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Difference Between Chrome and Nickel Plating

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Q. Can anyone direct me to a source that explains, in a fairly SIMPLE way, the difference between chrome and nickel plating? I.e., when would I choose one over the other?

I am just curious about it; I do not intend to go out and buy equipment for doing it. I work for a fittings distributor and noticed that some ball valves are chrome-plated while others are nickel plated.

Thanks for all your help.

Tiziano Bianchi
- McKinney, Texas


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A. Chromium and nickel are two different elements, so they have somewhat different properties.

Conventional electrolytic nickel plating is decorative, functional, and corrosion resistant but it tarnishes and it is not as hard as chromium.

Electroless nickel plating (actually autocatalytic nickel plating) is a glassy nickel-phosphorous coating that is very corrosion resistant and quite hard, and often used on rough-service applications like down-hole applications.

Chrome plating may be either a thick layer of chrome (generally known as hard chrome) that offers exceptional hardness, wear-resistance, and oil-holding capability, but limited corrosion resistance; or it may be nickel-chrome (nickel plating followed by a flash of chrome for tarnish resistance and extra corrosion resistance, as is employed on truck bumpers and automotive brightwork).

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey

++

I have an antique Aladdin kerosene lamp it's chrome plate is entirely polished away, leaving only whole brass body. I've seen that re-chrome is easy to peel off within few years so I decide to try nickel plating, I like nickel's antique-like yellow shade (compared to chromium). I think local workshop can do only electroplating so I'd like to ask that is it good idea to plate brass lamp with nickel or any better suggestions.

Thanks,

Mr. Jirapan Pankongchuen
Thai Military Bank(pcl) - Nonthaburi, Thailand

++

No, that is not quite correct, Jirapan. It is very unlikely that the lamp was only chromium plated; it was almost surely nickel-chromium plated; that is, it was nickel plated then chrome plated, with the chrome being only a few millionths of an inch thick. So if something peeled, it was the nickel plating.

But if the job is done right the plating will not peel. You are correct that nickel plating which is not later chrome plated has a slight yellowish tinge which grows more pronounced with time as the nickel tarnishes. Good luck.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


++

thumbsup2Thank you so much for your help, Ted.

Jirapan Pankongchuen
- Nonthaburi, Thailand


January 5, 2009

Q. Dear editor, could you throw a few details on this. I have seen a shiny chrome / nickel chrome plated dog collar go rusty within a few a minutes of entering sea water. Was it defective ?

Srinivas Somala
hobby - Hyderabad, AP, India


January , 2009

A. Hi, Srinivas. Although anything can be done well or poorly, nickel-chrome plating is a special case that can be done really really well or really really badly (see our Chrome Plating FAQs). When done poorly not only does the plating contribute nothing to corrosion resistance, it actually greatly accelerates corrosion because the nickel is anodic to the underlying steel and turns the underlying steel into a sacrificial anode.

But "defective" is probably not quite the correct word, however, because the item may well have met the plating specification they wrote for it. Crappy would probably be a good word for it :-)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


February 11, 2010

Q. Hi,
I'm looking for a chrome or nickel plated stair rail. what would you suggest for this application. Also are are they both the same colour, the reason I'm asking is because all our door handles are brushed chrome.
Many thanks

Trev Hemmings
- England


March 2010

A. Hi, Trev. Nickel and Nickel-Chrome plating are rather similar in appearance, with the nickel plating being slightly yellowish due to its tarnish, and the chrome being slightly blue-ish. Either on a railing would probably be "close enough" to match a brushed chrome door handle; but if it's for exterior use, the chrome would be a very good idea.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


January 22, 2011

Q. I have a nickel allergy and was wondering about chrome items, not necessarily jewelry. Anything touching my skin long enough will evoke a reaction. Are there chrome items that are not also plated with nickel? Is there such a thing as solid chrome?

Kristen Clarke
- Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA

January 24, 2011

A. Hi, Kristen.

You won't find anything made of solid chrome -- and chrome plated jewelry would be very unusual. What you may find though is nickel-free rhodium plated or silver plated jewelry. I believe that all jewelry sold in the European Union is supposed to be free of nickel.

