Whether you’re going to build a home, make repairs, or shop for appliances and household wares, you’ll encounter aluminum. Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of aluminum—including the products manufacturers make with it.
Table of Contents
- I. Aluminum Buying Guide
- II. More Details
- III. Aluminum Frequently Asked Questions
- IV. Where to Buy Aluminum Products Online
I. Aluminum Buying Guide
A. What Types of Aluminum Are There?
Many types of aluminum alloys apply to different products and jobs. It’s challenging to list every kind of aluminum, but here are the most common varieties and their applications.
1. Hardest Aluminum: 2024-T351
Aluminum with a classification of 2024-T351 is the hardest, but it’s not easy to work with. This type of hardness is common in airplanes and riveting projects, but you can’t weld it.
2. Most Flexible Aluminum
Aluminum alloy foil is the most flexible type of aluminum because its manufacturing process flattens the aluminum into thin sheets. Consumers wrap food with foil, and many companies package products from consumables to cosmetics to household items in it.
3. Sheet Aluminum
Sheet aluminum is formed by stamping or spinning, and it requires alloy to make it strong. Pots and pans may contain alloyed aluminum, for example, with common alloys like magnesium, copper, and bronze combining with the material for strength and durability.
4. Clad Aluminum
Clad aluminum—AKA treated aluminum—involves zinc, silicon, copper, stainless steel, nickel, or magnesium coating. Cladding increases corrosion resistance because bare aluminum is highly susceptible to corrosion.
Clad aluminum is standard in the aircraft and food processing industries because of how durable it is.
5. Bare Aluminum
Bare aluminum corrodes, and as it oxidizes, it loses its reflective properties. But the corrosion seals out moisture and air, so the interior material is still strong. If you have a project where looks don’t matter, letting the metal corrode on its surface might be a good game plan.
6. Aluminum Manufacturing Alloys
Other common aluminum types are aluminum alloys for manufacturing. Each class is a series and starts with a number from one to seven. Each series uses a different alloy in its manufacture, and within the series, there can be many variations in use and characteristics.
- 1000 series is the purest at 99 percent minimum aluminum. It’s used in chemical tanks and conductive bus bars.
- 2000 series aluminum has copper alloy and is common in aircraft and aerospace applications.
- 3000 series have manganese alloy—common in cookware and in vehicles.
- 4000 series use silicon, lowering the alloy’s melting point. Welders often use this alloy.
- 5000 series have magnesium and silicone and make up structural pieces like beams, tubes, and angles.
- 7000 series have zinc alloys and offer high strength in aerospace and sporting industries.
High-strength aluminum alloys can be challenging to work with—and costly—but emerging research is making things simpler.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory uses an alloy powder to manufacture seamless aluminum parts, removing costly and energy-consuming steps. The aluminum resulting from this process is more ductile, too, making them resistant to breakage.
B. What Home Products Use Aluminum?
You might be surprised to find that many household products, building materials, and houses themselves rely heavily on aluminum components. Here’s more on which types of home products utilize aluminum.
1. Aluminum Siding
Siding comes from aluminum coil stock. The coil stock receives a chemical coat, then undergoes a banking process. Different textures are available (achieved by adding enamel), too.
In aluminum siding inspections, experts check things like grounding—the metal can conduct electricity—and check for magnetism to confirm whether the metal is aluminum or steel (magnets will stick to steel). Your siding also shouldn’t touch the ground, or it could invite pests to nibble on your home’s wood structures.
Aluminum siding is durable and handles paint application well. The problem is because you apply it in sheets, it can be challenging to repair. It’s also energy-intensive to create, so it’s not as popular in modern times as it was pre-1970.
2. Aluminum Roofing
If you can get over the loud sound of rain or other things dropping on your roof, aluminum is an excellent choice of material. Its durability and impermeable properties mean you can live dry and comfortably for years. The lightweight metal is easier to install and replace than steel roofing, though evidence of thunderstorms (and hail) will be visible on it.
3. Aluminum Furniture
You can find furniture in extruded aluminum, cast aluminum, and wrought aluminum types. Extruded aluminum is lightweight but less durable, while cast aluminum has a powder coat to protect it from oxidation and other damage. To cast aluminum furniture, metalworkers melt it and pour it into molds.
Wrought aluminum, on the other hand, requires working while cold. Metalworkers use tools to twist the metal the way they want it. Many homeowners favor aluminum because it weighs less than other metal furniture and can withstand harsh weather conditions without breaking down (even if it does become dented).
