Choosing Between Stainless Steel & Brushed Nickel Faucet Finishes

We're going to go over two types of faucet finishes: stainless steel and brushed nickel. What are they? What's good and bad about them? Should you invest in one over the other? If you're torn on which faucet finish would work best in your kitchen, have no fear--we're here to help.

Choosing Between Stainless Steel & Brushed Nickel Faucet Finishes - Moen Edwyn Spot Resist Stainless Pull-Down Kitchen Faucet Choosing Between Stainless Steel & Brushed Nickel Faucet Finishes - Moen Edwyn Spot Resist Stainless Pull-Down Kitchen Faucet
The Hausera Editorial Team

Sometimes, making decisions for your home design means choosing between totally different color schemes, finishes, or even styles. In other cases, the difference between the two options is so slight, you might wonder how you’ll ever make the right choice. The latter is usually the case when it comes to stainless steel and brushed nickel. Though they look very similar on the surface, they do have a few differences that you may want to take into account before you invest in your fixtures and hardware.

What Is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is that shiny, silver-colored finish that you see on most home appliances, cookware, and fixtures. It gets the name “stainless” because of its resistance to corrosion and, yes, staining. 

“Stainless steel is an alloy of Iron with a minimum of 10.5% Chromium. Chromium produces a thin layer of oxide on the surface of the steel known as the 'passive layer'. This prevents any further corrosion of the surface. Increasing the amount of Chromium gives an increased resistance to corrosion,” the British Stainless Steel Association explains. “Stainless steel also contains varying amounts of Carbon, Silicon, and Manganese. Other elements such as Nickel and Molybdenum may be added to impart other useful properties such as enhanced formability and increased corrosion resistance.”

What Is Brushed Nickel?

Though it appears similar to stainless steel, brushed nickel is a type of nickel finish that you often see on higher-end fixtures. It is less common to see brushed nickel on cookware or appliances, as it is more often used on something like a faucet. Brushed nickel also has a silver finish to it, though nickel is a bit warmer than stainless steel. Brushed nickel is often used in the construction industry, and is made up of a strong combination of copper, zinc, and nickel. That’s what gives it a silvery-white finish. Created by the use of an intricate brushing process — hence the name — it is a cheaper alternative than just using pure nickel as a finish.

Related: The Advantages of Stainless Steel vs. Brushed Nickel


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What’s The Difference Between Stainless Steel And Brushed Nickel?

There are a number of differences between stainless steel and brushed nickel that you might want to take into consideration.

To start, these two finishes are constructed of very different materials. Stainless steel isn’t a raw material. It starts as brass or steel and is then coated through an electroplating process, which layers one type of metal to another to eliminate chances of corrosion.

Brushed nickel is made of copper, zinc, and nickel, whereas stainless steel, is composed of 10.5% to 28% chromium, iron, and carbon. To create a brushed nickel, manufacturers use a wire brush or a similar brushing tool to create small, consistent grooves on the metal. The result is that brushed nickel has texture, while stainless steel is completely smooth.

There are also different grades of stainless steel. According to Vollrath.com, 304 is typically the one you see on most cookware, appliances, or fixtures. “304 stainless steel consists mainly of iron plus 18% chromium and 8% nickel,” they explain. “This formula provides a well-balanced combination of strength plus superior resistance to corrosion and staining caused by acidic foods. Its higher nickel content also allows for more workability to prevent cracking when making products such as stockpots. 304 stainless steel is specified for more than half of all foodservice products.” On the other hand, a grade 430 is what would be used on something like a refrigerator, while other grades between the two, such as a 201, is typically used in something like an oven. This is why you will often see stainless steel preferred on appliances and fixtures that are going to have to withstand a lot of wear and tear.

According to Difference.Guru, there are a few other variables to take into consideration as well. Both stainless steel and brushed nickel are highly resistant to spots and can be cleaned by wiping the surface with water and a clean cloth. However, brushed nickel is more susceptible to exposing dirt, so you might find yourself cleaning it more often, perhaps with a pH-balanced soap. For tougher stains, a solution made of vinegar and water should do the trick. Either way, both are pretty reliable when it comes to keeping your fixtures clean.

As for durability, that will really depend on the manufacturer, the type of steel or nickel used, and the appliance. (As we reviewed earlier, there are different grades of stainless steel that themselves have different uses.) Each might provide slightly different durability, though generally speaking, they are all really reliable. Between the two, stainless steel is typically regarded as a bit more rust and corrosion-resistant. As for price, stainless steel is often a bit more expensive, usually because it’s a pure metal and not a finish. 


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Is There A Color Difference Between Stainless Steel And Brushed Nickel?

Yes, but it’s slight.

