What’s the difference between polished nickel, chrome, pewter, brushed nickel, satin nickel and stainless steel? (We got you)

January 10, 2024

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Q: What’s the difference between polished nickel, chrome, pewter, brushed nickel, satin nickel and stainless steel?

A: I’m so glad you asked. Silver is having a real moment this year (see all my trend predictions here), and there are so many ways to incorporate it into your home. When we talk about “silvers” in interiors, we’re talking about polished nickel, chrome, pewter, brushed nickel, and stainless steel–but, of course, if you have actual silver lying around, I assuuummeee (pray!) you already have it on full display.

This post is more about anyone that’s looking for an alternative to brass/gold everything. And since it could be difficult to tell the difference between all the silver-looking finishes out there, I thought I’d break it down.

Polished nickel meets stainless steel in our kitchen sink.

Sink | Faucet

Polished nickel has a warm undertone. This is why it pairs really well with brass. If you already have a lot of brass, and you’re ready to start mixing metals, start with polished nickel. Almost all of the faucets in our house right now are polished nickel. It will patina because it’s a living metal. It’s going to get fingerprints on it, and I think that’s kind of the beauty of it. There are some polished nickel products that are sealed if you’re feeling fussy about it.

There’s a pretty chrome pedestal under the powder room sink.

Sink Top | Sink Base | Mirror (vintage) | Wallpaper | Faucet | Hand Soap

Chrome is also a “shiny silver,” but it has a cool undertone. It’s a lot easier to clean and keep shiny. People use this for kitchen faucets because it’s easy to maintain — it’s easy to clean, it’s durable, and it looks sleek.

Pewter is a metal alloy, which means it’s a blend of several types of metal—usually tin, copper, and antimony. The look (whether real pewter or not) is very historical. It looks aged and pitted, antique. This silver is more gray. Pewter is another living finish that brings a lot of character, right off the bat. You’re going to see this in more rustic handles, door-knockers, candlesticks, and latches. We see pewter in plates (so pretty they could be wall-hangings) and in picture frames.

Polished nickel is cozying right up to brass in the mudroom mood board.

Mudroom Sources

Satin nickel has a softer matte, while brushed nickel is slightly textured. Brushed nickel is what you might find at the hardware store, and satin nickel might be something you’d find in a home store. It will be a little pricier, and it’s warmer in tone. Satin and brushed nickel are great for showerheads because there is less risk of pesky waterspots. It’s also good for doorknobs — no fingerprints.

Stainless steel is a muted silver with a matte undertone. We see this mostly in plumbing fixtures, kitchen sinks, and appliance covers. You can also get other fixtures in stainless. We love working with stainless steel because it’s budget-friendly and easy to maintain. It looks similar to brushed nickel, but it’s cooler in tone. Warning: It tarnishes to a matte gray.

Here’s more on how we mixed metals in our kitchen.

And here’s how you can mix metals everywhere.

  1. Chrome Frey Hook $29
  2. Nickel Curved Metal Bell Cord Pendant $145
  3. Vintage Mirror Subway Tile $28.99/sq. ft.
  4. Polished Nickel Totie Table Lamp $479
  5. Polished Nickel Vernon Bin Pull $16
  6. Silver Leaf Nova Wood Wall Mirror $1,015
  7. Stainless Steel Flatware Set $208
  8. Cromwell Silver Vanity Tray $85
  9. Silver Serving Bucket $199
  10. Vibrant Polished Nickel Shower Head $131
  11. Daphne Taper Holder $49
  12. Vibrant Polished Nickel Sink Faucet $632

Shop Silver Decor & Finishes

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  1. Christy says:

    We renovated our bathroom in 2022 and did all polished nickel finishes by Moen. The lack of available PN plumbing fixtures that weren’t insanely expensive was so discouraging, but we made it work. I’ve always compared PN to white gold for people who think it’s the same as chrome. They seem to get it when I say that white gold and silver are not the same. I’m thinking now that silver has officially become trendy, we will see PN everywhere for affordable prices and it’s going to drive me crazy because where was it all when I needed it 😂

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