Zinc-Plated vs Galvanized Steel: What’s the Difference?

Zinc-plated steel

Moisture can wreak havoc on many steel products. Products made of carbon steel, for instance, are susceptible to oxidation when exposed to moisture. As moisture settles on the surface of a carbon steel product, it can trigger a chemical reaction known as oxidation that eats through the material from which it’s made. To protect against oxidation, some products are made of either zinc-plated or galvanized steel.

What Is Zinc-Plated Steel?

Zinc-plated steel refers to steel that’s been treated with a layer of zinc. It features a thin layer but solid layer of zinc over the surface, thus shielding the product’s underlying steel. Zinc, of course, offers a superior level of protection against oxidation when compared to raw and untreated steel. Zinc, in fact, corrodes at about 1/30tth the rate of raw and untreated steel. Therefore, zinc-plated steel is naturally resistant to oxidation-related damage like rust and corrosion.

There are different ways to make zinc-plated steel. One of the most common methods involves bathing the steel product in an electrolyte solution. The electrolyte solution contains zinc particles that cling to the surface of the steel product. An electrical current is applied to the bathing container. When exposed to this electrical current, the zinc particles attract to the surface of the steel product.

What Is Galvanized Steel?

Galvanized steel, on the other hand, refers to steel that’s been galvanized. Like zinc plating, galvanization is a metal treatment process that protects against oxidation. And also like zinc plating, galvanization involves the use of zinc. Both zinc-plated steel and galvanized steel feature a protective layer of zinc. The outer layer of zinc shields the raw steel from moisture so that it doesn’t rust or corrode.

Being that both zinc-plated steel and galvanized steel feature zinc, you might be wondering how they differ. The main difference is that zinc-plated steel is created using an electrical current, whereas galvanized steel is typically created using the hot-dip method. The hot-dip method lives up to its namesake by involving heated, molten zinc. The zinc particles are smelted in a furnace. The steel product is then submerged in the newly molten zinc. After removing the steel product, it’s allowed to cool. Cooling will result in the zinc particles hardening while subsequently forming a solid barrier around the steel product.

In Conclusion

Zinc-plated steel and galvanized steel are both resistant to oxidation. They don’t consist of exposed steel. Rather, they have a layer of zinc over them. Zinc-plated steel simply involves the use of an electrical current, whereas galvanized steel involves the hot-dip method.