Steel wool was invented in the early twentieth century as a solution to a major overhaul in cookware that was occurring around the time. The heavy cast iron cookware that was common at the time was replaced by aluminum pots and pans. The stoves, which were fired by coal, blackened the new material, making it impossible to clean. The development of steel wool made cleaning aluminum and other cleaning tasks possible.
Steel wool is comprised of many tiny steel wires that have been pulled through a series of metal dies. This extremely fine steel is mixed with soft soap for cleaning purposes. Different grades of steel wool are available, each with different strands of thickness. Grades 1 to 3 are coarser while grades 0 through 0000 are finer. The more zeroes in the grade, the finer is the grade of steel wool.
Steel wool has the ability to polish many different surfaces. The thin steel particles of the wool can smooth out these uneven areas as if it were a strong piece of sandpaper. Steel wool has been used on marble, stone, glass and different types of wood. Some types of wood cause the steel wool to leave a trace of iron because of a reaction with the tannins in the wood.
Steel wool is extremely pliable, allowing it to get into crevices that most scouring devices could not reach. Steel wool can conform to the angles and curves on furniture, molding and picture frames. One method that takes advantage of this property is the attachment of steel wool to a stick or rope to reach even tougher-to-get-to areas.
Steel wool has a melting point of 1535 degrees Celsius and a flash point of 250 degrees Celsius. The boiling point of steel wool is 2750 degrees Celsius. When steel wool is added to mineral acids, it lets off the product of hydrogen. Do not combine steel wool with halogens, peroxide, nitric oxide or sulfuric acid. Steel wool is flammable; don't use it near an open flame.