The Difference Between Stainless Steel and Brushed Nickel

Updated November 21, 2016

Stainless steel and brushed nickel are metal alloys with application ranges from household utensils and fixtures to industrial equipment and surgical instrumentation. While stainless steel has a wider range of practical applications, brushed nickel is often chosen purely for its beauty.

Stainless Steel

The discovery of stainless steel began in 1821 when Frenchman Pierre Berthier discovered that iron alloyed with chromium produced a resistance to some acids. Over time, the chromium levels were modified and carbon and nitrogen were added, producing the basis for the stainless steel we use today. The term stainless was adopted as a generic name for steel alloys that contain a minimum of 10.5 per cent chromium. Depending on its application, stainless steel is alloyed with nickel, molybdenum, titanium or copper to enhance strength and structure. Stainless steel has a bright, polished surface that is easy to clean and resists damage and corrosion.

Brushed Nickel

Nickel was discovered in 1751 by Swedish chemist Axel Fredrik Cronstedt. It is a hard, corrosion resistant metal that can be either electroplated onto other metals, forming a protective coating, or alloyed with other metals, improving strength and corrosion resistance. Brushed nickel is commonly used in a range of household fixtures, from appliances to faucets and switch plate covers. Brushed nickel is an alloy of either copper or zinc that is forged into a desired shape then scratched with a wire brush, giving it a matt finish that resists corrosion, tarnish, water spots and fingerprints.

Stainless Steel Care

Because of its smooth, shiny surface, fingerprints and smudging appear more frequently on stainless steel. When this happens, warm water and a mild soap followed by a clear water rinse is usually sufficient. However, when stainless steel becomes extremely dirty or discoloured, soft nylon brushes and mild non-scratching creams and polishes can be used. Isopropyl alcohol and citric acid based cleaners also work well. Avoid using chloride solutions and carbon steel wool, because these can scratch and damage the surface.

Brushed Nickel Care

Although naturally stain resistant, brushed nickel is often coated with a protective finish that provides further protection against damage and the build-up of hard water deposits, smudges and fingerprints. Harsh or abrasive cleaners can damage, or even remove, that protective coating, leaving brushed nickel susceptible to smudging and calcification. In order to preserve the finish, avoid using cleaners that contain ammonia, hydrofluoric, hydrochloric or phosphoric acids, as these can eat away the protective finish. Instead, use a mild, unscented dish soap or a 50/50 ratio of white vinegar and warm water with a soft, clean rag.

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About the Author

Katrina Arthurs began her writing career in 1999. She served as a columnist for the "Edgewood News Herald" then as a reporter and production manager for the "KC Conservative." Arthurs is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in criminal justice at the University of Central Missouri.