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THE LASTING DECISION

The Lasting Decision

Stainless steel is a low maintenance material but not maintenance free. As the name suggests it is ‘stain-less’ not stain free. Long life can be achieved with stainless steel wire and mesh providing the grade that best fits the application is selected, applying the appropriate fabrication and following installation procedures – and with regular cleaning undertaken – it’s atheistic appeal will be retained.

However if your application is for architectural or external use and you want to maintain the stainless steel- silver appearance then it’s time to consider ‘The Lasting Look’.

The Lasting Look

You’ve made ‘the lasting decision’ and now for ‘the lasing look’. Cleaning with soap or a mild detergent or even an industrial cleaner is not a realistic approach with the fine meshes- as you cannot reach between all the weaves and the tea staining will continue to occur.  Pickling & passivation and electro polishing- is the solution! Please note as with anything internal or external cleaning and maintenance is still required to keep your mesh clean and preserve its appearance.

Pickling & passivation and electro polishing- is a simple and inexpensive process that will last and stand the test of time.

It is recommended than when stainless steel is to be used for external purposes that it be electropolished.

What is tea staining?

Tea staining is the brown discolouration of the surface of stainless steel caused by corrosion. It is a cosmetic issue that does not affect the structural integrity or life of the stainless steel. Tea staining occurs most commonly within 5km of coastal areas however it can also occur in polluted urban environments.

For further information please refer to The Australian Stainless Steel Development Association (ASSDA) FAQ 6. Preventing Coastal Corrosion (Tea Staining) and our BLOG post ‘Why Does my Mesh have an Unsightly Brown Discolouration’.

Why is maintenance necessary?

Surface contamination in the form of deposits must be prevented. These deposits may be minute particles of iron or rust from other sources such as tools previously used on carbon steel. There are also naturally occurring atmospheric conditions which produce deposits, such as salt from marine environments. The more aggressive the environment is the more regular the cleaning program will be required.

Cleaning stainless steel wire mesh

Maintenance program

The cleaning frequency of stainless steel depends on four points;

  • The environment
  • Position of the stainless steel structure
  • Stainless steel surface finish and structure design
  • Client’s expectations

A rule of thumb for cleaning external stainless steel is when you clean the surrounding windows also clean the stainless steel.

Cleaning

Wash surface of stainless steel (both surfaces if stainless steel mesh) with soap or mild detergent and warm water. Rinse in clean cold water and dry. Cleaning to be undertaken in accordance with table ‘A Guide to Specifying and Cleaning External Stainless Steel’.

Industrial Cleaning Product

Industrial cleaning products are also available and may be considered for harsh environments. Please source from a reputable surface finisher and follow manufactures instructions.

A guide to specifying and cleaning external stainless steel

Environment Grade 304 Grade 316
Clean Inland 3 – 6 months 6 -12 months
Polluted urban/Industrial Not suitable 6 -12 months
Coastal/Marine (not splashed) Not suitable 3 – 6 months

Source: ASSDA

Note: Rainwater is an effective natural cleaner, stainless steel that does not get rained upon will need more frequent cleaning.

Stainless steel wire and mesh care tea staining

The Lasting Look

We have discussed Tea Staining and unfortunately cleaning with soap or a mild detergent or even an industrial cleaner does not suffice with the fine meshes- as you cannot reach between all the weaves and the tea staining may return under particular conditions. Where this is an issue is when the mesh is being used for its aesthetic appeal in architectural applications or external applications.

The solution is pickling & passivation and electro polishing- a simple and inexpensive process that will last the test of time.

What is Pickling & Passivation?

Pickling and passivation are both forms of chemical (acid) treatments applied to the surface (often submerged in a bathing liquid) of stainless steel to remove contaminants (surface impurities such as rust) and assist in the formation of a continuous chromium-oxide, passive film that provides protective properties.

How does electro polishing of stainless steel work?

Electro polishing is a highly effective metal finishing treatment it is also referred to as the ‘final step’ in the manufacturing process. Electro polishing is an electrochemical process that uses an electrolyte bath and rectified current to remove a uniform layer of surface material from the stainless steel item.

Important stainless steel fabrication information

Stainless steel can be contaminated by carbon steel which will lead to corrosion. Ideally, a fabricator will have dedicated workshop and tools for stainless steel only.

Contamination can be picked up from:

  • Grinding wheels, wire brushes and linishing belts
  • Steel storage racks
  • Tooling used with other metals
  • Contamination from grinding or welding sparks from nearby carbon steel fabrication

It is recommended than when stainless steel is to be used for external purposes that it be electropolished.

What are the advantages of pickling & passivation?

Both types of metal finishing have great advantages for stainless steel wire & mesh

Pickling & Passivating when applied to the surface of stainless steel
– Removes contaminants
– Removes heat tint due to welding
– Formation of a continuous enriched chromium oxide protective layer

Both pickling and passivation solutions can employ dangerous acids that can damage both the operator and the environment if not handled correctly. Stainless pickling acids are highly corrosive to carbon steel.

It is essential that all acids are thoroughly removed by rinsing the component after completing the process. Residual hydrofluoric acid will initiate pitting corrosion.

 

 

Benefits of Electropolishing include;

– Remove surface flaws & impurities
– Remove high points and round troughs
– Passivates greater than any other process
– Maximises the protection of stainless steel against tea-staining and corrosion
– Brightens the surface finish to provide a bright and shiny chrome-like appearance
– Smooths the surface enabling the surface to naturally wash, thereby significantly diminishing the likelihood of future rust

For further information please refer to:

The Australian Stainless Steel Development Association (ASSDA) www.assda.asn.au

For technical FAQ’s, visit http://www.assda.asn.au/technical-info/technical-faqs

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