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.
I. Aluminum Buying Guide
A. Different Types of Aluminum
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. Uses of 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.
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. Aluminum Features
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.
Is aluminum a metal?
Aluminum is a metal and is one of the most prominent. Tools, equipment, and replacement parts are used in all industries and areas to prolong lifespans.
Is aluminum a conductor?
When it comes to electricity, aluminum is a conductor and capable of conducting large amounts of energy. Because of its durability, it is one of the preferred metal options for energy conduction.
Can you paint aluminum siding?
It is possible to paint aluminum siding, but a solid layer of primer must be added before adding the color you desire. For best results, you want to paint the aluminum siding when it is warm and dry so that the paint sticks quicker and makes a more solid bond.
How many aluminum cans make a pound?
To get a pound of aluminum, you need 24 empty aluminum cans for the standard 12 oz. cans. If the cans are larger, then you will need less.
Does a magnet stick to aluminum?
While aluminum is a metal, it is a soft metal. This means that a magnet will not be able to stick to it like it would steel or iron which are hard metals.
Can you powder coat aluminum?
There is a small risk of destroying the integrity of the aluminum, but it can be powder coated. The effect on the aluminum is determined based on how the powder coat is applied. You will need industry experts who are used to applying powder coats and not tackle this as a DIY.
Is aluminum cookware safe?
If you have aluminum cookware, know that it is safe to use. It is a more affordable option compared to stainless steel, and it is also POFA-free. It is also used as a liner for many cookware items that are a different metal on the outside.
How aluminum is made?
Once the aluminum ore is located and mined, it goes through the refining process so that you have access to the purest aluminum. At that time, it is smelted down and formed into the material or item that you are using.
When was aluminum discovered?
Hans Christian Orsted was the first to make the aluminum discovery in 1825. He was a renaissance scientist who also discovered that it was abundant on Earth.
Can you weld aluminum? Can you weld aluminum to steel?
Yes, aluminum can be welded to steel, but it must be done through a particular process where there are new aluminum rods and no room for moisture. If moisture gets into the rods before the welding takes place, then it will impact the overall integrity of the aluminum.
How strong is aluminum brazing?
The strength of brazing rods is 33,000 psi and can start being constructed at 750 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can you microwave aluminum takeout containers?
If you want to microwave aluminum containers, you can, but it needs to be in small cooking times. If you microwave it too long, the stored heat will start to erupt, and it can cause a fire. It is best practice to avoid aluminum in the microwave for long cooking periods.
Will aluminum wiring pass inspection?
Because aluminum can rust or be chewed, it is not likely that it will be passed for inspection, and another metal casing, like copper, will need to be used.
How long do aluminum gutters last?
The average lifespan of aluminum gutters is between 18 and 20 years as long as they are maintained regularly throughout this time. Gutters that are not cleaned regularly and are abandoned will have a shorter lifespan.
Does aluminum shrink when cold?
Aluminum will shrink in cold temperatures and expand in warm temperatures. These are natural reactions the metal has to the environment and are important to keep in mind when purchasing aluminum for different uses.
How long do aluminum roofs last?
Because it is lightweight and durable, an aluminum roof can last around 50 years. Most of these are raised roofs or A-frames, so there isn’t a water build-up. It is also resistant to unwanted corrosion.
How long do aluminum windows last?
If you consider adding aluminum windows to your home, you can expect them to last a minimum of 30 years before corrosion takes over. In some cases, they have lasted beyond 40 years with care and regular maintenance.
Do aluminum rings tarnish?
Unlike silver, aluminum will not tarnish and take on that unwanted greenish color. Aluminum is a metal that will start to heal itself from oxygen exploration and prevent the tarnish from happening.
Can anodized aluminum be painted?
It is very easy to paint anodized aluminum. This is because, unlike other types of aluminum, the anodized version has a stronger adhesive property, allowing things like paint to stick more naturally. It will stick quickly and efficiently if you paint anodized aluminum on a warm day.
How long do aluminum bike frames last?
On average, an aluminum bike frame lasts around 5-6 years if you maintain your bike frame. It will start to corrode with exposure to the elements, which is why it is important to keep it clean, especially after a muddy or snowy ride.
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