4. Exterior Buildings
Did you know that aluminum is the second most commonly used metal in buildings? Only steel is more popular (but much heavier). Sheds, shops, and even garages can benefit from aluminum construction, but some homes incorporate aluminum alloys, too.
Buildings of aluminum are often cheaper than wood alternatives, and they are resistant to fire and other harsh conditions. They can get hot inside, however, and develop condensation.
5. Aluminum Foil
Household foil isn’t pure aluminum. Instead, it’s an alloy with between 92 and 99 percent aluminum. Its thickness is slight—a maximum of 0.0059 inches—and it comes in many variations. Many people mistakenly call it tin foil because, in the late 19th century, foil did come from a tin.
Today, though, manufacturers use aluminum—which is cheaper than tin—to make foodservice and other types of packaging from this malleable metal.
6. Aluminum Cans
Cans are another household item with aluminum. Soup, soda, beer, and other food and beverages commonly arrive in aluminum cans. Household products like oil and chemicals can also come in aluminum cans, and most are recyclable when you’re done using them.
7. Aluminum Pots & Pans
Consuming too much aluminum isn’t healthy for anyone. But experts confirm that using aluminum cookware is safe and that the aluminum generally won’t leach into food. However, you shouldn’t cook acidic food in your aluminum cooking pots—it can affect the taste of the food and damage your pans.
Manufacturers work the relatively soft aluminum—recycling the shavings they create—into the desired size and shape. After pure aluminum is in the right shape, manufacturers punch holes to attach hardware and handles.
Some aluminum pans are pure aluminum—no coatings or alloys added. But other pots and pans are clad with stainless steel or other non-reactive materials so that you can cook just about anything in them.
8. Aluminum Insulation
Many types of insulation use aluminum for keeping heat in. On its own, though, sheets of aluminum don’t do much for maintaining warmth. Combined with other types of insulation materials, like cotton, aluminum makes a decent barrier against energy loss.
9. Aluminum Home Décor
Whatever your sense of style, you can find aluminum home décor for any decorating scheme. There are lighting fixtures, candle holders, wall art, wind chimes, and tons of other aluminum products available for home decorating.
10. Aluminum Wires
Though aluminum wiring isn’t ideal for home construction purposes, there was a time when the United States used it for wiring houses. Aluminum wiring was common from the ‘60s to the ‘70s, when copper became costly.
Most people decide to swap out old aluminum wiring because of fire risks. The wiring on its own is fine, but when it connects to light switches and outlets (or other wires), there’s a risk of deterioration. Aluminum gets hot and expands, which is also a no-no for electrical components.
You can tell if you have aluminum wiring by checking the electrical panel. The cables often read “AL” or “ALUM” or even spell out aluminum. Swapping for copper wires means lower fire risks and better reliability.
II. More Details
Why is aluminum such a commonly used metal? Here are its most admirable properties—plus a few disadvantages.
A. Features of Aluminum
Did you know that the first significant use of aluminum was in the Empire State Building circa 1930? It’s robust, resistant to weather conditions, and reliable in many applications.
1. Environmental Resistance
Aluminum has exceptional resistance to the weather and other damaging elements. It can bend and dent, especially when untreated, but it won’t break or melt. And with extra coatings, paint, and other treatments, you can make it look any way you want.
Though aluminum can take on plenty of scratches and dents, it retains its overall strength. You can sit on it, bend it, leave it in the sun, and it will still perform as expected.
Though steel is a standard metal for many construction projects, it’s cumbersome. In fact, steel is 2.5 times denser than aluminum. Per cubic foot, steel weights 489 pounds while aluminum weighs 168.5 pounds. When designing a building, that weight can make a massive difference in the project’s outcome—and cost.
You can’t burn aluminum, so it’s safe to use in places that get hot. Aluminum will melt around 1,215 degrees Fahrenheit, however. Alloys of aluminum tend to melt over a range of 1,055 to 1,180 degrees. Either way, it will take a lot to melt down an aluminum building.
5. Infinitely Recyclable
Almost 75 percent of aluminum goes back into rotation—it is recyclable almost endlessly. While many products break down as they undergo recycling, aluminum doesn’t lose its properties. Plus, recycling aluminum isn’t as expensive as recycling other materials.
In short, aluminum is highly sustainable, and it’s popular as a building material because of how easy it is to reuse.
