminum have been exploding. Aluminum is a lightweight material in comparison with other metals, while still having a considerable amount of strength. This is the reason that aluminum is the metal of choice when designing planes.

Like stainless steel, aluminum also has many grades with slight variations in their performances that are suited for different applications. Aluminum alloy 1100 for example, is commercially pure aluminum that is commonly used in chemical and food processing. Aluminum alloy 2014 on the other hand, is a copper based alloy with very high strength, which is why its commonly used in aerospace structural applications. The most commonly used alloy of aluminum however is 3003. Alloy 3003 is commercially pure, but with added manganese which improves its strength to 20% stronger than 1100. Aluminum alloy 3003 also has great workability and corrosion resistance which help make it one of the most common alloys.

Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel in the Healthcare Setting

In hospitals, both aluminum and stainless steel have their place, and are oftentimes substitutes in similar products. In general, stainless steel is considered to be the stronger material while aluminum is more lightweight. Let’s take a look at how this affects specific product applications.

Stainless Steel Utility Carts

Lakeside’s classic Utility Carts are manufactured using stainless steel in order to provide top of the line strength and durability. These carts can carry large loads up to 1500 lbs. depending on the model. The popular 311 Utility Cart for example, boasts a carrying capacity of 300 lbs. while only weighing in at around 30 lbs. itself. That is some serious strength, but not the only great benefit of using stainless steel. Another great quality of stainless is how easy it is to sanitize before and after use. Germs are everywhere in hospitals, but using a material like stainless steel is perfect because it is super easy to clean due to its chemical properties and natural resistance to bacteria.

There are many other common uses for stainless steel in healthcare settings such as case carts, equipment stands, tables, IV stands, wheelchairs, and even surgical instruments and tools.

Aluminum Hybrid Crash Cart

A great example of the benefits of aluminum in healthcare equipment comes from the Lakeside Preferred Hybrid Elite Carts. These carts are made using a hybrid of steel and aluminum, providing the best of both worlds. The steel frame provides the strength to make these carts super durable, while the aluminum drawers make the cart much lighter than all-steel construction. The lightweight design adds tons of flexibility and improves the overall maneuverability of the cart. These carts also come equipped with ergonomic handles that aid in making the transport and placement of the cart easier. Lightweight equipment is much better for staff to move around compared to heavy all-steel carts. Aluminum carts can lower the chance of staff getting injured from picking up and moving around heavy and bulky equipment.

Aluminum is used for many common healthcare products and equipment like trays, bedpans, containers, furniture, as well as in surgical applications.

Both stainless steel and aluminum are great materials in hospital applications, and can work together very well, as shown in the hybrid elite carts. Most hospitals have both metals throughout their facilities, as they both are used to manufacture essential medical equipment.

Lakeside manufacturing understands the benefits of both stainless steel and aluminum, and utilizes both metals throughout the product catalog. Contact us with any questions on the benefits of stainless and aluminum, and how we use it to create innovative products for your facility. Let’s discuss which types of products will be the right fit for you hospital!

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