Yes, there is such a thing as chrome plating without an underlayer of nickel -- it's called hard chrome plating. But it is used as a wear resistant engineering finish for things like piston rings, not as a decorative finish. Good luck.

Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey



June 19, 2012

Q. Hi, I have a part (15 mm diameter, L=16 mm) made of SAE1020. I want to do Nickel-Chrome plating to give the part brightness & smoothness, and high corrosion resistance.

What should be the definition for the drawing (i.e.: QQ-C-xxx, Class xx, Type xx, thickness xx, Fully Bright, smooth and uniform)?

Ari

Ari Eichenbaum
- Yokneam, Israel



February 17, 2013

Q. I have a solid brass, queen-size bed (headboard and footboard) that I would like to change to a silver-tone. It looks like an old-fashioned, Victorian brass bed. At present, the brass is coated with an anti-tarnish finish. I've had the bed for 25 years, and simply want a change of color.

Can you recommend what should be done with this bed? Should it be electroplated with chrome or nickel, or a nickel-chrome combination. Are there any specifications for how thick the coating should be for this type of application? Thanks in advance for your help! :-)

Noreen Wensley
- Saskatoon, SK, Canada
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^


February 17, 2013

A. Hi Noreen. I'm not here to discourage you from bringing a plating shop a $2000 job if that's what you want to do, just to warn you that such a project would be very expensive :-)

Nickel plating should be fine for indoor use in a home. No need for nickel-chrome unless you like the extra flash and freedom from tarnishing (some people find the faintly yellow tarnish of nickel attractive). I don't think a consumer should try to write specifications for a one-time job, but just tell the plating shop to do a good job.

It may be more practical to simply paint the bed a metallic-looking color =>
rather than actually have it plated. Try some on an inconspicuous place on the inside of a rail. Good luck.

Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


April 27, 2013

Q. SIR I HAVE TO ASK FAVOR, CAN YOU CITE SOME MATERIALS OR SPECIFIC METALS THAT CAN BE TREATED BY NICKEL PLATE, HARD CHROME OR NICKEL-CHROME PLATING?
I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS THE BEST PLATING FOR PARTICULAR MATERIALS.
THANK YOU SIR.

FERNAN DIMAPILIS
ELECTRONICS- ROSARIO CITY, CAVITE, PHILIPPINES


April 30, 2013

A. Hi cousin Fernan. It's very difficult to proceed from the opposite direction like that. Your question is like asking the advantages of walking vs. travel by ship vs. travel by train without telling us where you want to go. We could tell you that ships usually serve free meals, or the lullabye of the rails is soothing -- but anything we say may be nothing but misleading if your destination is next door, or you can't get there by ship or train anyway. It's best to explain your situation, then ask which plating is better for that case and why. :-)

With that warning out of the way, nickel plating is usually not suitable for outdoor exposure because it tarnishes too quickly and severely. Nickel-chrome plating is brighter and more suitable for outdoor use. Hard chrome plating is not a decorative finish, but a functional one for wear resistance and oil holding. Any of the three can be applied to almost any substrate, but again, what are you trying to achieve? For example, you can theoretically do hard chrome plating on plastic, but it's hard to imagine it actually being useful for any purpose. Good luck.

Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


April 29, 2013

Q. Dear sir, two questions if I may. First, if a part is already nickel plated, as many antique parts are, can it be chrome plated at a later time, as I understand that chrome plating is actually a clear coat of added protection? Second, I have an antique singer sewing machine, which has brilliant basically new looking chromed parts, but has one annoying quarter inch diameter spot of rust and pitting in an obvious place that I would like to correct. Even if only for aesthetics, is there a way to fix it without having to re-chrome the whole piece?

MICHAEL LAURO
- New York, New York, USA


April 30, 2013

A. Hi Michael. Chrome is not actually clear, it is bright metallic and very very slightly blue compared to silver or nickel. But it is very very thin, such that it is the underlying nickel that gives the smoothness necessary for high reflectivity. And yes, it helps keeps the nickel plating from tarnishing.

