Chrome Vs. Brushed Nickel: A Comparison

Items like faucets, light fixtures, and drawer and cabinet pulls may seem like a small addition to a room, but they can make quite a statement when chosen properly. The right finish will give you years of enjoyment and easy maintenance. For most homeowners, there are two categories they consider when purchasing things like a faucet: style and cost. Both are important. You want a faucet to look right so it complements your home, and you also don't want to overspend. Two common finishes that have remained popular for decades are chrome and brushed nickel. 

According to The Family Handyman, you should plan on spending at least $65 on a bathroom faucet and a $100 minimum on the kitchen one. When comparing brushed nickel versus chrome, you'll see a wide price range for both. In this article, we'll discuss some differences between the two popular metal finishes to help make the decision easier.

What is a chrome finish

Chrome is the shiniest of all finishes. It's a silver, mirror-like finish over a metal core. If you've ever checked your smile in the toaster as you walked by, chances are that the toaster had a chrome finish (and chances are your smile was fabulous). Chrome takes our thoughts to motorcycles and retro diners. It definitely has a '50s vibe, but today, it's made a striking comeback in modern homes. 

Homeowners turn to chrome when designing not only vintage and retro kitchens, but also minimalistic, farmhouse, and contemporary kitchens and bathrooms. You'll even find chrome used on curtain rods and light fixtures. According to FaucetList, chrome is one of the most versatile finishes for any home design. When well maintained, chrome looks beautiful and can steal the show in any room it's used in. If you like all things that sparkle, it may be the right choice for your home.

What is brushed nickel?

Brushed nickel has a matte finish and gets its name from the idea that it truly looks brushed. According to Luxe Home by Douglah Designs, the brushing is done with a wire brush, giving it a handcrafted, elegant style. It could be described as a silver finish with a softness to it. Brushed nickel is often at a mid-range price point, which is helpful for the budget-savvy shopper. It became popular in the late '90s when nearly every homeowner wanted it to grace their kitchens and bathrooms. Today, it still ranks high as one of the most common choices in homes. 

Consider brushed nickel in your traditional style home or a space with a mix of both old and new styles since it has a way of merging everything together. For example, an old farmhouse with modern kitchen cabinets but open shelves lined with antique dishes does well with the soft finish of brushed nickel because it's modern yet not jarring.

Chrome shows fingerprints and scratches

If you run a busy household with lots of busy little hands, you may want to steer clear of chrome finishes. When chrome is squeaky clean and polished, the shine is nothing short of lustrous. Who doesn't love a shiny faucet? Still, according to Bob Vila, any scratch, streak, or smudge is noticed easily because of that glorious luster. The high shine attracts fingerprints much easier than brushed nickel. However, if cleaning something until it shines brings you pleasure, then chrome is an excellent choice. 

Does this mean only people who never allow anyone in their house should have chrome? Not at all. Just be aware that if you use your chrome fixtures often and clean them seldom, they'll lose their sparkle. That's just sad. Nothing should lose its sparkle. 

Luckily, cleaning chrome is relatively easy. According to Merry Maids, wiping your faucets with a microfiber cloth daily will prevent a film from forming. To properly clean it, you can use something as simple as a lemon to wash it (which is especially great for hard water spots,) or use a microfiber cloth with a dot of dish soap. 

Nickel can tarnish over time

Unfortunately, nickel can tarnish over time. Some people like the aged look tarnishing offers, but you may regret choosing nickel if you don't. Brushed nickel will eventually get a yellow hue if not cared for properly. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent tarnishing and fix it if necessary. 

According to Hunker, using a mixture of vinegar and water (1/2 cup each) mixed in a spray bottle, which is then sprayed on the brushed nickel and allowed to sit for 30 seconds, helps refresh the brushed nickel fixture and keep it looking like new. Do this when you start to notice a change in color on your faucet or any brushed nickel fixture. There are also waxes available to help keep brushed nickel looking spotless.

 Other than that, daily wiping with a soft cloth to keep watermarks and fingerprints away is all that's needed, along with regular cleaning. Avoid abrasive cleansers because the matte finish doesn't like them.

