Pitting corrosion is a form of localized corrosion, which produces attacks in the form of spots or pits. Pitting corrosion may occur in stainless steels in neutral or acid solutions containing halides*, primarily chlorides (Cl-), such as seawater.

Pitting corrosion attacks most often take place at points where the passive layer might be weakened, for example by slag inclusions, a damaged surface or imperfections in the passive layer. Once the attack has started, the material can be completely penetrated within a short time.

Problems with pitting corrosion attacks depend primarily on the chloride content, the pH value (the acidity), and the temperature. If pitting has taken place and if the environment in such is not too corrosive for the steel grade, a spontaneous repair of the passive layer will occur in the presence of oxygen.

The chloride content is often stated as ppm (parts per million = 0.0001%). Some typical Cl- values are:

  • Freshwater: 0–200 ppm (0–0.02% wt.)
  • Brackish water: Normally up to 15,000 ppm (1.5% wt.)
  • Seawater: Normally 15,000–21,000 ppm (1.5–2.1% wt.)

Natural seawater is more corrosive than would be expected from its chloride content. The reason is that biological activity will occur. Therefore, chlorination as biocide is often used as to prevent the growth of micro-organisms in seawater-bearing pipe systems.

Under such conditions SAF™ 2707 HD, SAF™ 3207, SAF™ 2507 and SAlleima® 254 SMO* have superior properties. If chlorine addition of 0.5–2 ppm is made intermittently (for example. 2 x 30 min/24 hours), the risk of pitting attack can be reduced. Intermittent chlorination is fully sufficient to prevent micro-organism growth. However, the chlorine addition can cause an increased risk of pitting corrosion due to the oxidizing capacity. Use of continuous chlorination increases this risk, which is why intermittent chlorination is preferred.

Effect of alloying elements

These alloying elements have the following positive influence on a material's resistance to pitting corrosion:

  • Chromium (Cr) +
  • Molybdenum (Mo) +++
  • Nitrogen (N) +++

Pitting resistance equivalent (PRE)

One way to estimate the pitting resistance of stainless steels is through the pitting resistance equivalent (PRE), which can be calculated from the chemical composition of the steel. The higher the value, the better the resistance.

PRE can be calculated according to the formula:
% of Cr + 3.3 x % of Mo + 16 x % of N

Pitting corrosion testing

There are several different methods for testing a steel grade's resistance to pitting. Critical pitting temperature (CPT) determination is often used. ASTM G48, practice A and E (6% FeCl3) is one of the toughest pitting corrosion tests for stainless steels due to the acidic solution combined with chlorides and the oxidizing ability. ASMT G48 practice A is a performance test at one temperature while the practice E determines the critical pitting temperature (CPT). For high-alloy grades testing according to ASTM G150 in the neutral solution of 1M NaCl is frequently used.

Sandvik grades with very good or excellent resistance to pitting corrosion

  • SAF™ 2707 HD
  • SAF™ 3207 HD
  • SAF™ 2507
  • Alleima® 254 SMO*

Material datasheets for Alleima grades

Facts in brief about pitting corrosion

  • Pitting most often takes place at points where the passive layer might be weakened, for example by slag inclusions, a damaged surface or imperfections in the passive layer
  • Pitting corrosion takes place in neutral or acidic solutions containing primarily chlorides (Cl-), for example in neutral seawater
  • Factors influencing pitting: Cl- content, pH value, temperature, presence of oxidizing agent

* Halides = elements forming salts; e.g. Cl, F, Br, I
** 254 SMO is a trademark owned by Outokumpu OY