Aluminum is one of the most popular metals out there, with plenty of key uses in our world.
Since it’s a metal, many people might assume that it’s going to stick to magnets, but they’ll be surprised to find that isn’t the case.
Magnets do not stick to aluminum for a number of reasons. For one, it doesn’t contain any magnetic elements.
The key magnetic elements are iron, cobalt, nickel, and some alloys of “rare earth metals” – none of which are contained within aluminum. On top of that, aluminum is quite a weak metal.
With that being said, aluminum is still capable of some tiny magnetic pull, and this is due to something called Lenz's Law.
In my interesting article below, I’m going to explain in more depth why magnets don’t stick to aluminum, as well as the impact of Lenz’s Law. Read on!
Do Magnets Stick To Aluminum?
We’re going to begin with the key question, which we’ve already touched upon in the intro. The short answer is no, a magnet won’t stick to aluminum.
This means that if you get a magnet and you put it next to an aluminum object, you’re not going to see the aluminum rush over towards the magnet and stick onto it.
With that being said, you can see aluminum display some responses to magnets. This is because aluminum will show a small amount of magnetism when it’s in a magnetic field that is strong.
For example, if you get a strong magnet and move it around a piece of aluminum, you will see the aluminum respond in a very tiny, subtle way, as it moves to follow the magnet.
Yet if you push the magnet and the aluminum together, they won’t stick at all.
This is all to do with Lenz’s Law, which I’ll get into a bit later.
Why Doesn’t Aluminum Stick To Magnets?
The reason that aluminum doesn’t stick to magnets is because of its construction and structure. Aluminum is quite a weak metal, which doesn’t help it, but it also doesn’t contain any of the magnetic metal elements.
The magnetic metal elements include iron, cobalt, and nickel. On top of that, they also include a few alloys or “rare earth metals”. If aluminum did contain any of these, then it would stick to magnets.
On the other hand, the aforementioned metals themselves, as well as metals that contain them, will stick to magnets.
However, I’ve already mentioned that aluminum does display some magnetic properties, because it will react to strong magnetic fields. The main cause of this is aluminum’s crystal structure.
The fact that it reacts, but doesn’t stick, makes aluminum a “pragmatic element”.
What Makes A Pragmatic Element?
A pragmatic element is the name given to elements that are only moderately attracted to strong magnets, rather than fully getting attracted to them and sticking.
As you can see, the element isn’t entirely non-magnetic, because it still reacts when there is a strong magnet present. For example, it may move as the magnet moves, it just won’t stick to it.
So, it isn’t fully magnetic at all, but it also doesn’t completely ignore the presence of strong magnets either.
Aluminum is not the only pragmatic element out there, as there are a few others. These include magnesium, lithium, tantalum, and molybdenum.
These elements all behave in the same way as aluminum. If you were to move a strong magnet near them, they would move with it.
However, you wouldn’t be able to make any of them stick to the magnet, because they are all lacking the properties to make them fully magnetic.
What Makes A Material Magnetic?
I’ve already explained that a metal needs to contain any of the magnetic metal elements that we listed earlier (such as iron, cobalt, and others) for it to be magnetic, but what makes those magnetic?
It’s all to do with the behavior of the electrons inside it.
When a material is magnetic, the electrons inside it are lining up and spinning in the same direction. This formation and specific movement creates a magnetic field, which then makes the material magnetic.
This means that the electrons in iron, cobalt, nickel, and some alloys of rare earth metals are all in line and moving in the same direction.
When a metal that contains one of one of these magnetic elements, it inherits its magnetic field, and becomes magnetic itself.
This isn’t the case with aluminum and the other pragmatic metals, as well as the other metals that are non-magnetic. For aluminum, the electrons inside it are actually spinning in opposite directions to each other.
This movement gets rid of the magnetic field, meaning that the metal is not magnetic.
However, that doesn’t mean that aluminum isn’t at all responsive to strong magnets in some way, and I mentioned earlier that this all refers to something called Lenz’s Law.
Lenz’s Law states that an induced electric current will flow in a direction such that the current is opposing the current change.
This means that a strong magnet will move with a piece of aluminum, because there are opposing currents between the two objects.
If you were to get an aluminum tube and drop a strong magnet through it, you would see that the magnet slowed down as it fell, because of all the opposing currents at work.
Can You Magnetize Aluminum?
The question remains then: can you make aluminum magnetic? The short answer is no, and it’s all because aluminum is a weak metal to begin with.
Although it has some magnetic properties, because it will move with strong magnets and opposing currents will be at play, it will never stick to a magnet because there isn’t any way to give it strong magnetic properties.
Magnets do not stick to aluminum, because aluminum is a weak metal and doesn’t contain any of the magnetic elements. However, aluminum will at least move with a strong magnet nearby.