Choosing the right fittings for a new kitchen can be a difficult decision, particularly in an industry where there are so many different designs and materials available.
Stainless steel is the most commonly used material on the market, used for metal sinks, faucets, and accompanying fittings around the kitchen, known for its easy to clean finish, cheaper price tag, and durability.
Chrome on the other hand, whilst still a popular choice, is less common, most probably because it is a more expensive and more demanding material, requiring more specialist cleaning and treatment to maintain its effectiveness and attractive, shiny facade.
Of course, each material has its own pros and cons, and aside from the purely aesthetic reasons, these can be quite important.
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Taken from the chemical element chromium, with the symbol Cr, and an atomic number of 24, chrome is first element in group 6, and boasts a shiny steel-silver finish, a reflective sheen, and the ability to be both hard and brittle, depending on how it is treated.
Chrome was discovered through crocoite, a lead-like substance found in the Ural mountains of Siberia by mineralogist Johann Lehmann in 1761, and zoologist Peter Pallas in 1770.
What became known as the first discovery of actual chrome, was in 1794, when Louis Nicholas Vaquelin mixed crocoite ore with hydrochloric acid, making chromium trioxide.
Interestingly enough, the application of a chrome coating to steel products was a major game changer against preventing corrosion and rust in commercial and consumer products (such as cutlery).
When steel contains a coating of 11% chromium or more (enough to prevent the iron from rusting), it takes on the term stainless steel, which has a wide variety of uses across all forms of manufacturing.
Chrome is extremely hard, being the third hardest element behind carbon and boron, and as such it is highly resistant to tarnishing, as well as being able to damage other, lesser metals.
These reasons led to its use in the manufacture of tools and implements, as well as a form of decoration on machinery, most notably cars and motorcycles.
There are three main types of chrome within manufacturing, polished, brushed, and satin, each with different looks and applications.
Polished chrome is high gloss, giving off a more decorative shine, whilst satin chrome has a softer sheen, with a more tasteful finish.
Brushed chrome is much more matte than the other two, making it a more subtle finish overall.
Stainless steel is a group of ferrous alloys, which are alloys with iron (or ferrum in latin) as the dominant component.
Its discovery was more gradual, with several key discoveries between Louis Vaquelin’s introduction to chromium in 1798, to efforts by Sheffield and Krupp Steel to develop “rustless steel”, to the work of Harry Brearley in the 1910s.
This culmination of research led to the creation and patent of what we now consider to be stainless steel.
As mentioned above, stainless steel needs to have a minimum of 11% chromium to be effective, providing anti-corrosive properties to regular steel and making it more durable and heat resistant.
There are many kinds of stainless steel, with included elements of carbon, nitrogen, aluminum, silicon, sulfur, titanium, nickel, copper, selenium, niobium, and molybdenum.
The chromium in the alloy adds a protective film-like coating to the steel, preventing corrosion, and allowing it the ability to self heal when enough oxygen is present.
The different elements included in different stainless steels are a direct response to the particular environment they will be used in.
For example, nitrogen can be added to stainless steel to increase the corrosion resistance and strength, and as such is used for mechanical applications.
The primary application however is cutlery and other implements, such as surgical instruments, major appliances (such as refrigerators and ovens), storage tanks, and food storage containers.
The “cleanability” of stainless steel is high, and this fact has also played a large part in the implementation of the alloy in the medical, pharmaceutical, and food processing industries, where sterility is paramount.
What Are The Main Differences?
Aside from their elemental makeup, the main differences can be seen in the level of reflectiveness and shine.
Stainless steel will usually have a more matte effect, providing a dulled reflection on the surface metal. Chrome will usually have a more mirrored finish.
You can also tell the difference between the pair by testing their magnetism.
If the magnet sticks to the faucet then it cannot be stainless steel, because it is not magnetic.
Whilst chrome itself is also not magnetic, the sublayers, like iron and nickel, are indeed magnetic, and the magnet will stick to the faucet.
Pros And Cons
The majority of chrome implements and fittings are not solid, merely coated in a protective film of chromium via a process called electroplating.
This is a general name for the process that requires an electrical current to reduce the ions in a metal acting as an anode, creating an electrolytic cell, where the coating metal acts as the cathode and is drawn to the anode, coating it.
This is usually done over a layer nickel, which is generally above the base material.
Chrome faucets tend to have a base material of steel, brass, plastic, or stainless steel, with a layer of protective chrome coated on top for protection, sheen, and strength.
Ultimately though, they are chosen for their shine, adding an attractive, clean, and decorative appearance to a kitchen’s metal fittings.
Whilst this does add to the aesthetic of the whole kitchen setup, it does make it more difficult to keep clean, as the shiny surface is a hotbed for smears, smudges, stains, and fingerprints, appearing more noticeable than on other types of material and lingering for a longer period of time.
It is also more easily scratched and damaged than other materials, making it a less effective choice in households where there are young children, or for industrial settings where there might be fast-paced working and heavy handedness.
Chrome fittings are less common, and as such there are a lot less designs, styles, and prices to be found on the market, making it a much more limiting process when trying to pick new fittings for your kitchen.
However, its appearance and corrosion resistant properties make it a consistently appealing choice for many, and can be properly maintained with the right kind of cleaning materials and treating components.
This will keep its sheen and “luster” for longer periods of time.
Stainless steel is an alloy, and as such it is stronger and more durable than a chrome coated faucet.
It is finished with cleaning, polishing, and grinding, meaning there are no scratches, blemishes or pinholes in the metal, giving it an overall clean appearance.
Whilst chrome coated materials may appear mirror-like in their shininess, stainless steel is slightly more matte, meaning that it is harder to smear, smudge, or get fingerprints on, making it perfect for general use, be it familial or industrial.
They also tend to be more durable than chrome coated fittings, meaning that they are more resistant to dents, damage, or wear from near continuous exposure to high impact water pressure, which makes them a common and popular choice for kitchens and bathrooms.
However, despite their name, they are not completely impervious to blemishes and damage.
The continued moisture can lead to spotting on the metal, a light form of corrosion, which can be fortunately solved with natural cleaning materials, such as white wine vinegar.
They can also get scratches on the surface, for example when using rough cleaning products or tools, such as steel wool.
This can be avoided by using soft cleaning cloths when wiping faucets and metal sinks.
Another positive aspect to stainless steel is the price tag, which tends to be considerably lower than with chrome plated products.
This makes stainless steel faucets a much more common and favored faucet material, as it is perfect for general use.
Because of this, there tends to be a lot more choices for stainless steel faucets and accompanying kitchen goods on the market, meaning that you have more options, design styles, and prices to choose from when picking new fittings for your kitchen.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about chrome and stainless steel kitchen faucets, covering the makeup, pros and cons of both materials in general domestic use.
When it comes right down to it though, the choice is up to you.
This tends to be a purely personal preference, made more prominent by the fact that the two materials are very similar in what they offer.
If you have a vibrant, hectic family home, then you might wish to have stainless steel for the simpler, easily maintained option, but if you fancy the shinier, more eye-catching things in life, then chrome coated faucets might be the ones for you.
Whatever you do, make sure you do the proper market research, weighing up the pros and cons to see what works best for you and your family.
One particular person’s recommendation might not be suitable for you, and as such it’s important to know what you want, and see what the market can offer to match those needs accordingly.
Why not go and see what there is to offer?