Passivation is the process of treating or coating a metal in order to reduce the chemical reactivity of its surface. In stainless steel, passivation means removing the free iron from the surface of the metal using an acid solution to prevent rust.
When the surface iron is removed, the other components of the alloy (primarily chromium, often nickel as well) are left behind as a surface layer over the underlying steel. Upon exposure to air, these elements react with oxygen to form an oxide layer that protects the rest of the steel from corrosion. This corrosion-resistant surface can be damaged through mechanical means or heat or chemical damage.
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