Home metal fixtures, such as faucets and shower heads, come in different finishes such as stain or brushed nickel or chrome. These features describe how the metal has been finished to provide the piece with a particular finish, shine 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 metal fixture 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 to the item. 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 have high resistance to corrosion.
Nickel's high resistance to corrosion makes it ideal for mixing with other metals such as iron and brass. The majority of nickel manufactured in the world 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 the appearance that a wire brush was used across the item, giving it 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 that allows more interplay of light and shadow because of the rises within the surface.
While brushed nickel and brushed chrome share many of the same properties, including an textured finished, 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 often seen as a warmer color than chrome's blue.
Brushed nickel fixtures often come with a wider variety of finishes than brushed chrome. Chrome fixtures tend to have the same level of blue tint in every piece, while nickel ones appear more or less yellow depending on the amount of plating and density of the nickel used. This means that fixtures from different manufactures may take on a difference appearance from each other despite being coated with brushed nickel.
Often selection 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, consider the color of the surroundings; warmer colors, such as tan or earth tones, would look better with brushed nickel fixtures, while cooler colors, such as gray, blue or even white, may benefit from the bluish hue of chrome fixtures. Similarly, because nickel has been historically used for metal finishing, it gives a more traditional, homey and antique look. On the other hand, chrome is a relatively modern addition and offers a more sophisticated, steely and modern look, following its rise in popularity for engines and other such decorative elements.