Stainless steel is resistant to heat. Depending on its thickness, it can stand residual temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit and direct heat of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike plastic in laminate countertops, stainless steel does not deform after exposure to high heat. This makes it an ideal material for kitchen countertops in residences, commercial establishments, and industrial settings.
Stainless steel is composed of iron, carbon, and an armor plating of chromium which protects the steel core and gives it its remarkable properties. On its own, steel is naturally a heat conductor which makes it a common material used in manufacturing cookware. It is able to quickly transfer heat away from itself and protect itself from heat damage. The freely moving electrons in the steel disperse energy well, and this makes it an ideal electrical conductor as well.
However, placing a hot pan and other hot cookware on a stainless steel countertop can eventually cause it to develop scorch marks. The scorch marks can make the surface unsanitary and reduce its aesthetic appeal.
Scorch marks are caused when the chromium skin covering the stainless steel countertop is subjected to extreme temperatures or if it is exposed to it for too long. Forcing the protective chromium layer to endure heat for a long period can cause it to melt and blacken because of the release of carbon in the steel. Chromium oxide becomes chromium carbide with its characteristic black color and flaky texture.
The possible aftereffects of scorching
Using a scorched countertop for food preparation is highly unsanitary and unhealthy. Bits of chromium carbide can easily get into food. Chromium is a heavy metal and is highly toxic. Carbon, in its pure form, is a notorious carcinogen. Scorch marks also mar the sheen, luster, and grayish tint of the stainless steel surface. The destruction of the chromium oxide layer makes the steel core susceptible to rusting and moisture damage. Once a stainless steel countertop has rusted, it must be replaced immediately because failing to do so can cause serious health risks.
How to keeping scorch marks away
The manufacturers of stainless steel countertops realize the damage scorch marks can do, so they usually recommend the use of trivets or insulated heating pads to prevent the countertop from scorching. A trivet is a metal tripod with a platform which keeps hot pans elevated. An insulated heating pad is a thick, flat piece of heat-resistant foam with a foil core. The core absorbs the heat without transferring it to the countertop.
Aside from hot pans and pots, heat producing kitchen appliances like a microwave oven should never be placed on the surface of a stainless steel countertop. Over time, they can also ruin the surface with burn marks.