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Chrome vs. stainless steel


Q. I was wondering if there is a difference in using chrome or stainless steel fixtures (trims, door handles, etc.) in residential architecture at the beach (does chrome 'suffer' from the effects of salty sea-air?).

Sandro Alberti
- Santa Monica, California

A. When something is stainless steel it is made of stainless steel through & through, and it stays stainless steel forever, although it does not necessarily remain stain-free, especially around salt. When something is chrome, only the surface is chrome--the substrate is something else (aluminum, die-cast, brass, or steel). It is possible to chrome plate things very robustly. Chrome plated steel truck bumpers last years or decades in terrible conditions; chrome plated brass cleats and fittings last years or decades on sailboats and motorboats in salt water. But it is also very possible to install chrome plated fixtures that will not do you proud--at some time you have probably seen chromed bathroom faucets and towel racks that are an embarrassment.

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

A. It depends on the quality and the thickness of each of the layers of plate. High quality will have a copper, two or three layers of different nickels and a thicker coat of chrome to withstand long term wear. Great plating will serve better than any SS. If you go the SS route, have it electropolished for a far better look and corrosion resistance.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


A. The early stainless steels were not equal to well plated chrome on brass for marine environments. Modern stainless steels, with a higher proportion of nickel in the alloy should outperform the average nickel/chrome deposit. Plated systems suffer from the porosity problem, and the cost of plating properly could be more expensive than using stainless steel.

Raymond Sebba
- Cape Town, South Africa


A. Type 316 stainless is preferred near coastal environment as opposed to others for better corrosion resistance.

In the area of trims, check into PVD coated stainless, such as lifetime door kick plate, door handles and trim. These products have been tested with salt water spray tests.

Chrome plated license plated frames for cars sometime does not hold up in coastal environments, but I suspect this is much due to the quality of plating as others have noted. We have tested lifetime mirror stainless steel license frames both natural and PVD Titanium Nitride gold plated and so far... 2 years with no complaints.

Michael Liu Taylor
   specialty stainless steel distributor
Dallas, Texas

September 17, 2009

Hey Sandro,
Firstly, chroming is only as good as the shop doing the chroming.
If the chrome layer chips or scratched through the resulting corrosion will spread, bubble, and peel faster than if corrosion starts on stainless.
Stainless is stainless throughout and can be re-finished if need be and is only limited to the thickness of the stainless. Kinda like comparing laminate flooring to real hardwood :-).
To answer your question the actual chrome layer does stand up very well to the salty environments. Its the thickness and how good the part has been chromed that eventually fails. If the part is going to be untouched, and undisturbed you may try chroming.
Personally I fab all my "chrome" stuff with 304 or 316 stainless steel and electropolish it as the last step before installing.

Cliff Kusch
electropolishing shop - North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

June 24, 2008

Q. Can expert eye distinguish stainless steel from chrome?
How to distinguish stainless steel from chrome by eye (physical examination)

Adnan Burhan
Engineer - UAE

June 24, 2008

A. Hi, Adnan. If you asked whether an expert wine taster could tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $150 bottle of wine, the answer would be "probably, most of the time". If you then asked how you could do the same, the answer could only be "you need to put in years of practice; no one can give anyone a few words that will instantly transform them into an expert wine taster".

I feel I can usually distinguish the best "show chrome" from the best polished stainless because it just looks more specular and more reflective and lighter. Sometimes you can tell from the defects (it is almost impossible to chrome plate a large object without even a single gas pit). But I cannot tell well polished stainless from chrome all the time, and it depends on the lighting and the shape of the part. Other people can probably distinguish them more accurately and more easily than I can, but I don't think there is a foolproof method. In any event, you would need a wide assortment of samples in order to train someone in that art. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 30, 2009

Q. Halo! I am student in form six.
My question is what is difference between "Chromed finish" and "polished finish".

Chin sun lip
student - Selangor, Malaysia

June 27, 2009

A. Hi, Chin. It's hard to put a fine point on an answer to an inexact description like "chromed finish" and "polished finish". Chromed probably means decorative nickel-chrome plating was done on the parts; polished means they were mechanically polished or buffed, probably with buffing compound, to produce a finish that is smoother and brighter than obtained with sandpaper.