It is theoretically possible to chrome plate on top of old nickel, but for good adhesion you normally need a pretty aggressive "activation" step or sequence.

It is not going to be useful and probably not possible to do a spot repair on a nickel-chrome plated piece. The chrome will be extremely passive and nothing will adhere to it. It is also important to remember that nickel chrome plating offers "barrier layer" protection to steel, not "cathodic protection".

If you picture how ships use zinc anodes to corrode away to protect their steel hulls, nickel-chrome plated objects inadvertently use pits in the steel to galvanically protect the nickel chrome plating. Any porosity at all means the tiny spot of exposed steel will be a tiny corroding anode trying to galvanically protect the plating. Poor nickel chrome plating greatly accelerates rusting. Try to remove the rust with chrome polish and ultrafine steel wool, and keep the area waxed or clear coated. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


June 4, 2013

Q. Ted,
I'm in the process of restoring a 1980 Garelli Moped, I would like to have the plated parts refinished, i.e.: Spoked rims, fenders, brackets, handle bars etc. What is the best finish to go with, not sure of the difference in looks. I would like it to last and look good with the painted parts. Any help would terrific!! Thanks for your help.

Jeff

Jeff Rafferty
- Maple Grove, Minnesota, USA


June 5, 2013

A. Hi Jeff. Your only serious choice for high decoration is nickel-chrome plating. Nickel plating alone won't hold up in a corrosive outdoor environment. However, as a cost reduction measure, rims and brackets are sometimes acid zinc plated and clear coated. It's not nearly as bright as nickel-chrome plating, but can be cheaper and more practical.

If cost isn't an object, nickel plus black chrome plating can be very nice. But nickel-chrome plating is expensive and most shops charge significantly more again for black chrome.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


June 17, 2013appended

Q. Sir,

Is there a easy way to tell the difference between nickel-chrome, nickel and a hard chrome finish? I have read that an ammonia solution will damage nickel and possibly dissolve nickel leaving a greenish finish. I suspect the chrome finish will not be harmed by the ammonia but a nickel-chrome finish might be if any nickel surface is unplated by the chrome.

I have a WWII pistol that seems to have two layers of a finish and in some areas the plate or nickel is peeling. I've always been curious which plating I have and if it is original. With your excellent explanation I wonder if I might also have a chrome plate over an original nickel plated pistol.

Dan

Dan Potter
- Fullerton, California, USA

February 2014

Hi Dan. It's probably not possible to tell if the item was replated vs. the plating having been laminar from the beginning, except from the assumption that an OEM pistol probably did not have defective plating, and that getting good adhesion onto an earlier layer of nickel plating is difficult. So odds are the plating is not original.

If the surface is porous, which it probably is on a WWII pistol by now, the ammonia will probably damage it regardless of what plating is on it. Decorative chrome plating is so thin -- millionths of an inch -- that you would probably not perceive it as peeling. If you are seeing peeling, it is probably nickel plating that is peeling.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey


August 12, 2013

Q. Hi Ted Mooney,

You said chrome is "limited corrosion resistance", so why is it used in stainless steel ?

Or what you said only applies for small thickness layers of chrome?

Thanks!

Manuel Campos Costa
- Lisboa, Portugal


August 13, 2013

A. Hi Manuel. Chrome plating is almost always cracked. Sometimes very deliberately "micro cracked" or "micro porous" as part of the plating process. So, when chrome plating is applied directly to steel in the hard chrome plating process, the component will have rather limited corrosion resistance.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Brick, New Jersey



September 9, 2013

Q. Which plating is more suitable in lieu of of chrome plating for Hydraulic cylinder rods (oilfield equipment).
Chrome plating does not hold up well; the H2S level exceeds 1%.

Jay Anwar
- Regina, SK, Canada
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^


October 4, 2013

Q. Dear Sir,

I want to know and am a little bit curious for electropolishing and Nickel + chrome plating. I want to give bright & shiny surface finish to kitchen basket. So which one is better option.

Regards,

Devang Mahant
Teaching - Vadodara, Gujarat, India
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^

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