The difference between ferrous and nonferrous metals comes down to one main thing; magnetism. Ferrous metals are magnetic while non-ferrous metals are not. For example, metals like steel and iron are considered ferrous because if you hold a magnetic to them, the magnet will stick. Metals like bronze, brass, copper, and aluminum are considered nonferrous because the opposite will happen if you hold a magnet to them.
Typically, if you are interested in scrapping metal, nonferrous metals are worth a lot more than ferrous metals. Items like bronze, copper, aluminum and brass are all more desirable at a scrap yard then steel and iron. Granted, steel can be treated and made to be antimagnetic, however this is usually not the norm. Also understand that even though stainless steel can often be considered “anti-magnetic” this is not true in all cases.
The magnet test is the quickest and easiest way to decipher what category of metal you have and whether or not it’s worth taking to a scrap yard. If you have ferrous metal the scrap yard may not pay you for it or may require a minimum weight in order to scrap the metal for you. With nonferrous metals this is typically not the case since they are more desirable.
Even precious metals like gold and silver are considered to be non-ferrous. Often times these metals can be found in computers and electrical components and play a huge role in modern day electronics. These metals are not just used for jewelry anymore. Also, like previously mentioned, metals that are considered normally ferrous can in some instances be changed to be non-ferrous. One example is steel. A common material used in watch cases is steel, however many watch cases are anti-magnetic because of the concern surrounding the mechanical movement inside the watch. That mechanical movement can be ruined if it’s exposed to a strong enough magnet.
Most ferrous metals that have magnetic properties are found to be extremely useful in things like motors and electrical components. Sometimes magnetism is needed in order to make these products function properly.
Nonferrous metals are also much more malleable then ferrous metals. They are typically lighter and softer and are very corrosion resistant. It is for this reason they are often used for things like gutters, street signs, pipes and wiring.
In summary, the general rules to go by when deciphering the difference between the two are that ferrous metals are more corrosive, harder, and heavier than non-ferrous metals. They are also much more common and tend to sell for very little at local scrap yards. Non-ferrous metals are softer, lighter, and are more anti-corrosive. The most common way to test which category a metal falls into is by the magnet test. Your ferrous metals will be magnetic while your non-ferrous metals will not.
If you have a large amount of any metal and are looking to sell it for scrap, contact your local scrap yard for current prices and rates. They will tell you over the phone what they are willing to pay and how valuable your metal product is to them.