Stainless Steel - Heat Treatment

Topics Covered

    Quench Annealing
    Stabilizing Anneal
    Process Annealing
    Controlled Atmospheres
    Cooling and Quenching
Stress Relieving
    Low Temperature Stress Relieving
    Annealing After Welding
Surface Hardening
    Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD)


Stainless steels are generally heat-treated based on the stainless steel type and reasons for carrying out the treatment. Heat treatment methods, such as stress relieving, hardening and annealing, strengthen the ductility and corrosion resistance properties of the metal that is modified during fabrication, or generate hard structures capable of tolerating abrasion and high mechanical stresses.

Heat treatment of stainless steels is mostly carried out under controlled conditions to avoid carburization, decarburization and scaling on the metal surface.


Annealing, or solution treatment, is employed for recrystallizing the work-hardened austenitic stainless steels and drawing chromium carbides, precipitated around the work-hardened stainless steels, into the solution. In addition, this treatment removes stresses occurred during sold-working, and homogenizes dendritic stainless steel welds.

Annealing of stainless steels is carried out at temperatures greater than 1040°C, but certain types of steel can be annealed at very controlled temperatures of below 1010°C while considering fine grain size. The process is maintained for a short interval, in order to prevent surface scaling and control grain growth.

Quench Annealing

Quench annealing of austenitic stainless steel is a process of rapidly cooling the metal by water quenching to overcome sensitization.

Stabilizing Anneal

A stabilizing anneal is often carried out following conventional annealing of grades 321 and 347. Carbon present in the composition of these grades is allowed to combine with titanium in grade 321, and niobium in grade 347, during annealing. Precipitation of carbon, in the form of niobium or titanium carbide, occurs by further annealing at temperatures of 870 to 900°C for 2 to 4 h, followed by rapid-cooling, thereby preventing precipitation of chromium carbide.

This treatment can be performed under rigorously corrosive operating conditions or conditions that involve temperatures ranging from 400 to 870°C.


The surface of austenitic stainless steels must be thoroughly cleaned, to eliminate carbonaceous residues, grease and oil, prior to heat treatment or annealing because the presence of residues results in carburization that, in turn, reduces corrosion resistance properties.

Process Annealing

All Ferritic and martensitic stainless steels can be process annealed by heating in the ferrite temperature range, or fully annealed by heating above the critical temperature in the austenite range. Sub-critical annealing can be carried out, usually in temperatures from 760 to 830°C. Soft structure of spheroidised and ferrite carbides can be produced by cooling the material at 25°C from full annealing temperature for an hour, or holding the material for an hour at subcritical annealing temperature. Products that have been cold-worked following full annealing can be annealed at subcritical temperatures in less than 30 min.

The Ferritic steel grades retaining single-phase structures throughout the operating temperature range require nothing more than short recrystallization annealing at temperatures of 760 to 955°C.

Controlled Atmospheres

Stainless steels are generally annealed in controlled conditions to reduce scaling. This treatment can be carried out in a salt bath, but bright annealing performed in highly reducing conditions is mostly preferred. Manufacturers carry out bright annealing of wire, tube and flat rolled coil products in the presence of hydrogen and nitrogen. Bright annealed products are referred to as “BA”.


Like low alloy steels, martensitic stainless steels are hardened using tempering, quenching and austenitising. Austenitising temperatures range from 980 to 1010°C. At austenitising temperature of 980°C, as-quenched hardness tends to increase first and then drops, following retention. The optimum austenitising temperature for certain steel grades may be based on the temperature of the following process tempering.

Cracking in intricate sections of high and low carbon steels can be prevented through pre-heating the steels at 790°C prior to austenitising.

Cooling and Quenching

Martensitic stainless steels have high alloy content and, hence, high hardenability. Full hardness can be achieved through air-cooling at the austenitising temperature, but hardening larger sections may sometimes require oil quenching. Hardened components must be tempered immediately after cooling at room temperature, particularly if oil quenching has been used to prevent cracking. In some cases, components are frozen at -75°C prior to tempering. Tempering of martensitic steels is performed at temperatures greater than 510°C, followed by rapid cooling of steels at temperatures below 400°C to avoid embrittlement.

Some precipitation-hardening stainless steels require rigorous heat treatments when compared to that of standard martensitic types. For example, aging, sub-zero cooling, trigger annealing and annealing may require a semi-austenitic precipitation-hardening type. Martensitic precipitation-hardening types, on the other hand, often require only aging treatment.

Stress Relieving

Stress relieving below 400°C is the most common practice, but the result is only moderate stress relief. Stress relieving at temperatures of up to 425 to 925°C will significantly reduce residual stresses which otherwise cause dimensional instability or stress corrosion cracking. One hour of stress relieving at 870°C relieves about 85% of residual stresses. However, this temperature range can precipitate carbides at grain boundary, resulting in sensitization that affects corrosion resistance in many media. Stabilized stainless steels or low-carbon type steels are preferred to avoid these effects.

Full solution treatment of stainless steels, by heating to about 1080°C followed by rapid cooling, eliminates all residual stresses. However, it is not practical for most large or complex fabrications.

