To keep it simple, yes, stainless steel will set off a metal detector, but not always due to the threshold of the metal detector.
If you think that answer leaves too many questions, you should. Many factors go into a metal detector picking up stainless steel. Did you know that there are hundreds of stainless steel variations? That alone is enough to cause some variance.
But you also have to consider the metal detector in use and how it’s been calibrated.
I’m not going to lie to you. There’s way too much misinformation online about stainless steel regarding its detection. I’m not an award-winning scientist by any stretch of the imagination.
In fact, it was my worst subject in school. But I’ve been a detectorist long enough, and I’ve done my share of research on how different metals react to an electromagnetic field.
So let me share with you what I’ve learned. No matter your situation, you should feel comfortable knowing the facts.
Do Metal Detectors Detect Stainless Steel? Fact vs. Fiction
Ok, I’m about to blow your mind with this fact of the day. Contrary to what you’ve heard, stainless steel is a ferrous metal because it contains iron, among other properties.
I just about fall out of my chair whenever I see another article pop up, assuring me that stainless steel is non-ferrous. Now, why does this matter? Because if you don’t know what properties a metal has, how can you begin to understand how to detect it?
But don’t take my word for it. Thousands of articles are published on the US Department of Energy OSTI website, confirming this by people much smarter than me.
Now that we’ve nailed down this vital bit of information, let’s talk about electrical conductivity. For our purposes, if a metal is a good conductor of electricity, it is easier for a metal detector to detect its presence.
As for stainless steel, there are better electrical conductors than this one, measuring 1.4 million S/m, but it’s more than enough to set any metal detector off.
So why is it so popular for others to hold strong that stainless steel doesn’t set off a metal detector? Well, that has more to do with the metal detector than the metal. It depends on whether or not we’re talking about a recreational or a walk-through metal detector (WTMD).
Don’t worry; we’ll review both options, starting with the WTMDs, mostly found at concerts, schools, and airports.
Does Stainless Steel Set Off Airport Metal Detectors?
Triggering the alarm of an airport metal detector can be deceiving.
Stainless steel can set off an airport metal detector, but in most instances involving smaller items, it won’t because the technology is looking for more significant threats.
You see, TSA agents’ detection tools are more advanced than traditional detectors. They have access to millimeter wave technology that doesn’t look for the conductance of a metal. It’s focused on the form of your body and goes off when a slight deviation occurs in your outline.
So for those with body jewelry or metallic implants, you usually don’t have reason to worry. And more importantly for the TSA officials, the line keeps moving.
However, conventional metal detectors are still standard at airports. But for the same purpose of searching for real threats and keeping traffic flow strong, the calibration on these devices is set only to alarm when a higher metal threshold is reached. And your decorative Disney pins aren’t going to cut it.
If you end up setting off an airport metal detector because of your stainless steel, the TSA has a process to make this as painless as possible. A quick inspection with a handheld metal detector is the usual method to determine the cause before you move on.
Is Stainless Steel Worth Anything?
That about wraps it up for WTMDs, so let’s switch to stainless steel and recreational metal detectors. There are many reasons for metal detectorists and others to be interested in finding stainless steel.
Not only is stainless steel resistant to corrosion, but it’s recyclable, can be manipulated for any purpose, contains other desirable metals, and fetches a decent return for scrappers.
As of February 2023, the national average price of scrap stainless steel is set at $0.34 per pound. Not as valuable as copper, but still worth the time and effort.
And with the invention of the first piece of stainless steel dating back to the early 1900s, plenty exists, waiting for you to find. This takes us to our next topic…jewelry.
Will Stainless Steel Jewelry Set Off a Metal Detector?
Stainless steel has been used in jewelry since the 1960s when divers and pilots used it for more protective watches. But since then, you’ll find stainless steel in rings, necklaces, and bracelets, to name a few.
The smaller the stainless steel jewelry is, the more difficult it will be to set off a metal detector. But not impossible!
While the electrical conductance of stainless steel jewelry isn’t the best, the proper settings and adjustments on your metal detector will find any missing ring in your yard.
How to Detect Stainless Steel
So you’ve your metal detector ground balanced and ready to go. What’s the next step?
The difficulty comes back to the variations of stainless steel and the components that make them more or less detectable. But as with most jewelry, increasing your sensitivity will make those smaller and less conductive metals set off your metal detector.
How much should you adjust the sensitivity? Well, that depends on your metal detector and the environment you’re searching.
Your metal detector may have a set range that the manual identifies for stainless steel. Otherwise, you’ll have to adjust manually or make use of an at-home test garden manually.
Even if it has some presets, be aware of the soil conditions. If the ground is highly mineralized, increasing your sensitivity will have your headphones practically screaming at you, making it harder to find anything at all.
Best Metal Detector for Stainless Steel
If you think your metal detector is outside the task, you could always buy a new one! I’m all for picking up brand-new gadgets.
Most metal detectors have everything you need to detect stainless steel. But if you’re willing to spend a little more to get a technological advantage, you can’t go wrong with the Nokta Makro Simplex.
It has all the power of a $1000 machine like the Minelab Equinox 800, but without the eye-popping price tag most beginners experience.
Before You Go
If it’s a concern for a walk-through metal detector that brought you here, I’m glad I was able to answer your question and spread the truth to at least one more person. But if your goal is to find some stainless steel, there’s plenty more to know about this ferrous alloy.
Feel free to search my archives, but I recommend starting with this article on the corrosive resistance of stainless steel. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so valuable to so many.