We have an FAQ, "Introduction to Chrome Plating", that may help you. Good luck.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 2, 2009

Q. Mr. Mooney,

I live in San Francisco and face the harsh west salt air. My high(er) end Baldwin ("polished Chrome") handle set and matching door knocker seems to be holding up well, although after a few years, I have been polishing them with Nevr-Dullamazoninfo to offset some minor corrosion. My first question is: was there some type of "lacquer" finish that I am taking off of the handle set? Am I hurting the finish?

I am also searching for a nice door kick and have found the typical 6x34 .050 thick polished stainless steel door kick on line. Since the poor quality picture doesn't tell me what it really looks like, do you think it will match my Baldwin handle set? Do you think I could polish the door kick myself to create a matching finish?

My thanks for this nice forum. (also, my wife was born and raised in Brielle NJ)

Holland Ja
- San Francisco, California

September , 2009

A. Hi, Holland. I think the stainless kick plate (since it's advertised as polished rather than brushed or satin) will match your handset well. It is not conventional for chrome to have a lacquer on it; the chrome plating is usually the final step.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

December 15, 2011

Q. Need a little advice on chrome plated versus stainless steel ball Valves, full port, wheel type (8 inch down to 4 inch). Application will call for medium pressure, about static of 150 psi, medium volume. Anyadvice on which will stay in service longer? Big price difference! Thanks.

John Tennant MP 40 yrs
- Winter Park, Colorado

January 24, 2012

Q. How do I remove RUST from several metal Puppy Pens. Urine and water have caused rust on several spots on the legs of the pen's? Can I paint them after rust is removed?

Betty White
Hobby Exhibitor & Breeder - Palm Springs, Florida, USA

January 26, 2012

Naval Jelly from the hardware store, rinse, dry, then two or more coats of a rust resistant enamel.

jeffrey holmes Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
- Spartanburg, South Carolina

February 24, 2012

Q. Hi Team,

We're building a new home on the beach and are ready to purchase outdoor lighting fixtures. I know the salt air will be very harsh but I'd like to get 7-10 years out of these fixtures - garage, sidelights, etc. I've read here on your forum, some pros and cons of chrome and stainless steel. If it was your new home, specifically what material would you put outside?

Judy Edward
Retired, fishing person, gardening enthusiast - Flagler Beach, Florida, USA

February 24, 2012

A. Hi, Judy. I'd go with stainless steel. Electropolished if you can find it.

However, with so much stuff being imported from China, where counterfeiting and substitution is rife, your only guarantee of quality is the USA supplier's name and reputation. This is especially unfortunate in an age of "meatball whoring" where the shortsighted CEO's of many USA companies are licensing their logo/meatball to third parties to be slapped onto low quality imported junk in exchange for cash. I apologize for the crassness of my phrase, but the word "licensed" looks legitimate and innocent, whereas my phrase tells it like it actually is :-)

Personally, my single best indication of quality today is to look at the instruction manual or warranty and see who you are supposed to contact in the event of difficulty or dissatisfaction. If it is someone other than the supplier themselves, it is a very strong indication to me that the company actually has little to do with the product and is simply prostituting their logo for cash.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

February 25, 2012

A. I live near the water and even powder coated lights are not standing up.
Consider bare aluminum. It will gradually turn a light gray and stay that way for years.
Stainless is cheaper than chrome plating and will last about as long. Whatever way you go, consider cleaning and clear coat or just a good coat of paste wax like carnuba based waxes.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

March 8, 2012

A. Right on the beach is a bad place for any metal. If you go stainless, try to get 316 rather than 304. As Ted mentioned, electropolished helps too. The key is maintenance. Left completely unattended, you're probably not going to get more than few years, but if you do good upkeep, pay attention and repassivate the surfaces at the first sign of any corrosion, you can keep them looking nice.

Let us know if we can help.

Ray Kremer
Stellar Solutions, Inc.

McHenry, Illinois

March 9, 2012

A. I wouldn't use stainless, chrome plated or aluminum. You could use plastic, or you could use copper which would weather to chocolate brown with streaks of green. Weathered copper is presently popular with architects.

Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
- Spartanburg, South Carolina

March 16, 2012

A. I agree with Jeffrey. We have a house at the Jersey Shore. (No, we do not know Snookie & it is not even near where they live!) The original outside light fixtures were made of wood-4 sided-open end cubes attached to the side of the house-original from the builder. Since they were open ended, it was very easy to change the bulb and since they were wood, they could be painted. We decided to change them out to something fancier, "White Lanterns" that were supposed to be "Rust Proof." The White Lanterns looked great-the problem came when we had to change out the light bulbs...the screws were corroded to the fixtures due of the salt air. We could not open the new light fixtures to change out the light bulbs! Had to. This time purchased ones that were specifically for the "Shore"-Plastic Lanterns. They have openings at the bottom so I do not have to take any screws out to change any of the light bulbs. Hopefully they will work!
Note: Another idea I got from an Old Time Electrician who has worked at the shore for years...put a thin coat of Vaseline around the threads of the light bulb before you screw it into the fixture, even for inside light fixtures at the Shore. It will make it much easier when you have to get the light bulb out someday. (Due to the salt-air corrosion factor.)

Gail Bogart
- Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA

July 9, 2012

Q. Hi,
I'm Jane, Jane Bond. I would appreciate any information on under the counter water filters. I purchased one on line that comes with a water faucet that fits into the sprayer. I ordered one in Stainless but they sent to me "premium chrome" whatever that is. The unit was priced more than the stainless. I thought stainless was better. Your opinion in this matter would be helpful to me. Thank you.

- PHOENIXVILLE, Pennsylvania, USA

July 10, 2012

A. Your posting has stirred but not shaken me, Bond. Nobody seems to be enforcing truth in advertising anymore, and "premium chrome" seems pretty meaningless anyway. So, unfortunately, your only promise of the quality of a finish is the reputation of the seller -- you simply can't determine it from the names they give to the finishes. I wish there was a "technical" answer for you, but the descriptions that vendors use for finishes are only sales tools to tell you what they look like; they are not specifications.

Still, I'd insist on the stainless steel because at least it has an established meaning, and because low quality chrome plating will accelerate corrosion rather than retard it.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 18, 2012

Q. I'm building an outdoor bar, and I am putting a beer faucet-tower on the bar. I was wondering whether I should go with a stainless steel, chrome-plated, or brass tower. I figure I'll have a cloth or tarp-style cover made for it, to help keep the elements at bay, but I'd still like to get the optimal material for outdoors.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Dan Maguire
- Tuscaloosa, Alabama USA

September 19, 2012

A. Hi Dan. I don't think I'd go with brass for outdoors (you'll either have a lot of discoloration or have to polish and re-lacquer periodically). We have a chrome one and it seems to be holding up well. Stainless would be fine too, probably even better.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

January 5, 2013

Q. Sir how can we remove or reduce the water marks on the large area of surface of metal.

Durgesh Tiwary
- Noida, India

January 6, 2013

A. Hi Durgesh. You haven't given us any clues at all yet :-(

Please describe whether the metal is stainless steel or nickel chrome plating, whether you are creating these marks in your own factory, or whether you are a janitor trying to clean elevator walls. We have no clues. Thanks.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

February 26, 2013

Q. Just wondering if there is any reaction between a stainless steel trough basin and chrome taps. I just remember something happened about 20 years ago but can't remember the answer. Thanks in advance whoever helps me out.


Robert McGuigan
building services - Clapham - London England

February 26, 2013

A. Hi Robert. It's not a yes/no, it's all a relative thing. Chrome plating and stainless steel are galvanically similar, and they are both usually passive with a slightly electrically insulating oxidized skin, so galvanic action should not be an issue in most situations.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Want stainless sliding doors from China

July 13, 2014

Q. Hi
I am looking to purchase stainless steel sliding doors from abroad maybe China. Can you tell me what kind of certificates I should demand? By the comments above I understood that I need something with the #316 not 304.

shlomo aslan
- lido beach, New York, usa

July 2014

A. Hi Shlomo. We want to help you, but you didn't say whether you need two of these for your own house, or whether you want hundreds to re-market yourself. If this is a personal purchase my personal opinion is that it's foolish to try to purchase direct from China rather than going through a retailer; the chances of it all working out well are slim.

If you are a reseller who will be travelling to China to enforce your own quality standards, it may work out fine. But it's probably not just a matter of certificates that the material is 316SS or 304SS and has been properly passivated after fabrication, it's a matter of someone has to be responsible for the design specifications, which means you either accept the manufacturers or you hire a consultant to write specifications for you or you spend an awful lot of time developing the specifications for yourself. Best of luck with it.


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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