What is Surgical Steel & What’s The Difference From Stainless Steel?

You have to be able to rely on your surgical instruments. The size and the function are important, but just as important is the quality of the steel.

This is your essential guide to surgical steel. We’ll explore how it differs from standard stainless steel, before addressing some of the most commonly asked questions people have about surgical steel. Finally, we’ll let you know how you should choose the right steel quality for your surgical purposes.

What Is Surgical Steel?

Surgical steel is a low-carbon steel containing high concentrations of chromium. This chromium reacts with oxygen in the air to form a stable oxide bond that helps prevent rust. Surgical steel is also nonporous, making it more hygienic for use in clinical environments. And as it’s chemically inert, you can safely sterilise surgical steel with no risk of corrosion or degradation.

What Are The Differences Between Surgical Steel and Stainless Steel?

This is where it can get confusing. For while almost all surgical instruments are made from stainless steel, not all stainless steel is suitable for medical use.

Stainless steel comes in a variety of grades. Medical grade stainless steel – that is, surgical steel – tends to have a higher concentration of chromium. Surgical steel will contain at least 13% chromium, compared to standard stainless steel’s 10.5%.

Surgical steel can also contain a higher concentration of Molybendum, to further reduce corrosion, and nickel, which reduces its brittleness. However, surgical devices designed for use as implants will usually have a lower nickel content, to prevent infection in the patient’s body.

Does Surgical Steel Rust?

No – the oxide bond produced by the chromium coats the surgical steel like a film. This means that even if you damage the steel’s exterior, the film will heal itself, making it impossible for rust to take hold.

Is Surgical Steel Self-Healing?

This self-healing quality is crucial for healthcare applications. Small fissures in the surface of steel can work as a breeding ground for bacteria. With surgical steel, any fissures will close themselves before bacteria can take hold. This, combined with ongoing sterilisation, helps keep surgical steel suitably hygienic for medical use.

Does Surgical Steel Stain?

Surgical steel is a form of stainless steel. But the name “stainless steel” can be misleading. It’s not “stainproof steel”. It’s “stainless steel”. It’s less likely to stain, but stains are still possible.

In time, all types of stainless steel corrodes and stains. Surgical steel is no exception – though the higher chromium content can make it a lot more durable than standard stainless steel.

The correct cleaning procedures can greatly prolong the lives of surgical steel instruments. For example, using deionised water with high-quality cleaning chemicals can reduce water spotting while helping avoid mineral deposits forming in the wash cycle.

But unfortunately, no surgical instrument can be used indefinitely. Your surgical instrument supplier will be able to advise you on how long you can expect to use your instruments before they need replacing.

Is Surgical Steel Magnetic?

Many grades of surgical steel are magnetic. The steel’s chemical composition determines whether or not it’s magnetic. A large quantity of ferrite will make surgical steel magnetic. Also, surgical steel that’s been heat-treated for extra durability is usually magnetic owing to an abundance of iron.

However, surgical steel containing particularly high chromium content – at about 30% – along with nickel is more likely to be non-magnetic.

If you need more information on whether the surgical steel you need should be magnetic or non-magnetic, get in touch to talk to one of our experts today.

How To Choose The Right Steel Quality for Surgical Purposes

There are many different grades of surgical steel, and each is suitable for a different range of applications.

Some grades offer increased sharpness, flexibility or durability. Others are more resistant to corrosion, and some are designed to be used as implants, either permanently or temporarily.

We offer one of the most comprehensive ranges of surgical instruments on the UK market, and our experts are always on-hand to discuss your needs. So if you’d like some guidance on the right steel quality to choose for your application, get in touch to talk to an expert today.

Types of Surgical Instruments – Names and Instrument Selection

If we classify them according to their function, there are three main types of surgical instruments:

  • Cutting surgical instruments – Such as blades, knives, scissors and scalpels.
  • Grasping surgical instruments – Anything you use to hold something in place, such as forceps.
  • Retracting surgical instruments – For holding incisions open, or for holding organs and tissues out of the way while you operate.

Types of Surgical Instruments For Cutting

These are some of the most common surgical instruments for cutting:

Blades, Knives and Scalpels

We categorise scalpels by their size and shape, and each type is good for a different sort of application. For example, surgeons usually choose a number 10 blade for making smaller incisions in skin and tissue. Whereas a number 15 blade, with its small curve, is better for making short and precise incisions, such as when removing a skin lesion or opening a coronary artery.

Surgical Scissors

Surgical scissors come in a huge range of sizes. At the top end of the scale are heavy-duty surgical scissors, which can cut through thick tissue, muscle, and even bone. Mid-size surgical scissors use a combination of sharp and serrated blades to give precise cuts with minimal tissue damage. Surgical scissors with curved blades help you to make clean cuts without hitting any underlying tissue.

Smaller scissors include Vannas scissors and Castroviejo scissors, both of which are good for delicate applications such as ophthalmic and neurosurgical procedures. Finally, small sapphire blades can create precise cuts while applying a minimum of pressure, making them perfect for microsurgery.

Types of Surgical Instruments For Grasping

Like scissors and scalpels, surgical forceps come in a range of styles and sizes, each one suitable for different applications. Forceps can either have straight tips or curved tips. Straight tips provide more grip and precision, while curved tips provide more visibility.

Thumb Forceps

Some forceps you squeeze to open. These are thumb forceps, and they’re good for dressing wounds, removing dressings, and tying sutures.

Reverse Forceps

Other forceps you squeeze to close. These are reverse-forceps, and their design provides uniform tension for added precision, especially when you’re wearing gloves.

Locking Forceps (Haemostats)

Some forceps resemble scissors. These are called haemostats or locking forceps, and surgeons use them to securely hold tissues during delicate operations, and to compress blood vessels to obstruct the blood flow when operating on organs.

Types of Surgical Instruments For Retracting

In surgery, retractors can either hold a wound or incision open, or hold an organ or tissue out of the way so you can work underneath.

Hand Retractors

Hand retractors require someone – or something – to hold them in place for the duration of a procedure. Surgical assistants usually undertake this role.

Self-Retaining Retractors

As the name suggests, self-retaining retractors do not require anyone to hold them throughout procedures. They can use screws, ratchets or clamps to hold tissue in place. Alternatively, wire retractors use a spring system to keep things secure.

Choosing The Right Surgical Instrument For Your Application

Some surgical instruments are versatile. You can use them in a range of applications. But certain applications will demand more specific surgical tools – smaller, sharper, or more precise, for example.

Your surgical instrument supplier should help you choose the right instrument for your specific application. But here are some things you should consider to help narrow down your choice:

  • What procedure are you performing? Almost every procedure you could conceivably perform over the course of your surgical career will have been performed before. This means that there’ll be published research papers about almost every procedure. These papers will often list the surgical equipment used during the procedure. They may even make clear recommendations for which equipment to use for best results.
  • How often will you use the surgical equipment? Of course you’ll keep your surgical instruments clean between use. But it’s also important to remember that surgical equipment doesn’t stay sharp forever. If you intend to make heavy use of your surgical equipment, look for those made with more durable materials, as they’ll stay sharp for longer.

Need more advice in choosing the right surgical equipment for your application? We offer one of the most comprehensive ranges of surgical instruments in the UK, and our experts are always on hand to help you choose the equipment you need. Find out more about our surgical instruments.