Passive films formed in bicarbonate solutions on carbon steel, chromium steel and high speed steel have been characterized by XPS. The passive films formed on chromium and high speed steels showed superior protective properties than those formed on carbon steel. It was confirmed by XPS that the steel composition influences the passive film composition. Chromium oxide and hydroxide, as well as molybdenum and tungsten oxides and hydroxides are present in the passive film of chromium steel and high speed steel, respectively, besides iron oxide and hydroxide. The more complex composition of the oxide film on high speed steel explains its electrochemical behaviour and highest corrosion resistance.