The Types 302, 304, 304L and 305 austenitic stainless steels provide useful resistance to corrosion on a wide range of moderately oxidizing to moderately reducing environments. The alloys are used widely in equipment and utensils for processing and handling of food, beverages and dairy products. Heat exchangers, piping, tanks and other process equipment in contact with fresh water also utilize these alloys. Building facades and other architectural and structural applications exposed to non-marine atmospheres also heavily utilize the 18-8 alloys. In addition, a large variety of applications involve household and industrial chemicals. The 18 to 19 percent of chromium which these alloys contain provides resistance to oxidizing environments such as dilute nitric acid. These alloys are also resistant to moderately aggressive organic acids such as acetic, and reducing acids such as phosphoric. The 9 to 11 percent of nickel contained by these 18-8 alloys assists in providing resistance to moderately reducing environments. The more highly reducing environments such as boiling dilute hydrochloric and sulfuric acids are shown to be too aggressive for these materials. Boiling 50 percent caustic is likewise too aggressive.
In some cases, the low carbon Type 304L alloy may show a lower corrosion rate than the higher carbon Type 304 alloy. The data for formic acid, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide illustrate this. Otherwise, the Types 302, 304, 304L and 305 alloys may be considered to perform equally in most corrosive environments. A notable exception is in environments sufficiently corrosive to cause intergranular corrosion of welds and heat-affected zones on susceptible alloys. The Type 304L alloy is preferred for use in such media in the welded condition since the lower carbon level enhances resistance to intergranular corrosion.
Exposure of the 18-8 austenitic stainless steels to temperatures in the 800°F to 1500°F (427° to 816°C) range may cause precipitation of chromium carbides in grain boundaries. Such steels are “sensitized” and subject to intergranular corrosion when exposed to aggressive environments. The carbon content of Types 302, 304 and 305 may allow sensitization to occur from thermal conditions experienced by autogenous welds are heat-affected zones of welds. For this reason, the low carbon Type 304L alloy is preferred for applications in which the material is put into service in the as-welded condition. Low carbon content extends the time necessary to precipitate a harmful level of chromium carbides, but does not eliminate the precipitation reaction for material held for long times in the precipitation temperature range.
Stress Corrosion Cracking
The Type 302, 304, 304L and 305 alloys are the most susceptible of the austenitic stainless steels to stress corrosion cracking in halides because of their relatively low nickel content. Conditions which cause stress corrosion cracking are: (1) presence of halide ions (generally chloride), (2) residual tensile stresses, and (3) temperatures in excess of about 120°F (49°C). Stresses may result from cold deformation of the alloy during forming, or by roller expanding tubes into tubesheets, or by welding operations which produce stresses from the thermal cycles used. Stress levels may be reduced by annealing or stress relieving heat treatments following deformation, thereby reducing sensitivity to halide stress corrosion cracking. The low carbon Type 304L material is the better choice for service in the stress relieved condition in environments which might cause intergranular corrosion.