How to Sort Scrap Metal for the Most Profit

Have piles of scrap for recycling and have no idea where to start? Well lucky you, Sullivan’s Scrap Metals will start you off on the right foot! It can be difficult to identify and sort scrap metal since certain metals look the same. This is why first and foremost; you should always have a magnet! A magnet will become your best friend when identifying ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

There are lots of ways to go about sorting your metals and everyone has their own method.

For example, some people like to start by sorting everything into bins and others prefer to start by segmenting out the ferrous from the non-ferrous metals.  This will give you a general guide and provide ideas to help with your sorting efforts.

STEP ONE – Collect Large Bins/Boxes/Containers

Use a permanent marker to label your containers as aluminum, iron, stainless steel, steel, copper and brass. You can use these to separate smaller scrap metal items. 

STEP TWO – Sort by Magnet Testing Ferrous/Non-Ferrous

Begin separating out scrap metal that is magnetic (ferrous) and put it into one pile and non-magnetic metals (non-ferrous) into another pile.

  • Magnetic metals include iron, steel and other ferrous metals.
  • Non-magnetic items will contain all of your non-ferrous metals like aluminum, copper and brass.

Note: Iron and steel can be sold together. Many times they are classified as the same when you recycle your scrap metals.

STEP THREE – Sorting Non-Ferrous Metals – Copper/Brass/Gold/Aluminum

Go through your non-ferrous metal pile first and start separating out the different types of metals.

  • Copper is obviously copper colored but it can be found in pipes, cables, and wire. (Sometimes in plumbing there will be red brass.)
  • Red brass will be a different shade of red than regular copper as red brass has some copper but is not pure copper.
  • Yellow colored metals will be brass unless you have some gold in your pile.
  • Gold will be more golden color while brass will be more yellow.
  • Separate all the aluminum. Aluminum will be light weight compared to the other metals and will be a silver color.

STEP FOUR – Sort Remaining Ferrous Metals – Tin/Lead/Steel

Now separate each of the different types of ferrous metals in the remaining pile. Put your tin, steel, lead and stainless steel into separate piles. As you get better at recognizing the different types of metals you can combine steps 3 & 4 to save time when sorting.

  • Steel is a very solid and strong material that normally will be rust colored if weathered. When you come across lead it should be pretty obvious since it is very heavy compared to size.
  • Lead items will be dark gray in color. If you have lead batteries put them in another pile as well. Car batteries are a good example.
  • Tin can be bent and will make a cracking sound as you bend it. If something is 100% stainless steel it will not rust. This is always an easy way to spot stainless steel and it is also heavy as well.

STEP FIVE – Sort By Cleanliness

In this next step you are going to go through each pile and separate out all the clean metals from the dirty. Clean metal will actually be worth more than the dirty metals. You are looking for rust, dirt/mud and other contaminates on the metal. This will also include mixed types of metals as well. When you have two types of metals like our previous example of aluminum gutters with steel screws, you can remove the steel screws to increase the value of the aluminum. It will be left up to you to decide how much effort you want to put into separating/breaking down your metals.  This will really depend on how hard it will be to separate/breakdown the metals, the time needed to do the work and the value of the actual cleaned metal. Working to separate out copper for example may be worth the extra effort since copper has a much higher value than most other metals.

STEP SIX – Take it to Sullivan’s!

The final step is by far the most exciting and rewarding part of all your hard work and efforts. After you have all your metals sorted it is time to load them up and bring them down to Sullivan’s Scrap Yard for recycling. Your itemized ticket will show the differences in payment for your metals and how you maximized your profit for your scrap metal. Keep in mind our metal descriptions have been kept simple to keep our article short. If you are not sure what kind of metal you have our knowledgeable staff will be happy to help.

Check out our list of accepted metals here, and we look forward to seeing you!