Steel bearings: your essential guide to this essential workhorse

Traditionally steel has reigned supreme as the bearing material of choice.

While it may be tempting to step away from the most common bearing material, in favour of ceramic or plastic bearing types, steel very much still has its part to play in certain applications. But which ones? And how do you weigh up if steel is the right choice for you?

Stainless steel vs chrome steel bearings – what’s the difference?

In brief, chrome steel is the most common material for ball bearings due to its high load capacity, good low noise properties and affordability. Stainless steel bearings are designed for wet and mildly corrosive environments, where the bearings are required to cope with medium to high loads or speeds.

To counteract confusion over the different steel bearing variations available, we’ve put together this handy steel bearings buying guide.

As the final guide in our materials mini-series, we present the differences between chrome steel and stainless steel, along with our handy advantages and disadvantages summaries. We cover three popular steel bearing options:

  • SAE52100 Chrome steel
  • 440 Martensitic grade stainless steel
  • AIS316 Austenitic stainless steel – commonly referred to as marine grade stainless steel

We also delve into the applications where stainless steel ball bearings are ideal, helping you to make an informed material selection choice.

Will the bearing be operating in a corrosive environment?

Food and beverage, pharmaceutical and marine environments — stainless steel bearings are widely used in a range of applications due to their corrosion resistant nature.

But, how do you know when it’s worth investing in stainless steel bearings? Answering this question is easy with our corrosion resistance chart, available within this guide. SMB Bearings’ steel bearings guide simplifies the decision-making process with clear, comparable information, equipping you with the tools to specify the right bearing for your operating environment.

Download the guide here to determine which steel bearing type is right for you. We stock steel bearings in both imperial and metric sizes to fit a range of shaft diameters.

Steel bearings guide FAQs:

In this guide, we have collated the extensive knowledge of the SMB Bearings technical team. But, if you still want further information, we also answer some of the most commonly asked questions related to steel bearings.

Click here to download your essential guide to steel bearings.

Missed our ceramic bearings and plastic bearings guides? Follow the links to download the full set.

Alternatively, to speak to a bearing specialist, contact the SMB Bearings team directly on +44 (0) 1993 842 555 or e-mail

Our determination to remain specialised gives us a high level of product knowledge, providing bearing and lubrication solutions to existing or potential customers, whether individuals or large corporations. We don’t just sell bearings, we help to solve your problems. - Chris Johnson, managing director of SMB Bearings.