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Stainless Steel in Cleanrooms - Which is the Best Grade?

March 30, 2023
interior of stainless steel cleanroom
Figure 1. Stainless steel cleanroom by American Cleanroom Systems

Stainless steel is an expensive but popular choice for cleanroom equipment due to its durability, strength, and excellent chemical resistance. Modular cleanrooms can also be constructed of stainless steel but it is very expensive so less common. Another application of stainless steel cleanrooms is for radiation cleanrooms.

exterior portable stainless steel cleanroom
Figure 2. Portable ISO-6 stainless steel cleanroom by American Cleanroom Systems

Examples of common stainless steel cleanroom equipment include cleanroom sinks, cleanroom tables, cleanroom chemical benches, and cleanroom laminar flow benches.

stainless steel cleanroom sink
Figure 3. Stainless Steel cleanroom sink
stainless steel cleanroom lab bench
Figure 4. Stainless steel cleanroom benches
FDA CGMP requirements require the use of the most durable and easy to cleanroom materials for pharmaceutical equipment. Pharmaceutical cleanroom equipment and food processing cleanroom equipment manufactured from stainless steel include mixers, mills, fermenting vats, homogenizers, aseptic filling systems, tablet presses, feeder hoppers, liquid and gas plumbing.
Stainless steel fermenter in cleanroom
Figure 5. Stainless steel cleanroom equipment

What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is defined as steel with at least 10.5% chromium. It may also have other alloying ingredients like molybdenum, nickel, titanium, aluminum, copper, nitrogen, phosphorous or selenium.

Most stainless steel is Grade 304. It has excellent corrosion resistance, strength, and is easy to clean. 304 grade stainless steel is often compared to that of glass – it has no pores or cracks that might collect dirt, grime, or bacteria, and it can often be cleaned with soap and water, then disinfected. However, it can still rust if exposed to high humidity or salt water. It is 4x-5x more expensive than galvanized steel and is difficult to cut or weld.

Grade 316 stainless steel offers significantly better corrosion resistance to chlorides and acids than grade 304 stainless steel. It contains molybdenum and is more expensive than Grade 304 stainless steel.  

NSF certified stainless steel mixer in cleanroom
Figure 6. NSF certified stainless steel equipment in nutraceutical cleanroom

For equipment going into cleanrooms for food or nutraceutical production stainless steel equipment is very common. The equipment must be certified by the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) that food processing equipment is hygienically designed so it easily cleaned, does not difficult to clean areas and is constructed of  material that will not leach into the food. Stainless steel is an excellent material choice to meet these requirements.

Summary: Stainless steel is extremely durable, chemical resistant and easy to clean. As a result, it is a popular material for manufacturing pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment use in cleanrooms. It is also popular for material for food processing equipment. Grade 304 is the most common stainless steel. Grade 316 is specified when even higher chemical resistance is needed. Stainless steel is significantly more expensive than galvanized steel and is hard to cut and weld.
Property American Cleanroom Systems 2023

The author Anthony Chien has worked at American Cleanroom Systems for more than 10 years. He has more than 40 years of cleanroom experience. Anthony has a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering specializing in semiconductor manufacturing from the University of Illinois. American Cleanroom Systems is a design build modular cleanroom manufacturer based in Rancho Santa Margarita CA. It is expert in ISO-5 thru ISO-8 (class 100 to class 100k) modular cleanrooms for nutraceutical cleanrooms, pharmaceutical cleanrooms, medical device cleanrooms, and industrial cleanrooms.

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