Which one costs more?

Generally speaking, chrome tends to be on the higher end of pricing when compared to brushed nickel, as per Bath Select. Really though, it all comes down to what you're looking for. A high-end statement faucet finished in brushed nickel may be more expensive than a small chrome faucet. It just depends, so shop around. 

You can have whatever faucet you want — chrome or brushed nickel — if you take your time, compare, save, and stick to a budget. Don't be wooed by high prices, which can sometimes cause us to assume something is better. Decide what's important to you. Do you want to spend a little more on counters, so you need to pull back a bit on what you were planning on spending on the faucet? Or is an outrageous faucet your wildest dream, and everything else can wait? It's your choice and your home ... compare costs accordingly.

Chrome is a cool tone

Chrome is cool for a lot of reasons, but it's also a cool tone. Use chrome for your fixtures and accessories to balance the warm and cool tones in the room. Although not a necessity, the contrast a cool tone fixture brings to a room painted in warm colors is pretty impressive. 

Most colors have an undertone, and that's how the tone of home fixtures is determined. Cool tones undertones are blue, green, and purple. Chrome has a blue undertone, putting it in the cool category. So, if you begin with chrome in a room, do you have to stick with chrome for every other fixture? Not at all. According to Kingston Brass, just stay within the original tone family. In the case of chrome, that means the cool tones. Go ahead and choose a polished chrome faucet along with brushed chrome hardware on the cabinets. The soft, brushed finish helps balance the harder finish of the polished chrome. Choosing brushed chrome to go with the polished chrome is a smarter option than brushed nickel because brushed nickel is in the warm family and may end up clashing. If it's all cool, the room will flow perfectly.

Brushed nickel is warm

For a warmer tone, choose brushed nickel rather than chrome. If you have a kitchen full of sharp, modern edges, brushed nickel helps to soften the space, bringing a bit of calm and comfort. Of course, if you don't want to soften the area and prefer a cooler, polished look, chrome is a great choice. As a homeowner, choosing what you like is always important rather than sticking to hard and fast rules. 

Some prefer balancing the two tones — warm with cool — while others like all one scheme. There are a lot of choices in the warm family, including brass, nickel, copper, and bronze. Each type offers polished and brushed finishes. According to San Diego Hardware, brushed nickel is almost always a safe bet when you can't decide because it has a gift for complementing nearly everything. Look around your entire home and get a feel for what tones you tend to lean toward. If you see everything you choose is mostly warm, then there's a good chance you won't tire of that tone in a fixture.

Maintaining nickel and chrome

When it comes down to it, since you use things like faucets, light fixtures, and cabinet hardware daily, you need low-maintenance products. Neither chrome nor brushed nickel is challenging to maintain. They both require daily wiping and a little additional help to keep them looking like new, but nothing too extreme. Let's look at brushed nickel first. 

Use a soft cloth and a mild cleaner to keep smudges and dirt off the fixture. According to SFGate, you should never use cleaners that contain alcohol or ammonia to clean your brushed nickel fixtures. The acidity in those types of cleaners can damage the finish. For chrome, daily wiping is important because the shine shows everything. According to The Family Handyman, Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser Liquid or dish soap are both great, gentle options for cleaning your chrome. Use a polish weekly that's designed specifically for chrome. Those steps should give your chrome fixture many years of beauty and shine.

Which has the most durable finish

When competing, brushed nickel wins for a durable finish. It's tough to scratch, and the brushed finish makes it difficult to see any blemishes even if it happens. This has to do with the way light reflects off a matte finish compared to a shiny one. According to Bob Vila, brushed nickel is one of the toughest finishes around thanks to its matte sheen that's created with wire brush etching, as well as its lacquer coating that protects the brushed nickel surface from wearing out. 

