The effect of different carbonitride forming elements on the oxidation performance of a 17Cr steel has been investigated. Whilst C and N are shown to have deleterious effects on the formation of protective oxides on unstabilised steel, a relationship has been found between the strength of the carbonitride former and the relative improvement in the oxidation performance. Furthermore, the appearance of the austenite phase has harmful influence on the oxidation resistance of the ferritic steel because the diffusion rate of Cr, Fe and so on is much slower in the austenitic structure than in the ferritic structure. The improvement is the most pronounced when the stabilizing element is Zr. The formation of the scale observed using transmission electron microscopy has been shown to be strongly controlled by the inward diffusion of the oxidant.