Chrome vs stainless steel – what is the difference? At first glance, chrome steel and stainless steel products appear identical. Their shiny, smooth, and durable exteriors are popular with household appliances and decorative items.
Chrome is a chemical coating process where a thin chromium layer is applied to a raw metal substrate. Chromium is an element classified as non-stainless steel that is brittle in its natural state but is a critical additive in steel composition for a high strength part. It is not considered an alloy.
Stainless steel is a family of iron alloys typically processed into sheet metal and bar or tube stock that contains at least 10.5% chromium and may include carbon, nickel, nitrogen, aluminium, silicon, copper and manganese.
Chrome is also known as chromium or chromium plating. As previously mentioned, this layer of chromium is applied onto the surface of a plastic or metal object through electroplating, for industrial purposes and decorative applications.
Stainless steel and chrome steel share similar aesthetic qualities, including a shiny appearance. Chrome, however, offers a more lustrous and polished look than stainless steel.
Chrome steel features a low coefficient of friction and protects against corrosion. Stainless steel has a smooth, non-absorbent surface that is very resistant, non-toxic and can be thoroughly cleaned with aggressive disinfectants and may be sterilised. Chrome plating does not tolerate aggressive cleaning agents.
Side by side, you’ll note that stainless steel is typically polished to a high, mirror like finish that is duller and darker than what you see with chrome plated products.
While chrome steel is hard and dense, stainless steel stands alone as one of the hardest and strongest metals next to carbon steel.
Stainless steel is more durable than chrome, offering corrosion resistance as well as scratch and tarnish resistance. However, this is somewhat dependant on the environment, as this metal is not completely immune to all stains or even wear and tear.
Stainless steel alloy: Families & grades
There are four varieties of stainless steel families:
- Austenitic – The most widely used stainless steel
- Ferritic – The most cost-effective family of stainless steel products
- Duplex – The most recent stainless steel alloys developed
- Martensitic & Precipitation Hardening – Used for hardened edge applications. Magnetic after hardening.
The grade of the alloy is another factor. 200 series of stainless steel grades are known for high work hardening. 300 series stainless steel can withstand extremely high temperatures. 400 series stainless steel provides greater strength and durability.