Magnetism and Metals: What You Need to Know

The magnetic properties of metals are a subject of great interest and practical significance. Whether designing electronic devices, constructing buildings, or developing new technologies, understanding which metals are attracted to magnets and why is crucial.

Why are certain metals attracted to magnets?

Metals are attracted to magnets primarily because of their internal structure and how their atoms are arranged. Here’s a simple explanation:

  • Magnetic Domains: Inside certain metals, tiny regions called magnetic domains exist where the magnetic forces of atoms are aligned in the same direction. When these metals are placed near a magnet, the magnetic domains align with the magnetic field, causing attraction.
  • Unpaired Electrons: Metals that are attracted to magnets, like iron, nickel, and cobalt, have unpaired electrons in their atoms. These unpaired electrons generate a magnetic moment, making the metal respond to a magnetic field.
  • Atomic Structure: The way atoms are arranged in these metals allows their magnetic moments to easily align with an external magnetic field, enhancing the attraction.

In contrast, metals like aluminium, copper, and gold have paired electrons and lack the necessary magnetic domains, so they are not attracted to magnets.

Metals that Attract to Magnets


Iron is the most well-known magnetic metal. In iron, the magnetic domains can easily align with an external magnetic field, making it strongly magnetic. This property makes iron an essential material in the manufacture of electromagnets, transformers, and various electrical devices.


Nickel is another metal with significant magnetic properties. Like iron, it has unpaired electrons that contribute to its magnetic domains. Nickel is often used in alloys to enhance their magnetic properties and corrosion resistance. One common alloy is permalloy, which contains a high percentage of nickel and is used in magnetic shielding and transformer cores.


Cobalt is used in the production of high-strength permanent magnets, such as those found in electric motors and generators. Cobalt's magnetic properties also make it valuable in various high-temperature applications where maintaining magnetic performance is critical.

Metals Not Attracted to Magnets


Aluminium is a non-magnetic metal primarily due to its electronic configuration. The electrons in aluminium are paired, which means there are no unpaired electrons to align with an external magnetic field. Consequently, aluminium does not have magnetic domains that can contribute to magnetic attraction. Despite this, aluminium is widely used in applications where lightweight and non-magnetic properties are advantageous, such as in aircraft construction and electrical wiring.


Copper is another non-magnetic metal. Similar to aluminium, copper's electrons are paired, preventing the formation of magnetic domains. Copper's excellent electrical conductivity makes it a staple in electrical engineering, despite its lack of magnetic properties. It is used in wiring, motors, and electromagnetic shielding applications where non-magnetic materials are preferred.

Gold and Silver

Gold and silver are noble metals known for their conductivity and resistance to corrosion. Both metals have filled electron shells, meaning all their electrons are paired. This configuration makes it impossible for these metals to form magnetic domains, rendering them non-magnetic. Their primary applications are in electronics, jewellery, and as investment assets.


Lead is a dense, soft metal that is not attracted to magnets. Its atomic structure, with paired electrons, means it cannot support magnetic domain formation. Lead's primary uses include radiation shielding, batteries, and as a stabilizer in some types of glass.


Understanding which metals are attracted to magnets and why involves delving into the atomic structure and electron configuration of these materials. Ferromagnetic metals like iron, nickel, and cobalt exhibit magnetic properties due to their unpaired electrons and the ability to form magnetic domains. In contrast, metals like aluminium, copper, gold, silver, and lead are non-magnetic due to their paired electrons and lack of domain formation. This knowledge is crucial for various applications in science, engineering, and industry, guiding the selection of materials for specific purposes based on their magnetic properties.

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