Difference between Stainless Steel and Chrome

Two commonly used materials in the construction of metal appliances or fixtures are chrome and stainless steel. These two materials look very similar and have similar properties, but as we will see, are quite different. This article will help explain this difference.


Niagara Mohawk Building
Niagara Mohawk Building

Stainless steel is an alloy (a mixture of two kinds of metal) of steel and chromium. In order for steel to be considered stainless steel, it must have a minimum of 10.5% chromium content by mass. While stainless steel is not, as the name would suggest, 100% stain-proof, it is far more resistant to staining, corrosion, and rust than traditional steel, an iron and carbon alloy. Typically, stainless steel is used in an environment requiring properties of steel (e.g. high strength and relatively low cost), resistance to corrosion, and a flashier lustre. Some uses of steel include kitchenware, such as cutlery and cookware, industrial applications such as storage tanks, and architectural applications. One example of architecture using stainless steel is the Niagara Mohawk Building in Syracuse, New York, pictured above.

chromium plating
Chromium plating

Chrome, short for chromium, usually refers to chromium plating. Chromium plating is a technique whereby a layer of chromium is electroplated onto the outside of a plastic or metal object. Chromium plating is used for both decorative and industrial purposes. Decorative applications are used both for aesthetic reasons, as well as to strengthen the object to which the chromium is electroplated. One example of a decorative application is the plating on the side of a motorcycle, pictured above. An example of an industrial application of chromium plating is piston rods. Chromium is valued for its corrosion resistance, as well as its high level of lustre.

Comparison chart

Stainless steel Chrome or chromium plating
Alloy containing at least 10.5% chromium. Not an alloy; only chromium.
More durable than chrome. Less durable than stainless steel.
Not as shiny as chrome, but easier to keep clean. Shinier than stainless steel, but more difficult to keep clean.
More expensive than chrome. Less expensive than stainless steel.

Stainless Steel vs Chrome

What are the differences between chrome and stainless steel? The main differences are:

  • Material they are both made of
  • Qualities of both material
  • Cost of material

Where stainless steel is an alloy consisting of steel and at least 10.5% chromium content by mass, chrome, referring to chromium, is simply a chromium plating on the exterior of an object. Where stainless steel contains chromium, chromium plating is typically not alloyed with anything after processing, and is just chromium.

Stainless steel is more durable than chromium plating, because it is an alloy, though stainless steel tends to be heavier. Additionally, being more scratch-resistant, it will generally show fewer scratches and dents than chromium plating. Stainless steel is easier to keep clean for this reason. Chromium plating, however, is valued more for its aesthetic quality, while being less durable than stainless steel. Chromium plating on an object will be lighter than a similar object made entirely out of stainless steel. While chromium is valued for its high lustre, this high lustre tends to make the material more susceptible to dirt and grime.

Between stainless steel and chrome, stainless steel is the more expensive metal.