Chrome, on the other hand, is considered a soft metal and requires more attention to keep it looking good. It certainly isn't difficult to keep your chrome fixtures well-maintained, so don't let a little maintenance keep you from a finish you love. It's just a bit more time-consuming. Creating a simple maintenance schedule for cleaning fixtures is all it takes to ensure all your chrome finishes look beautiful. As mentioned, remember to avoid abrasive cleaners for both finishes.

Styles that suit chrome

When you hear the word chrome, do you instantly think of shiny motorcycles and retro kitchens? That's pretty accurate, and it's why chrome gives a room that vintage vibe. However, chrome is popular today for modern and contemporary spaces as well. According to Jane at Home, chrome brightens up a space and is now considered more modern than brushed nickel, yet it also complements traditional and vintage styles. Basically, you can't go wrong with chrome, no matter what your design flair is. 

Chrome is best suited as a statement piece and should be used as a fixture you want to pop a little. If you don't want anyone noticing your faucet, you might want to steer clear of chrome. It can't control its dazzling personality that's always shining and lighting up the room. Even the smallest chrome fixtures get noticed. Chrome is suited for both warm and cool rooms. Just remember to keep all the metals in the same tone family.

Styles that suit brushed nickel

Brushed nickel is one of the best finishes for softening a room. It has a gentle presence to it because of its lack of shine. It's subtle and attractive. According to Kitchen Infinity, brushed nickel continues to be popular in homes today because it fits well with so many different designs. It's forever a favorite for the traditional home, yet at the same time has an ability to bring everything together when styles are mixed. 

Since brushed nickel is a warm tone, it goes well in rooms that are warm, such as walls painted in warm tones and furniture in warm colors. Still, it also adds a softness to areas with a lot of cool tones, which can sometimes make a room feel cold if that's all there is. It's all about balance and what makes you, as the homeowner, feel at home. If warmth is what you crave, then brushed nickel is a style to consider.

Mixing different metals and finishes

Yes! You can mix metals. In previous decades there were stiff rules about what kind of faucet you could have, along with not wearing white until after Memorial Day. Both are crazy, and it's time to rebel. 

Design professionals have given us the green light to go ahead and mix our metals ... but don't get too wild. We still have one simple rule: match the tone. If the first finish you choose is warm, stick with the other warm options. Likewise, if the first is cool, then stick with cool. 

Be careful not to go overboard with your metal mixing. According to The Spruce, feel free to mix metals in one room, but don't use a variety on one piece. Enjoy a brushed nickel faucet and antique brass cabinet knobs and pulls, but don't mix both together on a cabinet, hutch, or chest of drawers. Make your choices look purposeful, not like an accident.

Other shiny finish options

Chrome isn't the only shiny option for finishes. It certainly is an excellent choice when looking for something that truly glistens, however, there are a few more choices to consider. Let your personality shine with one of the following: polished brass, polished nickel, copper, or stainless steel. 

Polished brass was once the epitome of style back in the 1980s. Today, it's making a comeback in all its glory. It requires the same care as polished chrome and looks lovely when clean and polished. Copper adds a unique touch and can be maintained so that it continues to shine, or allowed to age and share its lovely, aged copper patina. Stainless steel is usually the least expensive option and is a great, practical choice that's easy to care for. According to Designing Idea, stainless steel finishes shine like polished chrome but are less expensive and more durable. No matter what you choose, there are plenty of beautiful options for a gleaming faucet or other fixture.

Other matte finish options

You guessed it. Brushed nickel isn't the only matte option either. Oil rubbed bronze and a matte black finish have long been enjoyed in homes. According to Designing Idea, the aged look of oil-rubbed bronze is achieved through a chemical process, which makes the bronze look aged from day one. For vintage styles and antique lovers, or for someone who just enjoys the warm feeling oil-rubbed bronze offers, it's an alternative to other matte finishes like brushed nickel. 

Matte black has been popular for a while and is currently one of the top choices for homeowners. Black is a classic style, making quite a statement in white kitchens and bathrooms. It offers a sophisticated look in contemporary homes and a rustic vibe in the modern farmhouse style. No matter what you choose, you'll get a warm atmosphere from the warm tones of brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze, or matte black finishes.