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What is Low Carbon Steel?

Charity Delich
Charity Delich

Low carbon steel is a type of metal that has an alloying element made up of a relatively low amount of carbon. Typically, it has a carbon content that ranges between 0.05% and 0.30% and a manganese content that falls between 0.40 and 1.5%. Low carbon steel is one of the most common types of steel used for general purposes, in part because it is often less expensive than other types of steel. While the steel contains properties that work well in manufacturing a variety of goods, it is most frequently made into flat-rolled sheets or strips of steel.

Items made from low carbon steel compete with products that can be manufactured using stainless steel and aluminum alloy metals. Low carbon steel can be used to manufacture a wide range of manufactured goods - from home appliances and ship sides to low carbon steel wire and tin plates. Since it has a low amount of carbon in it, the steel is typically more malleable than other kinds of steel. As a result, it can be rolled thin into products like car body panels.

Low carbon steel pipes.
Low carbon steel pipes.

The carbon content for panels that are made of low carbon steel alloy is usually quite low, generally less than 0.10%. The carbon content for products like rolled steel structural plates, forgings, stampings, or sections is a bit higher, usually up to 0.30%. Pipes are a common product made from the higher carbon category. Generally, a low carbon steel pipe is used for transmitting substances such as gas and oil.

The steelmaking process as well as the deoxidation method can influence the properties of low carbon steel. In general, these properties are comparable to those of iron. Lower carbon steels usually have softer and weaker properties than steels containing higher carbon content. This can make them easier to weld.

Other types of carbon steel include medium, high, and ultrahigh carbon steels. Medium carbon steel customarily has a carbon content ranging between 0.30 and 0.60% and a manganese content falling between 0.60 and 1.65%. It is frequently used for making products like axles, gears, shafts, and rail systems. Often used for making ultra-strength wires or spring materials, high carbon steel usually has a carbon content ranging between 0.60 and 1.0% and a manganese content ranging between 0.30 to 0.90%. Ultrahigh carbon steel, which can be used for manufacturing items like knives, is thermomechanically processed and ordinarily has a carbon content of 1.25 to 2.0%.

Discussion Comments


Interesting comments! Attaining low carbon levels (below 0.10 percent) has only been possible for the last 30 years with the advent of more modern process technology.

Low carbon steels offer superior strength and ductility when alloyed and manufactured correctly. Attaining steel strength using carbon is an antiquated method which went out in the 50's.

By the way, the brittle nature of the Titanic's steel at lower temperatures is directly attributed to the presence of MnS (Manganese sulfides); impurities that are easily removed with modern steel-making equipment. I may not be a "wiseGEEK" but I am a metallurgist.


The hull of the Titanic was made of steel high in MnS (manganese sulfide) inclusions; rendering it brittle in ice-cold conditions. Modern steelmaking methods have made it possible to create high-strength, low carbon steels with superior physical properties when compared to older steel grades which were strengthened primarily with carbon.

In contrast to the comment below, the microstructures created with higher carbon contents do not posses as high a ductility to strength ratio as those produced (and alloyed correctly) with lower carbon contents. I'm a metallurgist. Thanks for reading.


I have heard rumors that the use of low carbon steel during the manufacturing building of the Titanic is the very reason that it crushed when colliding with the iceberg. This just goes to show you the importance of using proper steel for the proper job.

Low carbon steel should only be used when the human lives are not at risk if it happens to fail. Otherwise I suppose though low-quality still could be used simply to reduce costs.


I think that any time you purchase a product made from steel it should be the highest quality steel available. Unfortunately the low carbon alloy steel that is available on the market is simply not appropriate for critical types of load bearing.

There may be some legitimate uses for low carbon steel, I truly think that any time you need to purchase something made of steel it is important that it have a very high carbon rating. Low carbon steel microstructure is simply not up to the task of ensuring the job is done right.

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    • Low carbon steel pipes.
      Low carbon steel pipes.