Low Temperature Stress Relieving

While performing cold-working of austenitic stainless steels to improve strength, compressive yield strength and proportional limit will tend to increase with low temperature stress relieving. Stress relieving is carried out at temperatures of up to 345 to 425°C, if intergranular resistance is not important. Higher temperatures will degrade the material strength and, hence, they are not preferred for stress relieving cold-worked products.

Annealing After Welding

Stainless steel weld products are heated to temperatures below standard annealing temperatures, to minimize high residual stresses, while annealing followed by welding is not possible. Stress relieving is often performed on large or intricate weld sections, or on dissimilar weldments composed of low alloy steel welded to stainless steel.

Stress relieving of Ferritic or martensitic stainless steels will temper weld and heat affected zones, in addition to restoration of corrosion resistance in some types. Annealing temperatures are relatively low for these stainless steel grades.

Surface Hardening

Only certain types of surface hardening methods can be performed on the stainless steels. In most cases, hardening of low alloy steels and carbon depends on the martensitic transformation, such that the resulting hardness is related to the carbon content. However, this hardening method is not widely employed, as carbon content of martensitic stainless steels ranges from low to extremely low.


Austenitic stainless steels can be surface hardened by nitriding. This process has very limited application, as the stainless steel core is soft and has very low strength for heavy applications. Another major limitation is that the nitrided steel is less resistant to corrosion when compared to the original stainless steel.

Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD)

Physical vapour deposition enables deposition of thin, hard layers on many materials including stainless steels. Titanium nitride is the most commonly applied coating, available in aesthetically pleasing gold colour. Owing to its appearance, this coating is commonly applied on No. 8 mirror polished surface for producing architectural panels embedded with gold panels.


  1. Zahidullah Wazir Zahidullah Wazir Saudi Arabia says:

    What is the difference between stainless steel 316 and 416? Which one is strong?

    • faz faz Islamic Republic of Pakistan says:

      316 grade is austenitic while 416 is martensitic stainless steel ...both have different composition and application. 416 have high sulphur content and not suitable in marine or any chloride exposure. 316 is not hardenable by heat treatment while 316 have superior corrosion properties than type 416. 416 is stronger than 316

  2. Neil Puniyaxi Neil Puniyaxi India says:

    After annealing of SS 304 spring wire (cold worked/shaped) should it be left to cool inside and alongwith the furnace or outside?

  3. Mukund Yadav Mukund Yadav India says:

    We require information on stainless steel. As rolled bars microstructure and solution annealing microstructure in between what is difference?

  4. bob held bob held United States says:

    Hello, when etching machined 316 ss, is it important that the pcs are tempered/annealed to protect against an even etch?

  5. Tri O Shop Tri O Shop Thailand says:

    I have some question anyone please help me.
    I would like to know that if fabricate plate(SA40 Gr.304) to pipe (A358 Gr.304L) size 90".
    Is it necessary(have to) to do final heat treatment after welding? If refer to ASTM

    thank you

  6. faz faz Islamic Republic of Pakistan says:

    is it possible UTS of 316L weldment have 700 while base have 500 uts?

  7. chandrasekar p sutrave chandrasekar p sutrave India says:

    We are boronizing a machined component of ss316 material at a temperature between 925 to 950deg C. and allowing it to cool in furnace upto 425deg C and subsequent air cooling. However after removal of adhered salt it was noticed a surface delamination over the substrate. Please clarify the reason for the surface delamination or surface peel off and how to avoid the same.

  8. Manjunath Naik Manjunath Naik India says:

    I have some questions regarding ferritic stainless steel.
    I am working on SS 409 and SS 430. I need to know homogenization temperature for both grades and the time required. Also which heat treatment can be given to both grades other than annealing?

  9. Jingyuan Jiang Jingyuan Jiang Australia says:

    Can we carburize tempered ss?


    The required temperature and time required for annealing FOR L304?

  11. Dinagaran Rajendran Dinagaran Rajendran India says:

    That is possible to improve the hardness of 316 or 316L or 316H stainless steel by heat treatment and quenching.

  12. Chirag Phadake Chirag Phadake India says:

    is there any change in colour of the material after stress relieving process?

  13. Mauricio Pizarro Mauricio Pizarro Argentina says:

    Hi, my english is too bad but I have a Question. I make a few chisels recycling the tube of front suspention of  an motorcycle, I think are made of 400 ss,  Im ok?? The chisels are curve( I dont know the name of this tool in english) have a radius of the tube suspention, and are realy sharp after sharpening, but when strokes hard over very hard wood ( in south america have very, very hard wood) the file bend a litlle and lost the sharp. So, my question is if anyone knows how to hard the file with some metod and can explane to me??  Thanks for yours answers, sorry for my english again. Im a luthier from argentina and some specific tools not found on the market here,  so I learn to make it and I like too much. Thanks again...

  14. luong dang luong dang Vietnam says:

    Dear Sirs
    Please advise how to quenching and tempering material SUS420J1 get the hardness min. 48 HRC, off-course the component must be not cracking. urgent. Thank

  15. Hari Godbole Hari Godbole United States says:

    What is the recommended temperature-time cycle of heat treating CA 40 stainless steel casting to achieve best UTS and elongation results?

  16. Amit Kumar Amit Kumar India says:

    at which hardening temperature we can achieve 68~71 HRA in SS202 material

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