Steel wool is a material made from thin strands of steel that are joined or woven together into a pad. Consumers are often familiar with this product in the form of a mop; it is also used by woodworkers as a substitute for sandpaper and has many other uses. Many hardware stores and grocery stores offer and sometimes several types are available for different tasks ranging from coarse to fine.
This product was originally developed in the 19th century and was produced from a waste known as shavings. The filings appear when the metal is turned on a lathe; metallurgists noticed that the fine fibers of the filings appeared to have interesting properties, including the ability to behave almost like cloth. They likely started using the filings at home and others picked up the habit, creating a demand for commercially produced versions.
The common name of this product is a reference to the fact that the fibers look like matted wool that has not been combed or carded. The multiple fine filaments create an abrasive surface, and the steel’s roughness can be adjusted using different sized fibers, ensuring the product can be used in everything from fine woodworking projects to pots and pans. Many companies produce individual steel wool pads along with large rolls that can be cut to size for people who use them a lot.
Grading standards for steel wool vary, so if a consumer is unsure which grade to buy, they may want to purchase a garment with a label that indicates it is appropriate for a specific need. People should be aware that fibers can be hard on the wearer’s hands; although people don’t need gloves to use it, they may want to use it carefully to make sure they don’t get minor cuts and scrapes.
Steel wool is also a potential fire hazard because the fine filaments are highly flammable. Some people use this to their advantage; they take it on camping trips, for example, because it lights up even when wet. People should be careful when using this product near an open flame and avoid exposing it to electrical currents, as it may cause sparks or catch fire unexpectedly.