In metallurgy, stainless steel, also known as inox steel or inox from French "inoxydable", is a steel alloy with a minimum of 10.5% to 11% chromium content by mass.
Stainless steel does not readily corrode, rust or stain with water as ordinary steel does, but despite the name it is not fully stain-proof, most notably under low oxygen, high salinity, or poor circulation environments. It is also called corrosion-resistant steel or CRES when the alloy type and grade are not detailed, particularly in the aviation industry. There are different grades and surface finishes of stainless steel to suit the environment the alloy must endure. Stainless steel is used where both the properties of steel and resistance to corrosion are required.
Stainless steel differs from carbon steel by the amount of chromium present. Unprotected carbon steel rusts readily when exposed to air and moisture. This iron oxide film (the rust) is active and accelerates corrosion by forming more iron oxide, and due to the greater volume of the iron oxide this tends to flake and fall away. Stainless steels contain sufficient chromium to form a passive film of chromium oxide, which prevents further surface corrosion and blocks corrosion from spreading into the metal's internal structure, and due to the similar size of the steel and oxide ions they bond very strongly and remain attached to the surface.
A few corrosion-resistant iron artifacts survive from antiquity. A famous example is the Iron Pillar of Delhi, erected by order of Kumara Gupta I around AD 400. Unlike stainless steel, however, these artifacts owe their durability not to chromium but to their high phosphorus content, which, together with favorable local weather conditions, promotes the formation of a solid protective passivation layer of iron oxides and phosphates, rather than the non-protective cracked rust layer that develops on most ironwork.