Metal is everywhere – in the kitchen in pots and pans and knives and forks, in chairs, automobiles, bicycles, airplanes and road signs.

But the type of metal you find in different items varies wildly, such as what a beverage can is made up of compared to a house – and so does the value.

So, if you were wondering if there was any money to be made at the scrap yard or were just curious about what type of metal you had lying around, the first question you need to ask is, is it a ferrous or non-ferrous metal?

The ferrous metals

The metals that are used in products that are made to last, to be strong and durable are the ferrous metals – and that is because homes, skyscrapers, bridges, automobiles and railroads need to stand the test of time, and be used by people for decades or even centuries.

Heavy metal steel, plate and structural steel are the main ferrous metals and there’s a very easy way to tell these apart from other metals – and that is by using a magnet.

Because they contain iron, they will be attracted to it – and the most likely place for it to crop up is in demolition waste, while bicycles and pots and pans can also be made from it.

If you’ve got ferrous metal from a building you’ve knocked down – a garage, shed, outhouse – or a different structure and are thinking of taking it to the recycling center, prepared steel or iron scrap, which has been cut into manageable pieces and is ready to be processed will usually fetch more.

If it’s unprepared and contains add-ons of different metal types, such as copper, aluminum and brass, you will get less as these will need to be cut off at the yard before the metal can be processed.

The non-ferrous metals

The non-ferrous metals do not contain iron and will not be attracted to a magnet – but generally, the value of these are higher as they have desirable properties such as resistance to corrosion, they conduct electricity and are low in weight.

Aluminum or tin can?

Tin-coated steel cans, or “tin cans” are also ferrous and will be attracted to a magnet, which will help you separate them from the aluminum cans in your grocery basket.

Aluminum – used for beverage cans, foils, kitchen utensils, window frames, beer kegs and airplane parts – is one of the most common types of non-ferrous metal and will not be attracted to a magnet.

There are other ways to check if it’s aluminum you have in your hand by trying to crush it – common packaging products made from this metal often weigh less, are not as durable as other metals and are silver grey.

Copper – the ancient metal

Color is usually a good way to tell the non-ferrous metals apart – while copper is heavier than aluminum, it can both come in solid form or be used to plate other materials.

If you file a section and it reveals a different color, then you know that there is a different metal lurking underneath.

This was one of the earliest metals discovered and the Greeks and Romans used it for tools and adornments, while today it is most commonly found in electrical materials such as wiring.

A simple way of finding out if it’s pure copper before weighing it to find any scrap yard value is to put lemon juice over it – when you wash it off, it will glow a reddish color.

Brass, zinc or bronze?

Brass, because it looks a bit like gold, is often used for decorative purposes and also musical instruments because of its durability.

If you clean the metal, it should have a distinct bright gold color while zinc is a dull silver-grey, and if you file and add vinegar, it should foam a little – something aluminum will not do.

Zinc is most commonly used to coat other metals to protect them from corrosion, such as alloys and parts of airplanes and automobiles.

And then there is bronze, which has faint rings on its surface and is a dull-gold color – it can contain a mixture of other metals and is used for industrial sheeting.

The scrap price you will get for the metal at Richmond Steel Recycling and other sites will fluctuate and will depend on weight and if it has been sorted from other materials.