Home metal fixtures, such as faucets and shower heads, come in different finishes, including satin or brushed nickel or chrome. These features describe how the metal has been finished to provide the piece with a particular finish, shininess, and texture. In the case of brushed nickel and brushed chrome, the difference has less to do with texture or durability than with the tint of the base metal itself.
Chrome itself is commonly plated onto another metal such as copper or nickel to provide a little extra hardness and resistance, as well as a shiny finish. While chrome is primarily used for industrial purposes, the luster of chrome makes it a favorite for not only home fixtures but also for motorcycle engines and other automotive parts. Often a thin layer of chrome is applied over a thin layer of nickel, as both metals have high resistance to corrosion.
Nickel's high resistance to corrosion makes it ideal for mixing with other metals, such as iron and brass. Most nickel manufactured in the world (65%) goes into making stainless steel, while the second-highest percentage of the world's nickel—roughly 12 percent of all nickel produced—goes into superalloys for use in a variety of mechanical devices such as turbine engines. Nickel's natural resistance to corrosion makes it a prime metal for use in home fixtures, as it is unlikely to rust or deteriorate from use.
Brushed metal, be it nickel or chrome, refers to the method by which the metal has been finished. The term "brushed" refers to that that the finish has a roughened look, as though a wire brush was used to the metal directional abrasion lines after polishing. While "satin" or "velvety" metals include a smooth finish with no visible abrasions, brushed metals are meant to have a more handcrafted appearance. Brushing allows more interplay of light and shadow because of the faint texture embedded in the surface.
While brushed nickel and brushed chrome share many of the same properties, including a textured finish, the major difference between the two is in the tinting of the metal itself. Chrome plating gives metal a slight blue shine. Often this tinge is seen as giving a sophisticated and cool look to the finished piece. Nickel, on the other hand, has a natural yellow (or whitish) appearance. This slight yellow hue is a warm contrast to chrome's blue.
Brushed nickel fixtures offer a wider variety of finishes than brushed chrome. Chrome fixtures tend to have the same level of blue tint in every piece, while nickel may appear more or less yellow, depending on the amount of plating and density of the nickel used. This means that fixtures from different manufacturers may take on a different appearance from one another, even though they are both coated with brushed nickel.
Considerations When Choosing
Often, choosing between brushed nickel and brushed chrome comes down to price and appearance. Each metal is essentially just as durable and noncorrosive as the other; however, chrome is generally more expensive and offers a cooler appearance than nickel. In selecting between the two, be aware that warm, earth-tone wall colors tend to look best with brushed nickel fixtures, which take on a golden hue in such an environment. Cooler colors like gray, blue, and even white may benefit from the bluish hue of brushed chrome fixtures.
Because nickel has been historically used for metal finishing, it gives a more traditional, homey, and antique look when used in a room. On the other hand, chrome is a relatively modern addition, and therefore it offers a more sophisticated, steely, and modern look when used in room fixtures.
Jess Kroll has been writing since 2005. He has contributed to "Hawaii Independent," "Honolulu Weekly" and "News Drops," as well as numerous websites. His prose, poetry and essays have been published in numerous journals and literary magazines. Kroll holds a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the University of San Francisco.