Scrap Metal: Tips and Tricks for Identifying

Identifying Scrap Metal: Tips and Tricks

Scrap metal recycling can be a valuable source of income to those who can work efficiently and effectively. Knowing what to look for and identifying what you have found is important. The value of what you find can differ significantly depending upon its composition. Certain metals (like copper) are simply worth more than others.

Once you have determined where to look, differentiating what you find is important. You want to be able to separate the metals accurately as certain buyers only want specific products. Additionally, you want to know exactly what you have to ensure that you are paid appropriately.

What Metal Have You Got?

Perhaps your friends and family give you their scrap metal. Maybe you collect it on bulk pick-up days. You may even gather it from trash locations. Whatever the method, you likely have a mix of metals in your collection.  Accurately separating them is your first course of action. 

Traits of Commonly Found Metal

While on the surface many metals have similar properties, there are also a number of traits to help differentiate them. Consider some of those shared below.

Copper: Often identified by color, pure copper is pink, but turns red or brown when tarnished. Have something that you believe is copper, but it’s green?  You could be right. This is the color copper turns when it oxidizes under certain conditions. Common sources of copper include, but are not limited to, electrical wiring and cookware. You may also find it in electronics and radiators. Copper can be incredibly valuable in terms of scrap metal.

Aluminum: This plentiful metal is light and does not rust, although it can oxidize, usually with a white, powdery surface appearance. Think about all of the soda cans you see in the trash and on the street - these are aluminum and easy to collect. 

Bronze/Brass: While generally less valuable than pure copper, these metals are still a good find.  Often located in the form of discarded musical instruments, sculpture art, and pipe or plumbing valves. These metals are usually identified by their yellow tone. But, it's not all yellow. In fact, two major grades of brass are 'Yellow Brass' and 'Red Brass.' Red brass contains higher levels of copper, generally making it more valuable than yellow brass. 

Stainless Steel: available in different varieties, this metal is often identified in discarded appliances. Scrap metal buyers may be interested in purchasing these from you.

Tools Can Help

While your eyes and hands (looking at color and determining weight) are great ways to identify metals, sometimes tools can help. One of the most valuable, and easiest to use,  are magnets. If the item you found is attracted to the magnet, then it contains a ferrous element. For all intents and purposes, this is almost always iron, although nickel and cobalt are also ferrous elements. 

Items that don’t respond to a magnet, for the most part, are not ferrous*.  Metals comprised of iron are referred to as ferrous. You can use your magnet to separate metals containing iron from others like aluminum. If you are interested in pursuing scrap metal sales, investing in a magnet is a good decision. Both portable and inexpensive, this tool can be incredibly valuable when separating metals and determining their composition.

*Stainless steels are ferrous, for example, but may not respond to a magnet. This is usually due to a complicated interaction between the iron and nickel atoms, and how the nickel changes the atomic lattice. In fact, just like the non-ferrous metals, stainless steels that are non-magnetic tend to be worth more than magnetic stainless. More information on sorting stainless steel will follow in a later blog.
0 Items