Stainless steel fixtures have high shine and a sleek, metallic finish. In a modern home, stainless steel is beautiful, and it easily matches stainless steel fridges, stoves, and other appliances. Brushed nickel has a warm, earthy tone to it, which many homeowners find appealing for kitchens and bathrooms. It looks beautiful in stark-white kitchens, as well as rooms themed with Tuscan, country French or antique decor. It can be hard to coordinate with other appliance colors, though.

Either way, you will probably either want to stick with one or the other when it comes to decor. Though the finishes are both distinctly silver, differing tones can clash in your space.

Is There A Difference In Upkeep?

Yes, though both should generally be durable. 

Stainless steel fixtures are usually regarded as easy to maintain because they keep their shine and do not display spots as much as nickel does. Stainless steel is also very durable, while brushed might be more susceptible to showing spots and dirt.  


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Does Brushed Nickel Rust?

With enough wear, yes.

Brushed nickel is resistant to rust, and should generally be really reliable. However, the key is that it is “resistant,” not “impenetrable."

According to ContemporaryDesign.com, this is why you may see some rusting with your brushed nickel: “Brushed nickel is resistant to rust and also other types of corrosion, however underneath regular conditions, it will eventually rust. And the operative term here is ‘resistant.’ As long as the nickel plating is undamaged, there will be no rust. But, when the nickel is damaged through to the metal, then there will be a spot of corrosion. This will usually ‘roll back’ the plating and reveal more metal bit by bit enabling the location of corrosion to increase. There is a minimum nickel plating today because chrome plating is a lot harder,” they explain.

“The corrosion-resistant quality of nickel is helpful in metallurgy. Nickel is usually plated over other ferrous metals that rust quickly. Ferrous metals consist of iron and form iron oxide (or corrosion) when exposed to atmospheric oxygen. Rusting of metals damages the metals and leads to metal fatigue.”


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Does Stainless Steel Rust?

Generally, no.

You will most likely not see any rusting with stainless steel. However, there are a few exceptions in more extreme circumstances. According to PolymerSolutions.com, there are a few reasons why your stainless steel may tarnish with time, and it often involves being exposed to extreme environments with harsh corrosive properties. 

“Most people are familiar with metals, to include stainless steel, corroding when it’s exposed to environments such as seawater,” they explain. Often, without understanding the exact science of what is occurring, people accept that exposing a metal product to seawater has a damaging effect. The science behind corrosion from seawater is that the water contains chlorine, which is corrosive to metals, including stainless steel. However, corrosion of stainless steel can also occur without producing any corrosion products to analyze (other than rust) and when an obvious corrosive environment is unable to be detected.”

Related: Types of Bathroom Faucets


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The Best Stainless Steel Faucets 

Kohler Artifacts Single Handle 

This is the ultimate kitchen faucet--along with the classic high-arc bridge neck, there is a 360-degree spout rotation feature and a two-function side spray. The finish on this Kohler faucet has a MasterClean touch--an easy-to-clean surface that prevents mineral buildup. 

Delta Cassidy Two Handle 

This faucet from Delta is sleek and timeless, with the double handle design and arctic stainless finish. Not only are the bridge neck, 360 swivel ability, and side spray very accessible and handy for duties in the kitchen, but the finish is for sure to match the rest of your appliances.

Delta Essa Touch Single Handle 

Technology is improving and having a smart faucet in your kitchen is trendy. This Delta faucet has Touch2O Technology--it senses your touch (and the difference between a touch and a grab)--and has an automatic water flow shut off when not in use. The arctic stainless finish is clean and durable, too. 

The Best Brushed Nickel Faucets 

Kingston Brass Naples Two Handle

Kingston Brass offers this deck mount faucet with solid brass construction and a brushed nickel finish. Along with the double handle, there is also a side spray, which allows for accessibility and versatility at the sink.

Brizo Artesso Single Handle Pull Down 

If you're looking for a faucet for your industrial kitchen, this pull-down faucet and two-function wand spray from Brizo is a great option. Inspired by the early 20th century, this brushed nickel faucet is coated in TouchClean, which prevents mineral deposits. 

Kingston Brass Wilshire Bridge 

The brushed nickel finish on this Kingston Brass faucet makes the bridge neck and two handles more luxurious and sleek. If you like the style of a wall-mount faucet and also want a vintage flair to your kitchen sink, this is a great option for you. 


The Final Verdict

If you want your room fixtures to pop, then brushed nickel is the way to go. However, in terms of creating a cohesive kitchen or bathroom that’s easy to clean, stainless steel trumps brushed nickel.

Ultimately, you'll need to decide if the aesthetic is more important than the upkeep. That said, stainless steel is a great low-maintenance option that works perfectly in any home. With either of these options, you really can’t go wrong.