How to Sort Scrap Metal for the Most Profit


  • “Mixed” and “contaminated” scrap sells for far less than sorted and clean scrap.
  • A container full of different types of metals (steel/aluminum/copper/brass/stainless steel, etc.) is considered “mixed” and needs to be sorted. 
  • Example:  An aluminum storm door with a steel kick plate is considered “contaminated” and needs to be cleaned.  Remove steel kick plate and keep it separate from aluminum.
  • Example:  You have an aluminum car radiator with plastic on sides.  This item is “contaminated” because of the plastic.  Remove plastic from the aluminum and you will receive a better price.
  • You should always have a magnet!  A magnet will become your best friend when identifying ferrous and non-ferrous items.  Ferrous means containing iron and a magnet will stick to these items.  Non-ferrous materials do not contain iron; your magnet will not stick.
  • Collect bins/boxes/containers and label them.
  • Keep a container for: steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and stainless steel.  Begin separating ferrous scrap from nonferrous scrap.  
  • Clean copper is obviously copper colored (brownish).  Copper is heavy and can be found in a variety of forms: plumbing/piping, sheet copper (roofing/siding/gutters) and electrical wire are some of the most common items.
  • Yellow colored metals will typically be brass.
  • Aluminum is lightweight with a grey/silver/white color.  
  • Stainless steel has a grey/silver color also, but usually has a shinier gleam.  Stainless is much heavier than aluminum.  If you have a grinder you can use it as a tool to distinguish stainless from aluminum as well.  Stainless steel will spark.  Aluminum will not.  
  • Go through each of your containers one last time to make sure everything is clean!  If you have a copper pipe and there’s a piece of yellow brass attached this is considered contaminated.  Take the time to remove the yellow brass item.  Make sure there’s no plastic, foam, or rubber attached to your metals!  Using your magnet, check your non-ferrous containers to make sure the magnet does not stick to anything.  If it does your item is contaminated and will be downgraded.

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