B. Drawbacks of Aluminum
Aluminum isn’t perfect for every application—there are a few drawbacks.
1. Bare Aluminum Corrodes
Untreated, aluminum can corrode easily. However, the corrosion process—oxidation—creates a layer of aluminum oxide on the surface of the metal. After the top layer corrodes, aluminum has protection from further weathering.
2. Aluminum Housing Elements Can Be Loud
Imagine the sound of rain on a tin roof. Many people enjoy the noise, but having an aluminum roof can mean loud winters, visits from animals, and other annoying side effects.
3. It Dents Easily
Aluminum does dent easily, so if aesthetics are important to you, you might want to find another building material to use. Tree branches, children, and animals can scratch or otherwise affect your aluminum siding or other household products.
4. Aluminum Isn’t for Eating
Though many household products like cans, foil, and pots all use aluminum, the metal isn’t something people should consume. If you ingest too much aluminum, you could develop serious diseases. However, the acute toxicity of aluminum is low, and it takes a lot of exposure to increase levels to a dangerous amount.
5. Aluminum Expands When Hot
In terms of aluminum wiring, the material can get hot quickly. It expands when it becomes warm, and that means it can move around within the walls or electrical components—bad news for fire risks.
Plus, when aluminum oxidizes, the coating it creates is a poor electrical conductor. In contrast, copper—the preferred wiring material for homes—conducts electricity exceptionally well, even when oxidized.
III. Aluminum Frequently Asked Questions
Its many uses make aluminum an interesting material, and many questions come up about how and why it works the way it does.
Does Aluminum Rust?
Aluminum does not rust—but aluminum alloys with iron and steel can rust. This metal does corrode, however, though it doesn’t appear orange when that happens. Only ferrous metals—those containing iron—will rust.
What Kinds of Aluminum Are Recyclable?
Nearly any type of aluminum that is clean is also recyclable. That applies to “tin foil” products cleared of food waste, old roofing materials, and even corroded panels. It can be tough to get aluminum cans and foil clean for recycling, and some alloys might not be straightforward to recycle.
One of the most significant issues with recycling aluminum is separating it from other stuff—particularly debris and garbage. It can also be tough to tell aluminum from steel—at least visually—without using a magnet test.
Cans, however, are particularly recyclable because they don’t contain other materials. Aluminum cans are the most valuable and easiest to recycle all recyclable materials. Of course, many people recycle cans and other aluminum products into art, too.
Can Aluminum Melt?
Aluminum can melt but takes temperatures over 1,000 degrees to do it. In comparison, pure steel melts around 2,500 degrees and iron at around 2,800. Tin melts at about 449 degrees and copper at 1,980.
Aluminum is a good conductor of heat, though, meaning it absorbs heat fast. This fact makes it ideal for cookware since it warms up quickly to cook your food.
Is Aluminum Bad for You?
In short, touching aluminum or using it as a building material won’t hurt you. The concerns with aluminum involve ingestion of it—so if you ate a piece of aluminum, or if a cooking pot had flakes of aluminum coming off it.
Studies on aluminum have shown that buildup of the metal in human bodies can cause negative health effects. But even people who work with aluminum—such as welders—must have high exposure before their bodies register “toxicity.” In most household applications, there’s nothing scary about aluminum.
Is Aluminum Stronger Than Steel?
Steel is denser than aluminum, and technically it is stronger. It doesn’t dimple or warp under pressure the way aluminum does. However, it is much heavier and harder to work with.
Some types of carbon steel are cheaper than aluminum, and that comes down to the manufacturing process. Manufacturing aluminum can be expensive—but once it’s complete, recycling facilities can repurpose it much more easily than other metals.
Of course, innovations in aluminum mean that the metal can now compete with stronger, denser materials. Adding alloys has made it possible for scientists to make super-strong aluminum—nearly as strong as steel.
IV. Where to Buy Aluminum Products Online
You can buy aluminum products in many online shops. From siding and roofing materials to furniture and household décor, here are a few places to purchase aluminum products online.
- The Home Depot—aluminum building materials
- The Home Depot—aluminum wiring
- The Home Depot—aluminum patio furniture
- Lowe’s—aluminum sheet metal
- Lowe’s—aluminum wiring and cable
- Overstock—aluminum patio furniture
- Overstock—aluminum home decor
- Overstock—aluminum cookware
- Target—aluminum home decor
- Bed Bath & Beyond—aluminum cookware
- Interlock Roofing—aluminum roofing